She's an aspiring TV writer, accomplished freelancer and editor, fellow Adelaidean and furtive watcher of Home and Away (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Laura Greaves shares her writing tips here and for more, check out her excellent blog and web site, www.lauragreaves.com.
Laura Greaves is a multi award-winning writer, editor and sub-editor with nearly 15 years' experience on newspapers and magazines in several countries.
The former editor of a national women's health magazine, she now specializes in writing about health, fitness, nutrition, weight loss and wellbeing. She has contributed to leading Australian magazines including Notebook:, Good Health, Woman's Day, Weight Watchers, Body + Soul, Your Body and Take 5.
She has also written for international titles including Easyliving (UK), EmiratesWoman and EmiratesBride (UAE).
Outside the health arena, she has written about everything from home renovation and design to parenting and pets and interviewed a who's who of A-list stars: Jack Nicholson, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson - to name just a few!
1. How did you discover you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember ever NOT wanting to be a writer! I’ve been scribbling stories for as long as I can remember, but I think it was my grade two teacher, Mrs Edwards, who wrote in my school report, ‘Laura should consider a career as a journalist’. That was the first time I understood there were people who got paid for writing stories, and from that point on I didn’t consider any other career (well, aside from Hollywood megastar, but that didn’t really pan out…!).
2. In which other fields have you worked? How did you transition into becoming a freelancer?
Aside from a year in magazine production in the UK and a six-month stint as a book publicist (both of which I hated and was rubbish at), I’ve worked as a journalist since leaving school at 17. I landed a cadetship at The Advertiser in Adelaide straight from school, then went to London for five years, where I had staff jobs on two different newspapers and worked as a freelancer as well. I moved to Sydney in 2007 and became Deputy Editor and then Editor of Slimming & Health magazine. I’d long wanted to give freelancing a go and, when Slimming & Health closed in 2009, it seemed like the ideal opportunity.
3. What were your first goals as a writer? For which publications did you aim to write?
When I started as a cadet journalist on The Advertiser in 1998, my goal was to have my own ‘round’. (Cadets work in every department of the newspaper, moving every three months to get a taste of everything.) I achieved this by eventually becoming both Youth Affairs Reporter and Fashion Editor – at the same time!
When I went freelance, because my most recent role had been running a health magazine, most of my work initially was in the health arena. I aimed to write for the big-name health titles, including Good Health and Body + Soul, which I’ve since done. The longer I’ve been freelancing, the more diverse my work has become. As well as continuing to write about health issues, I’m now also the Editor of Dogs Life magazine, regularly work as a sub-editor and also write about everything from parenting to film.
This year I’ve also set myself the goal of writing for some magazines that are a little bit out of my comfort zone – there’s nothing like a challenge!
4. What was your first paid (or breakthrough) article? How did it come about?
I actually can’t remember what my first freelance article was – it’s been an organic process in that I’ve always freelanced, even when I’ve held a staff writing position. I do remember that my first-ever article for The Advertiser as a 17-year-old cadet was about a proposed warehouse development on the South-Eastern Freeway in Adelaide. It made page five and I was very proud of myself!
In terms of breakthrough articles, articles I wrote for Notebook magazine, which sadly closed last year, and a feature I wrote for the February issue of Madison (which is on my website) have helped to raise my profile. I was lucky enough to be included on the contributors’ page in both magazines, which has led to other work. It’s a wonderful thing!
5. What is the most enjoyable article you have written?
Goodness, there have been SO many! When I worked as Features Editor on the Croydon Advertiser newspaper in London, I got to interview a slew of A-list celebrities including Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson and Halle Berry – that was a lot of fun! More recently, I’ve really enjoyed writing features that have allowed me to go into an issue in greater depth, such as a story I wrote for Notebook about how much exercise we really need (also on my website!).
6. How can a beginner writer compose a winning query letter?
I’m personally not a fan of very ‘formal’ approaches. I think a lot of beginning freelancers make the mistake of being very serious and outlining their (often limited) experience in great detail. From my experience as both a freelancer and an Editor, this immediately shows you up as a ‘newbie’. Also, Editors don’t have time to read a two-page pitch. I like to write a short, friendly email with just a line or two about my background and a link to my website, where my full CV and examples of my published work are available, plus the story idea. If your story idea is strong enough, you don’t need a lot of waffle to sell it – a couple of paragraphs outlining your idea should do it. If you feel you need hundreds of words to explain your idea, it’s probably not strong enough.
7. What's your best tip for beginner freelance writers?
Write clean copy. It is endlessly frustrating as an Editor to receive features that are riddled with spelling errors and typos, are missing crucial information or are not in keeping with the magazine’s style. Personally, if I have to spend time re-writing a freelancer’s copy, I will not commission them again – and I would not expect to be commissioned by an Editor who had to re-write my work.
It’s also really important to read the magazines you’re pitching to and tailor your pitches accordingly. Don’t blanket-pitch the same idea to several different titles.
Finally, stay positive. If a pitch is knocked back, it’s not necessarily because it’s not a good idea – it may be that the magazine ran a similar story only recently or doesn’t need any more copy for that issue.