5 Ways to Take the ‘Fear’ Out of Byline Writing

Christel Henke

STIR | Vice President, Earned Media
Oct 9

Here at STIR, some of us love the horror genre more than others, but we all agree Stephen King has an uncanny ability to build an emotional connection with his audience as he terrifies the living wits out of them. For many, the thought of writing a guest post or contributed article, also known as a byline, can be scary. But tamp down the trepidation – following these King-inspired writing rules will reduce the fear-factor and ensure you hold your readers captive to the end of your article.

1. Don’t be Afraid to Dive in

Many experts who know their subject matter inside and out can sometimes freeze up when starting to write their article. The initial excitement of getting that article request morphs into a fear of rejection or dread that writing it is going to take much longer than anticipated. King’s advice is to view any writing as an excavation – you never know what you’ll have at the end until you start digging.

  • Start with a familiar topic and add credible research to support the premise.
  • Create an abbreviated outline and a broad theme.
  • The lead paragraph should set up the problem and then the body of the piece will frame the solution – many times in a series of bulleted points.
  • Wrap up with a strong closing paragraph about why the solution can have a great impact.

2. Headlines that Slay

A few powerful words can build suspense and make the difference between someone reading your piece or skipping right past it. Research shows 80% of visitors will read headlines and only 20% will read the whole article. It’s that important. First, research the outlet to determine if there’s a preferred headline style – “how-to” headlines are typical (e.g. 5 ways to escape a killer clown). A variety of tools can ensure you maximize Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which helps elevate your article to the top of Internet searches.

3. Cut, the Cut Some More

The gory truth is that editing our own writing is hard. There’s a lot to say and it’s hard to imagine the finished article without an avalanche of facts. But as King has noted about his own writing – “To write is human, but to edit is divine.”  Less also is more when it comes to bylines. The good news is that publications generally provide editorial guidelines that outline preferences for word counts, formatting and writing style. Be sure to review and follow those closely when writing a first draft.

4. Don’t Kill Your Chances

You know that scene in horror movies where everyone yells at the poor sap on the screen, ‘Don’t go down to the basement!’  Picture me shouting that warning right now about including a sales pitch in a byline article. While it’s not a life-threatening scenario, it can actually kill your chances to get published. The aim of contributed articles is thought leadership – positioning you as an expert and, in most cases, not specifically promoting products or services. That’s not to say you can’t mention a pertinent case study or example, it just needs to fit within the context of the article. Most outlets provide authors with a bio paragraph that includes a company mention and link to the website. A byline article is a more subtle way to promote as it provides a valuable opportunity to share your expertise, positioning you well with prospective customers.

5. A Ghost for Your Post

In an ideal world, you’d have the time and inclination to write all of your own articles, but the reality is that a lot of experts are over extended and under time pressure. That’s when it helps to have a ghostwriter available to draft the piece under an expert’s authored byline. This generally involves an interview with a writer who then transcribes notes into a piece that the expert edits. When we work on writing projects, for example, we share writing samples in advance so our clients can see the kind of quality they are getting. As the expert, you too should share your previous writing samples so that the ghostwriter’s tone matches your own.

If there’s one thing a horror movie isn’t it’s boring. Make sure that’s your byline article mantra as well. Avoid technical jargon that puts readers to sleep. Back up your assertions with some strong statistics, and keep your sentence structure short and snappy. Follow these guidelines and you’ll never have to fear writing bylines again.

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