It takes a special kind of journalist to work the human interest beat. Could it be your thing?
DEFINING HUMAN INTEREST
Human interest stories tell the story behind the story. Who are the people behind the headline? These set out to evoke emotion in the reader and have a personal focus – usually a noteworthy person (or people) and a story that inspires, motivates or moves. Some are celebrity pieces, some focus on charities; some might even focus on remarkable animals or events.
Stories are hiding everywhere. Get to know people and their stories – yes, this means you get to strike up conversations with strangers at random. Keep your finger on the pulse of local news, too; read the dailies, attend local events and council meetings. Think of what will evoke two very powerful triggers in your reader: Emotion and interest. As examples, could you tell the story of your local charity’s next gig, or maybe go digging for the heart-warming story of how a mother and son were reunited after twenty years?
SWINGING THE ANGLE
As an exercise, pick up a newspaper and take a look at the first three headlines. Now see if you can change these “hard news” pieces to “human interest” pieces by changing the angle. For example, a story about a tree falling over on 3rd Street during a heavy storm could change into a story about the local couples who carved their names into the tree over thirty years ago, or it could be a story of an owner and their pet being reunited after the storm calmed down. There is almost always a human interest angle to any headline.
HANDLING ROUGH TOPICS
Some human interest stories are emotional, and you as writer will have to approach the source with empathy, sympathy and care. Always keep things said “off the record” exactly so, never press an emotionally distressed source for the sake of a by-line, don’t be late for your own scheduled interviews and, of course, never go for simple, tabloid sensation. It’s often about trust, and sources might also feel better if they are able to read a draft of the piece before it goes to print.
HUMAN INTEREST’S STYLE
Human interest pieces have a different tone than hard news or fact-filled features. You want to draw the reader in with language that tugs at their sense of adventure (or, simply, their heart-strings!); your language can be a little more colourful and emotional. You are looking to tell a story, not just report on one.
REJECTION CAN BE OPPORTUNITY
A rejected story isn’t a bad thing: It either means that you’ve just met a new editor who will be willing to consider other stories from you in future, or that your story will be able to find a home elsewhere; many stories that aren’t suitable for one market will be completely fine for another.
RIGHTS AND RESALES
Make sure to ask your editor which rights they will be buying. Yes, there are different types – and this influences whether you can re-sell your story to another publication later on as a re-print. There are print rights and electronic rights; there are also archival rights and first-use rights. Sometimes this can be time-bound, too, and rights cede back to you after a set period of time.
TEN MARKETS FOR HUMAN INTEREST
Submit your stories or pitches to some of these markets; or, simply search for the keywords ‘submission guidelines’ and ‘human interest’ through your favourite neighbourhood search engine.
According to their guidelines, they look for features about “a singular person, place or event that reveals a broader aspect of frontier culture.” Pays $0.25 per word, plus $20 for each permission-granted photo and a kill fee of half the agreed-upon rate.
The Penny Hoarder publishes human-interest features with a money-making angle. Pays $75 for a published post of up to 800 words.
Alaska Airlines Magazine is the official in-flight publication of Alaska Airlines. They pay $150 to $250 for 200 – 600 word pieces for their Journal section. As described in their guidelines, “Journal is a collection of short pieces that range from business personality profiles to new museum exhibits in cities served by Alaska Airlines.”
Spirituality & Health Magazine pays for shorter pieces for sections titled Inner Life, Practice, Enlightened Diet, Healthy Body, Relationships and Biosphere and pay a maximum of $200, including for book excepts. They also accept longer features (1, 500 to 3, 500 words) and pay a maximum of $500.
The Chronicle of the Horse covers horse-tales and equestrian news; $150 to $400 paid for a feature article, and $165 to $220 for straighter news pieces. Query first.
The Bark Magazine looks for human and animal interest stories combined. They also accept shorter features of up to 600 words. Query the editors first and include your projected word count. Rates are to be discussed after acceptance of pitch, though has been reported to be decent.
Eating Well is a magazine for the health-conscious reader, and they are looking for features and stories about food. Their pay rates are listed at up to $1 per word.
American Angler Magazine considers features (human interested included, but information-based features, too). They pay $200 to $400 for shorter features of 800 to 1,200 words, and between $450 to $600 for longer features of 2,000 to 2,300 words,
The official magazine of the AHS is looking for ”human-plant” interest features and essays of 1, 500 to 2, 500 words. They pay $300 to $600 for features.
The Establishment seeks features of between 800 to 1, 500 words on a variety of topics at $125 per article. Their guidelines mention that they also accept a “few long-form investigative pieces that involve original reporting and at least five interviews.” For those, they pay $500 at 3, 000 words.
Find more paying markets for writers HERE!
- When It’s Okay to Write About Personal (Tough) Stuff, and When It’s NOT! By Ann Hauprich
- Oops! Interview Blunders By Laura Bell
- Let’s Get Personal: Six Paying Markets For Your Personal Essays By Erika Dreifus
- Troublesome Interviewees By Angela Hoy
- Selling Interviews to Print and Online Publications – Nick Chester
Alex J. Coyne is a journalist and author who has penned hundreds of features for publications including People Magazine, The Dollar Stretcher, Great Bridge Links and Funds for Writers.
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