Tell a good story

One of Trade Press Services’ writers once worked for the editor of a small east coast business publication that enjoyed considerable success despite a tough marketplace for magazines. Why did the magazine, which was started at the peak of the recent economic downturn, fare so well? Because of stories. The editor made sure that he identified the best stories in the community, and then assigned his writers to tell them.

While most of the stories were handed down from the editor to the writers, there was also the opportunity for the writers to suggest stories to the editor. Sometimes he’d bite, and sometimes he wouldn’t. A typical bite would result in something like “Do it. 500 words, plus photos. Focus on why…” and then he’d lay out the angle he wanted to see covered in the piece—typically, what he found interesting, different or unique about the story.

But sometimes he wouldn’t take the bite. Then his e-mailed responses would read, “We’ve done that story already,” which may mean the magazine had covered that actual, specific story before (in which case the writer hadn’t done his or her homework), or they’d covered a similar piece. Sometimes it was just a general disdain for the subject matter. When our writer suggested a story about a national chain gym that was doing a good business in town, the editor responded “There are far better stories than that,” which probably reflected the editor’s personal dislike for chains and a preference for mom-and-pop operations.

The worst sin of all was revealing that the story had been covered at any time in the last ten years by the local daily newspaper, which the editor hated with a special passion. He thought the local daily was a dank pit of poor journalism filled with incompetents, even though they had given him his first job when he rolled into town decades before, without a college degree. So much for gratitude.

Our writer received the publication’s first Contributor of the Year award. When he presented it, the editor said, “This person doesn’t tell his story—he tells the story of the person he’s writing about.”

Despite this editor’s idiosyncrasies, he’s right about telling good stories. Every business has a story to tell, even though the business owner may not realize it. And every good writer can sniff out that story, and tell the real story—not the writer’s preconceived notions, but the true story that can only be revealed when the writer explores with an open mind. And the true story is almost always more engaging and more enjoyable than the one the business thinks it wants to tell.

What are your business’ best stories? Trade Press Services can help you identify them and tell them, too. Call us today at (805) 496-8850 or e-mail

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