• Elizabeth Archer

What really happens when you sell a story to the press?


Ever wondered about selling a real life story to a women's magazine? How does it really work? And are the stories even true? I'll let you in on a secret...

In the past year alone, I've sold dozens of real life stories to women's magazines and national newspapers. In that time, I've spoken to a man who fathered ten children in four months (above) and a woman who spent £10,000 on surgery so she could look like a Barbie doll.

I'm often asked how it works, and whether the stories in real life magazines are even true. So in this post I'll let you in on a few trade secrets from my experience as a real life journalist.

How do journalists find stories?

The first thing people usually want to know is where the stories come from. Do people ring up a magazine and say they'd like to be featured, or do journalists track them down?

Well in my experience, it's a bit of both. While some people call a journalist and ask to be featured in a magazine, the vast majority don't even know their story is newsworthy until a journalist or features writer contacts them.

For example, I recently read a short article in a local newspaper about a woman who asked her wedding guests for donations to a local hospital - so I got in touch to see if there was an interesting tale behind it.

I found out the hospital neonatal unit had saved her twin niece and nephew's lives. Just over a year ago, the bride's sister had been knocked off her bike when she was 6 months pregnant and gone into early labour because of the shock.

Although the twins were born three months early and only weighed a few pounds, the doctors and nurses had worked around the clock to make sure they were okay.

When I spoke to the twins' mum, she was happy to be interviewed for a real life magazine because she remembered flicking through similar magazines in the hospital waiting room when her children were in intensive care.

After a chat on the phone, and I helped her sell the story exclusively to Chat magazine.

How much do magazines pay for real life stories?

People often ask me whether magazines and newspapers will pay for a story. And if so, how can they even begin to put a value on such personal stories?

Usually stories which are sold to women's magazines are auctioned and the price is set by demand. The journalist would send a short summary of the story to a number of different women's magazines.

If one of the magazines wanted to publish the story, they'd put forward a bid. In some cases, two or three magazines want the story, in which case they would bid against each other until one magazine wins.

Often a story can be sold to two magazines, as long as they aren't direct competitors.

Are stories in women's magazines really true?

Finally, that all-important question: how can the outlandish stories in real life magazines be true?

All I can say is sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. My job would be a whole lot easier if I could sell made up stories to the magazines, but every one is carefully fact-checked, often with the courts or police.

The crazy thing is that sometimes there are even more shocking details to a story which can't be printed for legal or ethical reasons.

And sometimes the bizarre antics behind the scenes in a newspaper or magazine office become worthy of a story in themselves! But those are tales I'll leave for another blog post.

Think you've got a real life story?

I hope this post gave you a little bit of an insight into the weird and wonderful world of real life magazines. If you think you've got a real life story which you'd like to share with a magazine, why not get in touch?

My advice is always free and confidential.

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Copyright Elizabeth Archer 2016