Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Take a Bite Out of Time: Online Research Is a Writer’s Best Friend

Post by NCW member Laura Bridgwater

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was famous for reading multiple newspapers every day. Now thanks to digital media, we can all be JFK’s and gorge ourselves around the clock on media web sites. The information superhighway makes writers ask not what can they do for their research, but what can their research do for their writing?

As a news junkie and radio commentator, I have my daily online media rounds. At first glance, the abbreviations on the toolbar on my laptop look like the stock exchange: NYT, WaPo, LAT, DP, and NPR are part of my rotation. (If you’re not a newshound, that’s the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, and National Public Radio.)

But even more than easy access to multiple news outlets, as a freelance writer I love the Related Stories sidebars. The Related Stories sidebars are a great place to begin studying a market to pitch a story idea to. These sidebars show freelancers quickly what topics and angles a publication has published recently.

For example, I live with a Twihard (a diehard Twilight fan) and I was kicking around a commentary idea about Twilight trading cards for NPR. So I clicked on NPR and found a recently aired story about the vampire trend in books called For Love of Do-Good Vampires: A Bloody Book List.

That’s where I also found these Related Stories, or as NPR cleverly named them, Selected Bites: A few fang-tastic stories from NPR’s archives:

'Dracula Is Dead,' But How Is Romania? Dec. 13, 2009
Sexing Up The PG-13 Vampire ... But Not Too Much Nov. 18, 2009
The Ten Most Annoying Things About Being A Vampire's Girlfriend Nov. 17, 2009
There Will Be Blood -- And Wisecracks: Buffy Lives Jan. 23, 2009

I also had an idea for a commentary about the wildly popular best-seller Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. After entering “Elizabeth Gilbert” (be sure to include the quotation marks) into the search box on the NPR website, I found a long list of online archives.

Then I hit gold when I stumbled across to this great All Things Considered commentary on a guy’s perspective of Gilbert’s book called Man Enough to Love ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
by David Sax. So not only did I find out what NPR has already aired, but I learned something about what makes a fresh angle and what it’s going to take to break into NPR.

Related Stories sidebars and online archives aren’t just a freelancer’s dream, either. If I were writing a vampire fantasy or a memoir about a spiritual journey, both would be helpful for following trends in those genres—what’s selling, what’s hot, what’s not.

Now that most publications maintain and make available online archives and Related Stories sidebars, there’s no excuse for not doing your homework before pitching an editor (unless you can claim that the dog ate the Internet.). By doing your research, you increase the odds that an editor won’t respond to your query letter or book proposal with, “Bite me!”

Do you have an online research tip to share?

Bio: Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator for KUNC. She will be teaching the nonfiction track at the June 2010 Explorati Teen Writers Bootcamp .


Carol Kilgore said...

I don't freelance, but I'm definitely a news junkie. And a research freak. It all comes in handy when writing fiction, too. Great post.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love the research part of writing, but I'm a history junkie. I often wander from one link to another, following an interesting tidbit that has very little to do with the information I needed in the first place. I guess I shouldn't consider it time wasted -- at least I'm learning something new.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sidebar follower! A spiderweb of information, the Internet. Save the links somewhere in your personal files for future reference - if you're in a hurry.


from the desk of a writer

MLO said...

Unfortunately, I can become so enthralled by my research I never get anything done. Of course, when working as a tech writer, I have had a hard deadline, so the temptation would leave at some point.

Laura.Bridgwater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura.Bridgwater said...

I hear you. Instead of couch surfing, writers go researchurfing.

Kerrie said...

The only research tip I have is to bookmark all your favorite research links for easy access. Otherwise I rely on my research savvy writing buddy (Ms. Bridgwater) to keep me informed. :-)

Love the new word Laura:researchurfing
Very fun to say.

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