Tips for writing features #2*: Stick with good contacts

Tips for writing features #2I’m working on a feature at the moment, and nothing is going right. The experts that I have called are not calling me back. The time frame that’s been allocated is simply not enough. I’m fast running out of hours and options. But my many years in this game have given me one amazing asset for moments such as these: trusted contacts.

These are people I’ve interviewed many times over many years. A psychologist or two. Some financial advisors. Nutritionists, dietitians, parenting experts. Relationship gurus. Fashion experts, beauty experts, organising experts. I know that when I call them, they will give me exactly what I need. They know how my questions work, they know where to fill in the gaps. I know that when I call them, I do not need to explain myself, or my credentials. They know me. Well enough to say ‘just put that into proper English for me, will you?’ and trust that the quotes will be correct.

Every general features writer needs people like these. If you interview someone for a story and it goes particularly well, ask them one extra question: “Do you mind if I keep your details on file and call you again for future stories?” Chances are they’ll say yes. Then you cross your fingers that they like that first story you did together so that the next time you call they’re pleased to hear from you.

I keep up my end of the bargain. I don’t call too often, I ensure they’re credited as fully as I can, I am mindful of their time and keep my questions succinct. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that my expert team are also people that I really like. They’re people that I’ve connected with – a certain sense of humour, an ability to go off on tangents with aplomb. I’ve never met any of them face to face. Not one. But I’m sure they’d recognise my voice on the phone.

I’m always looking to add new people to my team. It’s important to keep voices and ideas fresh. But I cannot tell you how happy I am that I have them in my life, particularly on nights like this, with that deadline looming.

And now I must go. There’s a psychologist I need to email about an interview…

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