Sep 25

Make money from misery: selling your story and more

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” This may sound like a tired old cliche but hey, why shouldn’t you turn a negative experience into something positive? Even if life has dealt you a cruel hand, it doesn’t mean you have to just lie down and take it. You can turn it into something that makes you stronger and, in some cases, richer.

It doesn’t work for everyone but for some it’s quite possible to use a difficult or unusual life experience to make some well-deserved cash. Here are a few ways to profit from problems.

Sell your real-life story for cash

Almost every newspaper or magazine you pick up will feature at least one real-life story – often a tragic or absurd one. Magazines and newspapers are driven by the ‘human interest’ angle and if you have an experience to share that other people will want to read, there is every chance that you can sell your story.

Whether your life experience is outrageous, inspiring, tragic, or even comic, you may have something to offer. It could be your husband’s affair, bankruptcy, a heart-warming reunion, an illness or even a dodgy bikini wax.

Step 1: Know what to expect.

Before you even think about picking up the phone to sell your story, make sure that you are completely happy about having your story, and possibly your life, in the public domain. Remember that your friends and family are likely to read or hear about your story so you need to be sure that you can cope with the possibility of negative reactions.

Be sure about the exact details that you are willing to have disclose but bear in mind that the more details you decide to conceal the less money you are likely to be offered and it may hamper your ability to sell the story. Be prepared to provide photographs as more often than not this will not only pay more but it could actually be the clincher when a publication is deciding whether to buy your story. Most will want to do their own photos but it will help to have some of your own to offer.

It may be worthwhile getting legal advice or representation depending on the sensitivity of the story. It could also be necessary to keep a record of all conversations with potential buyers. You are very likely to be asked to provide proof to validate your story so keep relevant photographs or documents safe.

Step 2: Research.

Here are some things to consider when deciding who to approach:

  • What kind of story do you have to tell?
  • What kind of people will want to read your story?
  • What kind of stories feature in magazines?
  • What kind of stories feature in newspapers?

Look at different magazines and see the type of real-life stories they use to get an idea of where you might be able to sell your story. A good place to start is the adverts in the magazine because the kind of products they feature will give you an idea of its readership. Magazines want their articles to reflect their readership and are usually targeted towards a particular age group, which will usually affect the kind of stories they feature.

Magazines like Sugar or Bliss for example have a teenage readership so if your story is relevant to younger readers, perhaps about a family feud or being bullied, then it could be worthwhile going to a teen magazine first. Whereas a medical horror story, or amazing weight loss story, for example, may be more easily sold to magazines such as Take A Break, Chat, and Woman’s Own, which have an older readership age range. Equally, a more upmarket magazine like Marie Claire may feature completely different kinds of stories, such as how you were kidnapped by Peruvian guerillas and left for dead.

If your story touches upon contemporary issues and has widespread appeal, perhaps a failed operation or how you had to sell the family home to pay off debts, it may be more appropriate for a newspaper feature article. Think about the kind of real-life stories you have read in the press and again have a good look at a variety of newspapers to see which ones are more likely to want a story like yours.

Step 3: Call around.

Some national newspapers like The Sun and The Mirror have phone numbers and email addresses set up specifically for people selling their real-life stories. Equally some magazines like Take A Break have a separate section on their website to help you sell them your story. For those that don’t, simply call the switchboard of your chosen paper or magazine and ask to be put through to the features desk. For an alphabetical list of all the newspapers and magazines in the UK along with contact details go to the Mediauk website.

Mel Fallowfield, a freelance magazines journalist who publishes people’s true life stories spoke to one of our team. She emphasised how surprising it is that few people actually contact features teams with their true stories.

Mel encourages more people to get in contact with her or magazines and sell your true story as you could be looking at earning up to £1000 in two weeks.

Mel also reassures people by reading the to be published story back to the individual before it is published. This is to check that there happy with it.

She emphasises that good, relevant photos are essential to illustrate your story and will earn you more money.

Finally, Mel encourages people to get in contact with her if your interested in selling your true story for big cash. She will explain the process very clearly and you can earn very good money for doing virtually nothing.

Contact Mel on [email protected] or phone her on 07710 357 110 to sell your interesting true story.

Step 4: Get help.

Consider using a press agency to sell your story for you. A press agency will often have the best contacts to sell your story and although they will take a percentage of your fee you may actually end up getting more money because they will have the contacts, and knowledge to make sure it is not undersold.

If you think your story will be highly sought-after it may be worthwhile using an agent or public relations company like Lewis PR. These agents have the expertise to sell it for the highest price by creating a bidding war and they will also help you organise any legal contracts. They may even be able to help you get paid work on TV documentaries and chat shows.

Here are three of the main press agencies:

How much can you earn?

According to one national tabloid feature writer, the amount of money a newspaper will give for a story is unpredictable and prices can vary widely from £200 to £2,000, or even more for an exceptional story. One of our readers got £2,200 for her story. Magazines may pay you less but they also feature more real-life stories than most newspapers so may be more willing to buy your story. Take A Break, for example, says you could earn up to £1,000 by sending them a story.

Newspapers are often bombarded with real-life stories and the decision to buy one will often depend on the nature of other stories in the paper, how many other people have contacted them with similar stories, and whether your story has an interesting angle. Generally the more facts and photographs you can provide, the more money a paper is likely to offer you.
You are likely to get more money from one of the tabloids but be aware that there is probably a greater risk that they will present your story in a way that you’re not necessarily comfortable with.

Once a paper has agreed to buy your story they may ask you to sign an exclusive deal, forbidding you from selling your story to another publication. However, if the story is good enough you may be able to sign a joint contract allowing you to sell your story to both a newspaper and a magazine. This is where it can be useful either to work through an agency or to get legal advice.

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Set up your own blog

Anyone can set up a blog (short for ‘web log’ – a kind of online diary). It’s free, takes very little time to set up and is controlled completely by you. There are millions of blogs on the web, many of which make no money at all for their writers, but others make some pocket money for them each month. A few even make a full-time living wage.

What you can do (right now if you feel like it) is to set up a blog and use it as an online journal about your experience. You may find it therapeutic on its own, but keep in mind that it can also be a way to earn some extra cash.

Step 1: Set up your blog.

All you need to start blogging is a blog address and something to say. Don’t worry if you’re a first-time blogger: setting one up is quick, easy and free. There are a few free blog hosting services which provide a template, web address and rich text editors so you’ll be up and running in no time. One of the easiest services is Blogger which requires no technical expertise at all and provides simple steps to help you create your blog.

What you write in your blog is entirely up to you. Perhaps you have just been made bankrupt and you are about to lose your house. Writing about the day-to-day reality of it can be helpful to you and to others who are going through the same thing or think they may be facing it soon. Or perhaps you have a child with severe emotional and behavioural problems. Again it can be fascinating and helpful for others to read about what you are going through. If you have been through problems and have come out the other side your insight and hard-earned wisdom could be a life-saver to others.

If you’re interested in getting other people to read your blog (not everyone is) then make sure you let your friends know about it and get them to tell their friends too. You can also publish it on blog directories such as Technorati so that people who are interested in reading blogs generally can find it. The more people who read your blog, the more are likely to click on the ads and make you some money (see below).

Step 2: Make some money.

Once you have set up your blog, sign up to a service like Google Adsense or Yahoo! Publisher Network, which use search technology to target your site with relevant advertising. The way it works is that any time someone comes to your blog and clicks one or more of the ads you get a share of the ad revenue. The amount you can make very much depends on how much ‘traffic’ you are getting on your blog and how keen people are to click on the ads. Quite often the more informative your site is the more people will click on relevant ads. These ads are unlikely to make you rich – you have to have a lot of clicks before you can make anything like sensible money, but they’re a start and they don’t cost you anything to be there.

There’s nothing to stop you selling things off your blog too. Ramit Sethi who writes a blog called sells his own services as a speaker off his blog (and a very good blog it is too we think). Another blog called sells great photos, and that’s pretty much it, but the owner makes a living from it.

There are various things you could sell or advertise on your blog. For example, you could set up a premium-rate helpline for other people to call if they have problems that you could help with thanks to your experiences.

If you run this as a business you could set up an occasional newsletter that your readers would subscribe to. We like the price and service offered by Aweber which is the company we use to send our weekly newsletter (join here for free!).

Step 3: Think outside the box.

Use your blog to establish yourself as an expert. If you have struggled with something like bankruptcy or the illness of a relative and fought your way through it then you can use your expertise to help people and make money.

Set up a helpline or create a newsletter which people can subscribe to. You could even set yourself up as a speaker for corporate events on a particular subject or use your blog to sell your own products.

Your blog could open up other doors. If it strikes a chord, and has something unique to offer, publications may approach you to sell them your story: even the offer of a book deal isn’t out of the question. After all, your writing is there for all to see. If it’s good and you clearly have something to say it could be snapped up.

Write your own self-help book

Yeah, sure “write a book” we say, like it’s easy. All right, we know that getting a book deal is an incredibly difficult thing – something most just dream of. But it’s not out of the question, particularly if you have been through an exceptional experience or you’re just a very engaging writer. Don’t rule it out. Whether you write a self-help book using your own story as your starting point, or a novel inspired and based on your own experience, you might be able to use your situation to gain financially. Even if it never gets published, at least you have had the experience of getting things down on paper and further out of your system. You could even use it as the substance of a blog.

If you would like to take the plunge, here are the steps you need to take.

Step 1: Be inspired.

You have your real life experiences to draw upon and that first-hand knowledge will give your book authority. The guidance you might be able to provide to others in a similar situation could be invaluable.

Take encouragement from author Alexis Hall who amassed more than £30,000 of debt and used that crisis to get her diary In The Red, The Diary of a Recovering Shopaholic published in January this year. Her book follows a year in her life trying to fix her money problems and transform her life.

“I’d reached rock bottom,” says Alexis, “and I knew that I needed to take serious action to get myself out of a hole. I found that writing a diary helped me to realise how reckless I’d been and forced me to have a long hard look at my spending.” Alexis began writing the diary with no thoughts of getting published but a few months into the diary she showed it to some friends who urged her to send it to several publishers. Eventually Icon Books got in touch and she got her book deal.

“On one occasion I went to a bank and asked for £200 worth of £5 notes, and forced myself to leave my plastic cards at home and take only £5 to spend each day and find cheaper ways to eat and travel,” she says. “Writing about such occasions automatically put me in the frame of mind of saving and helped me to focus on the little things I could do to get out of debt.”

Alexis wrote about a subject very close to her heart and her publishers realised that it would strike a chord with readers and provide witty, upbeat advice for others struggling with debt. We aren’t saying that getting published is easy and obviously there is a great deal of luck involved but you’ll never know unless you try.

Step 2: Get published.

Write a synopsis of your story, ideally with a couple of sample chapters to show your writing style. See Amazon and other sites to check out the competition. If there are already lots of books similar to the one you want to write you may need to alter your idea and try to find a unique angle that will help you get it published.

Think about the direction you would want the book to take and who it will appeal to then find a literary agent who can approach the publishing houses on your behalf. Most agents specialise in a particular area like non-fiction or children’s fiction so make sure that you find one suitable for your book. Send your synopsis, a CV and a covering letter outlining who you think your book will appeal to, how you think the book should be marketed and why they should help you to get published, to all the agents you think would be good for your book.For a list of literary agents in the UK check out the Writers and Artists Yearbook.

Step 3: Be persistent.

Expect rejection but don’t give up, you have nothing to lose by trying again and again to get your work published. Not getting a publishing deal isn’t necessarily the end of the road. You could always write an ebook, an electronic book which is read digitally on a computer. It should cost little to set up and could even be sold on your blog site.

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12 thoughts on Make money from misery: selling your story and more

    1. I’m not sure – usually about a month but it depends on the publication. Sometimes you can get it sent through faster if you make a fuss. Email Mel (her address is in the article) and ask her.

  1. Be careful when choosing the right company! I shopped around and a few wanted a fee up front!

    Make the Press (who I went with) and I think all the companies mentioned in the article value your story for free. Shop around and you’ll be protected against these fees!


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