“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?
Or maybe life hasn’t even handed you lemons, just a batch of really weird-looking, but no less delicious, strawberries.
Whatever the case may be, your unique set of circumstances might just have the makings of a bestseller or, at the very least, a blog post that goes viral.
As anyone who’s ever read an inspiring real-life tale will know, there’s power in telling your story… and, in some cases, even pounds.
While it may not work for everyone, it’s quite possible to use a difficult or unusual life experience to make some well-deserved cash.
Here are a few ideas:
- Telling your real-life story for cash
- Set up your own blog
- Write and market a novel or self-help book
Almost every newspaper or magazine you pick up will feature at least one real-life story – often tragic or absurd.
Driven by the ‘human interest’ angle, publications are always on the lookout for something either really unusual or highly relateable to draw the eye.
So, if you have an experience that fits the bill, there is every chance you can tell your real-life story in exchange for a few thousands pounds.
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 you are completely comfortable with having your story, and possibly your life, in the public domain.
Remember your friends, family and random strangers you may still meet 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.
Here are a few things to consider:
- How much are you willing to disclose? Generally, the more you reveal, the more you get paid.
- Do you have photographs? This will not only up the amount publications are willing to pay, but may also be the clincher in sealing the deal.
- Do you have legal representation? If your story is of a sensitive nature, involving other parties, this is particularly important.
- How organised are you? Should you ever be embroiled in legal battles over the story, you should be able to provide a record of all conversations with potential buyers.
Step 2: Research
Once you’ve decided that you’re okay with facing any repercussions, it’s time to decide which publication/s to approach.
Here are some things to consider:
- What kind of story do you have to tell?
- Who are the people you want to tell your story to?
- Do magazines feature these sorts of stories?
- Or is it maybe better to approach a newspaper?
Different magazines obviously have different types of readership, so take some time looking through various ones to decide where your real-life story will work best.
Pay close attention to the adverts, as the kind of products they feature offer a good idea of who they’re trying to attract.
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’ve read in the press and 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
Similarly, magazines like Take A Break have a separate section on their website to help you sell them your story.
If you can’t find a dedicated e-mail address for the paper or magazine you have in mind, simply call the switchboard 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 Media.info website.
Dial a journalist
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 more people don’t actually contact features teams with their true stories.
Mel encourages people to get in contact with her to sell their real-life story, as you could be looking at earning up to £1,000 in two weeks.
“One woman that came to me (through a previous version of this article on MoneyMagpie) earned over £3,000 all together, after being featured in three mags and a newspaper,” says Mel.
As for topics that work well? Mel says the golden rule is: if it’s something your friends are astonished by, other people will want to read about it too. Saucy stories always work well and so do any incredible transformations – e.g. someone going from being desperately overweight, to a front page model.
“My biggest story this year was actually about a man whose two ex wives and one present wife are all best friends! Another good one is a woman whose husband has run off with her mother.”
Mel always sends her version of the story back to the person who told it to her, to be sure they’re completely happy with it before publishing.
“Good, relevant photos are essential to illustrate your story and will earn you more money,” she concludes.
Contact Mel on email@example.com 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.
They often have the best contacts and, although they take a percentage of your fee, may actually end up helping you get more money.
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.
However, as Mel mentioned, one MoneyMagpie reader managed to get £3,000 for selling her story to a few publications.
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.
If you enjoy writing yourself, the best way to tell your story may be to start your very own blog and use it as an online journal of sorts.
While most blogs don’t make that much money for their authors, there are ways of earning bits of pocket money through advertising and the likes.
But more than that, blogs often serve as stepping stones toward bigger things with more earning potential, such as deals or motivational speaking opportunities.
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 and easy.
Which platform to choose
There are quite a few blogging platforms out there offering signup, templates and hosting for absolutely free. Here are a few of the top ones:
Each of these platforms have their pros and cons, so be sure to do some thorough research before making your final pick.
What to write about
What you write on your blog is entirely up to you. That’s the beauty of it.
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.
Maybe your child has severe emotional and behavioural problems. Again, writing about it can be a sort of therapy for you, while reading what you’re going through can be fascinating and helpful to others.
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.
How to gain a readership
If you want other people to read your blog, let your friends know about it and ask them to tell their friends too.
Set up a Facebook page for your blog, where you can post updates regularly and then share them on your own personal timeline too. If you use Twitter and Instagram, do the same here.
You might be surprised at the community you manage to build through simply telling your story.
Step 2: Make some money
Once you’ve managed to get a bit of blogging momentum going, it’s time to make some money.
Sign up to a service like Google Adsense, which uses search technology to target your site with relevant advertising.
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 depends on how much traffic your blog attracts and how keen people are to click on the ads.
Also, the more informative your site is the more people will click on relevant ads. You probably won’t get rich off these ads, but they’re a start and don’t cost anything to be there.
In the simplest of terms, you can generate a small income by linking out to other products from your blog. Every time someone clicks on the link and ends up buying the product, you get a small commission.
You can sell an almost endless variety of stuff on your blog to generate an extra income.
Here are a few ideas:
- Set up a premium rate helpline for people in the same situation as you to call
- Write an eBook with exclusive tips and sell it for a small fee
- Make products have something to do with your cause – bath salts that help children relax, soft toys, t-shirts with motivational slogans
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, which could help open other doors.
If it strikes a chord and has something unique to offer, publications may approach you to sell them your story and a book could even be on the cards… but more about that in a bit!
Step 4: Find inspiration from other bloggers
Here are two real-life story blogs to draw inspiration from:
- purplepersuasion by Charlotte Walker details her 25-year journey through various battles with mental illness and related health services. While she started her blog as a means of therapy for herself, she has built a solid community and helped thousands of people. She has also gotten a book deal and established herself as a sought-after public speaker through her blog.
- Lucie Brownlee started her blog, Wife After Death, shortly after her husband passed away unexpectedly in 2012. As with Charlotte, the blog started out as a personal project, but has since opened many amazing doors for Lucie, including a recent book deal and the opportunity to present workshops on writing about grief.
Yeah, sure ‘write a book’ we say, like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
All right, we know that getting a book deal is an incredibly difficult thing, but it’s not out of the question.
This is especially true for people who have had an exceptional experience and can write about it in an engaging manner.
Whether you write a self-help book using your own story as a starting point, or a novel inspired by it, you might be able to use your situation to gain financially.
As mentioned above, testing the waters by starting a blog first is a great idea and will also help you find your voice.
If you would like to take the plunge, here are the steps you need to take.
Step 1: Find inspiration
Use author Alexis Hall as an example. After amassing a whopping £30,000 or more of debt, she used the crisis as inspiration for her lighthearted novel, In The Red: The Diary of a Recovering Shopaholic.
“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 started writing her diary without a mere thought of turning it into a book, but when she showed it to a few friends, they all encouraged her to contact a publisher.
Icon Books eventually made contact with Alexis and offered her a 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 managed to strike a chord with readers who were looking for witty, upbeat advice on dealing with debt.
Step 2: find a publisher
Once you’ve found your inspiration and started writing, you need to find someone who can help you send your book out into the world. Here are a few tips:
- Think about the direction you would want your book to take and who it would appeal to.
- Write a synopsis of your story and include a few sample chapters to show your writing style.
- Check out the competition on Amazon. Consider changing the angle if you find many similar stories.
- Use the Writers and Artists Yearbook to find a list of literary agents in the UK.
- Contact an appropriate 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.
- In the meantime, send a synopsis of your story, a CV and a covering letter to all the agents who you think would find your book appealing.
Step 3: Be persistent
Expect rejection but don’t give up. Try and try again, because you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Not getting a publishing deal isn’t necessarily the end of the road. You could always start by writing an eBook and move on to ink and paper later, and self-publishing is a growing form of marketing that’s losing a lot of the stigma once associated with it. If you do go that route you’ll have to market the book yourself, but it’s not impossible and you could even start by advertising the book on your blog site.