A Passion for Writing Leads to Articles in Major Magazines

May 31, 2012

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Featuring: Karen Ansel

Prologue: I met Karen Ansel about a year ago at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Nutrition News Forecast meeting, when I first became a spokesperson for the Academy. I was impressed by her poise and kindness, and needless to say, her writing reputation had preceded her. You see, Karen writes articles for some of the most widely read magazines in America. She is a contributing editor for Woman’s Day and also writes frequently for Women’s Health, Fitness and Cooking Light.  She has also written several books, and is the co-author of the new The Calendar Diet: A Month By Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life (Wagging Tail Press, 2012).

MELISSA: Karen, how long have you been writing articles for magazines?

KAREN: I started writing right after I finished my internship. At the beginning I wrote for free because I had absolutely zero experience. But within a year I was getting paid small amounts for each piece I wrote. Now I’ve been a paid writer for about 10 years. While I didn’t get paid much at first, I slowly worked my way up the ladder getting paid more and more every year.

MELISSA: What is your motivation for writing?

KAREN: My main motivation is that I love it! Writing is a huge creative outlet for me. I find it to be the perfect way to combine my RD side with my inner writer.

MELISSA: What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to write like you?

KAREN: First you really have to enjoy the writing process. Because RDs have to intertwine a lot of science with their writing it can be pretty labor intensive. In addition, it helps to expand your skill set in any way possible such as developing recipes and writing menu plans. Even though I started out writing only nutrition articles I’ve found that recipe development has become a huge part of my business because there’s such a great demand for it.

MELISSA: When it comes to writing, what comes naturally for you and what do you have to work at?

KAREN: The writing itself comes naturally to me but the ideas don’t. Once I have an idea I’m all set but it can literally take me weeks or even months to come up with ideas. Magazines are always looking for new and fresh ideas, but when it comes to nutrition it can be hard to keep coming up with a new spin on the same ideas year after year. After all, how many different kinds of articles on holiday eating can one person write?

MELISSA: What are your top 3 tips for other RDs who want to be better food/nutrition writers?

KAREN: #1 – Learn how to write a pitch letter. Editors get hundreds of pitch letters each month so they don’t have time to read them all. By taking an online pitch writing class (or a writing class at a local university) you can learn to write a pitch that will grab the editor’s attention instead of falling into a black hole.

#2 – Think like a writer. We’re trained to think like health professionals but writing is a business, not a science. The best way to succeed is to think about the publication you want to write for and who their readers are. Then think about what would really spark their interest. Also realize that your competition isn’t other RDs – its other writers. To compete on their playing field you really have to think like they do.

#3 – Develop a thick skin – Being a writer means dealing with LOTS of rejection and criticism. Instead of being discouraged, try to take each rejection or critique as lesson as to how you can improve your writing for next time around.

MELISSA: Can you share an experience that taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs?

KAREN: When I was finishing my master’s degree at NYU I took a class in nutrition writing. My final paper was essentially a magazine article about the health benefits of calcium (not very creative but at the time I didn’t realize that). When I finished it I submitted it to Self magazine and waited for weeks and weeks without any response. Finally, I mustered the courage to call the editor (who happened to be an RD). She was kind enough to take the time to explain to me that editors don’t have time to read entire articles written on spec and that next time around I should simply send her a pitch. I was completely embarrassed, but that was the first of many lessons where I learned that if you want to be a writer you have to understand the business of writing. After that I signed up for an online pitch writing class through www.freelancesuccess.com which was the best money I ever spent. It was really humbling, because I was working with professional writers, but it taught me how to write to get an editor’s attention and was a huge turning point in my career.

Epilogue: A generous round of applause goes to Karen for being my first interviewee! You can find out more about Karen on her website www.KarenAnsel.com.

Do you also write for magazines? Do you want to write for magazines some day? Please post your thoughts and comments to get the dialogue started!

Did you enjoy this interview?  Click here to read more!

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