Today’s newsstands bulge with magazines like Money, Smart Money, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and Worth. What’s more, many other publications—from men’s and women’s magazines to parenting titles—now include financial articles as a regular part of their editorial mix.
How can you break into this lucrative field if you don’t know a hedge fund from a hedge hog? After writing and editing personal-finance pieces for close to 20 years now, I’m convinced that this is one kind of writing (and maybe the only kind) that’s easier than it looks. Here are five tips that could put you in the money.
- If you’re scared of numbers, get over it. That’s the single biggest hurdle—and one many writers never manage to leap. Buy a calculator if you don’t already have one. Check your math and check it again, but never fear: Numbers will not hurt you.
- Don’t be snowed by all the jargon—or “bafflegab,” as the pioneering personal-finance writer Sylvia Porter used to call it. This stuff really isn’t that complicated. A stock is a share of ownership in a corporation. A bond is a loan to a company or a government. A mutual fund is a company that pools the assets of many investors to buy a diversified pool of stocks, bonds, or whatever. Now you know at least as much as I did when I started writing about money. And there are lots of good books that can explain anything else you need to know.
- Beware of “experts.” Someone whose business card says financial planner may basically be an insurance agent or a stock broker. That doesn’t mean he or she is a crook, but it does mean that whatever advice you get will probably lead to the kinds of products that he or she sells. And just because someone has written a best-selling book about money or hosted a public television series, don’t assume that he or she really knows it all either.
- Make it lively. Money doesn’t have to be boring, grim, or overly serious. Use anecdotes about real, live people to humanize whatever you write. Anecdotes aren’t always easy to get, but after you’ve done this for a while, you’ll be amazed by the things that strangers will happily tell you about their financial affairs.
- And finally, don’t let them pigeonhole you. Once you’ve begun to establish yourself as someone who can write about money, editors may think of you only as that. You may yearn to write about skateboarding or South Dakota, but every time the phone rings it will be another assignment about savings bonds.
So even as you’re breaking into personal finance try to keep your hand in other types of writing. Because, as anybody who has been doing this for a while can tell you, fun as it is, money isn’t everything.
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