Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How the Web Helps You Break into Fitness Writing

Editor Lisa Tant's blog post over at Flare magazine got me thinking about when I was first trying to break into writing health and fitness articles for pay.

It seems easier these days to connect with editors (and hopefully charm them with your brilliant ideas and pithy writing).
Plus, with today's web tools, you can put your writing in front of an audience any time you want to--no need to wait for an article assignment.

Here are three ways to use web technology for breaking into writing fitness articles that pay.

Blogs. Way back when--like, you know, 5 or 10 years ago--if you wanted to prove to an editor you could write, you had to first somehow get published in the print media. Then you'd photocopy your prized article and snail mail it around.

Now blogs let you create your own publishing platform and, if you go about it the right way, an audience of interactive readers.

Of course, blogging isn't a direct money-maker for most people. But if your posts are decent, they make good writing samples that could lead to paid assignments in magazines, on websites, on other blogs and even--and here's where you've got to be a real superstar--a book deal.

Plus editors have blogs too! You can and should read editors' blogs and comment on posts--it helps build a friendly rapport and keeps you in the loop about what's on their minds, which could help you write more targeted queries.

Web Exclusives. Magazines used to simply throw whatever articles were in the print magazine onto their website. Now a lot of big-name magazines are developing web-exclusive content--articles you can only find online, not in the magazine.

Sometimes you can sell an article to a magazine's website even when you're not having any luck with the print mag. (Did I mention I recently got my first assignment at

The downside for writers is that web-based articles generally pay less than what you can nab for a print article. BUT ... a lot of editors offer this silver lining: The editing process is less "picky" with web exclusives.

For one thing, there are no revisions as far as I can tell, so the per-hour rate is pretty decent. Count me in for more web exclusives!

Twitter. I love that I get a glimpse into the personal and professional lives of editors through their Twitter updates. I love that I can find out what stories a magazine is working on from an editor's tweet looking for sources. I love that I can @mention or direct message (DM) editors, engaging in a funny discussion or sending a friendly hello. And I love that editors respond on Twitter!

Have any of the above tactics worked to help you network with editors and/or score writing assignments? Write a comment to share your experience.

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For more info about breaking into writing for magazines and websites, check out How to Write Winning Queries: Get your articles published for profit and promotion as a health/fitness writer and expert.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

IDEA Writer Weighs in on The Biggest Loser Discussion

Behind "the Making of" The Biggest Loser IDEA article

The article I wrote for IDEA Fitness Journal on The Biggest Loser is getting attention. A number of media outlets have picked up the topic (they're going with variations of the headline "why fitness pros criticize The Biggest Loser").

Last time I checked, AOL Health had 202 comments to a post about the IDEA piece.

I suppose it's time for me to weigh in on my own article.

I won't rehash what's already out there. Instead, consider this a behind-the-scenes look at The Biggest Loser IDEA article.

Here are six observations I made before, during and after writing about why some fitness experts question what they see on NBC's The Biggest Loser.

OBSERVATION 1. There's a wee disconnect between the fitness industry and the general public about what endorses a fitness expert to be a fitness expert.

Is it a high profile? Products that sell well? Current certifications? How much a trainer cares about clients? How a trainer acts with clients? Opinions vary, and what counts for one person might not hold weight for another.

OBSERVATION 2. A lot of Biggest Loser fans defend the show on blogs by saying the industry sources quoted in my article are overlooking one important point: The Biggest Loser is television, not real life. Duh! I think we're all clear on that, thanks.

It's television that has a very real impact on the perceptions, practices and expectations of SOME viewers. And those viewers might come to our gyms, fitness classes, boot camps and training sessions.

If it's true that people are inspired by a television program, why can't they also be influenced by what they see on that TV show?

OBSERVATION 3. This is just a hunch: The Biggest Loser isn't used to press that isn't bend-over-backward full of praise. This might be why some fans of the show don't understand it when fitness pros get all worked up over details like industry certifications and trainer conduct.

OBSERVATION 4. It seems like some fitness pros who've formed a negative opinion about The Biggest Loser refuse to see anything remotely good about the show. Come on, just try.

OBSERVATION 5. Parts of the fitness industry have stuff to work on, too, and this has nothing to do with The Biggest Loser or its trainers. I mean, when you make false promises over and over, it draws considerable attention to whatever you're trying to skirt around. (See: sidebar, page 35.)

OBSERVATION 6. Hats off to The Biggest Loser folks who spoke to me for the story. We're talking about a blockbuster show from a major television network, and here I am a reporter (in Canada, no less!) from a membership-only fitness trade magazine. (Of course IDEA is an important, respected association, but it's not Entertainment Tonight.)

When I wanted to know why the trainers yell so much, Bob Harper called and gave me an answer!

I told executive producer Mark Koops how some fitness pros accuse The Biggest Loser of being "an embarrassment to the fitness industry"; some say it's "dangerous." That's harsh criticism! Yet, Koops spoke respectfully and candidly as he defended the show.

The Biggest Loser folks could have easily brushed me off! Actually, one of them sort of did, but thankfully, everyone else chose to engage in the conversation.

What About a Second Chance?

In case it wasn't clear in the last section of my IDEA article, I think The Biggest Loser could learn from the fitness industry in terms of how it depicts exercise and trainer conduct.

Likewise, the fitness industry as a whole could learn from The Biggest Loser in terms of how the show inspires people to get moving.

What do you think? Do any of my observations stand out?

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Fitness Photos, You Let Me Down (One Woman's Blog Rant)

I've been a fitness pro for 16 years, and I'm done with teaching just regular group exercise classes for just the regular group exercise wage (read: too low).

Personal trainers are out there with group training and boot camps and enjoying a higher profit margin. Now I'm doing the same, but with group exercise.

So as I market two new revenue-generating fitness events this Fall - one's a 6-week circuit interval program for gym members, and the other's a step/strength
workshop for fitness instructors - I'm thinking about that old cliché, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

I'm a writer, so you know I love words, but I also recognize the value of using carefully selected, targeted images in fitness blog posts and fitness marketing material.

To that end, I logged onto to download a couple of fitness shots.

It's at times like these that I'm glad I have a fitness blog so I can rant about this irksome fact: A lot of fitness images of women are so ... hard to love.

I want a photo that pushes emotional buttons but looks cool to fitness folks and doesn't disappoint those of us who are way beyond stereotypical, outdated advertising images.

Dear iStockphoto, here's what I don't want (and what, unfortunately, you've got a lot of):

  • Scrawny women who appear to have never exercised, gazing either seductively or passively at a couple of hand-weights that they clearly have no intention of ever lifting.

  • Modern, fit-looking women waving around pink, Barbie-sized dumbbells.

  • Women exercising with cringe-inducing form (note: lunges don't involve hyperextending the spine so the ribcage juts as far forward as possible).

  • People lifting weights wearing socks, no shoes.

Did I miss anything?

Sure I rant, but I still heartily recommend

One of iStockphoto's newsletters includes free downloads, which is how I get a lot of the images I use on this blog - at no cost. (They're not usually fitness photos, but with creativity, you can still make them work for a fitness blog.)

Other places to get free photos:

Anyone else have tips about where to get budget-friendly images for a fitness blog and fitness marketing?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Blogging is Like Exercise. How Often Do You Do It?

I just got a delivery of two books about blogging for a roundup review I'm writing for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). (I'll post the review here, too.)

I love blogging, but maybe I don't do it as often as I should. Actually, I'm not convinced that I should be blogging to some set schedule. When I write blog posts on assignment for other people or magazines, I meet my deadlines of course.

But for my blog? I post when it makes sense.

How often you blog probably depends on who you are and why you blog. If you even do it at all ...

As a fitness writer and presenter, I encourage fitness pros to use social media like blogging for marketing purposes.

"Just do it!" I say. "Start a blog!" People get overwhelmed though.

OK, then think of it as being a bit like exercise. (If you're a fitness pro and you're like me, you probably really enjoy relating most things back to exercise.)

You wouldn't tell a fitness client to exercise ONLY if he or she could absolutely, positively do it the recommended 4-5 times a week, would you? Isn't 2-3 times a week better than just not working out, ever?

So that's what I think when I start getting down on myself for not logging onto Blogger more often. I might only blog once a month sometimes. But it still beats not even bothering to have a blog at all.

What do you think? Is blogging like exercise in that you should just do it when you can, or should you commit to doing it at set times even if you don't feel like it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why Some People Get Publicity and Some Don't

If you're looking to get publicity for yourself and your fitness business, it's a smart move to sign up for the free HARO newsletter.

I've recommended HARO before, but I haven't gone into too much detail about what HARO might be like from a journalist's perspective.

Getting the inside scoop on what happens when a journalist puts the call out for sources can help you understand how and when to respond to HARO requests so you experience more success and make the best use of your time.

Not too long ago, I used HARO to search for sources for an article about fitness business names and logos. About three hours after the newsletter went out, I'd already received more than 30 responses. And I know journalists who get way more than that.

Using HARO can get overwhelming for journalists--fast--so make your email as focused as possible. No digressions, no super-inflated bios and, please, no attachments/links to articles you've already written on the same topic!

Here are a few no-brainer reasons why I immediately hit the delete key on some HARO hopefuls:

From the sidelines. A surprising number of people began their response by saying: "Someone forwarded this to me..."

Here's what that lame opener says to me: 1) the person is a bit clueless as to what's going on, and/or 2) the person isn't serious enough about getting publicity to actually sign up for the HARO newsletter.

I'd rather quote HARO subscribers (or those with publicists who subscribe).

It's OK to respond to a HARO query that someone forwarded to you. But why tell the journalist? Keep it to yourself--it'll make you look more professional.

Too many links. Tell me in your email what I asked for and why you're the best person to be a source for the specific piece.

After that, I might want to see a bio, portfolio, YouTube videos and relevant accomplishments, but I don't want you to send me on a wild goose chase across the web. Keep links to a minimum.

The why'd-you-bother-responding response. Don't overwhelm me with too much info, but don't underwhelm me either. I got a few of these: "My company does business logos. I can help. Call me."


Missed the boat. If you've been out of town or just got busy and missed the deadline for responding to a HARO query, let it go.

Don't email after the fact, saying, "I was on vacation, but for future reference here's a bunch of neat stuff about me."

I won't remember any of it.

So who got the gig? A couple of people with solid credentials who gave me specific info about themselves (related to the article topic). They also showed passion for the subject, including a thought or two that made it easy for me to imagine quoting them.

Honestly, I got about half a dozen or more great emails from thoughtful, qualified professionals.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't choose everyone.

If you've been responding to HARO queries and you're doing everything right, don't get discouraged.

When you don't hear from a journalist after responding to a HARO query, it doesn't necessarily mean you're on the wrong track. It just might mean there are plenty of other contenders on the right track alongside you.

So do your best to make an outstanding impression. And keep trying--persistence pays off when you know what you're doing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fitness Press Release

Take the Lead With Your Next Press Release

As a fitness writer, I receive a lot of story pitches from personal trainers and fitness organizations.

Recently, a press release came across my desk promoting a new product based on a popular fitness format. After struggling through the first paragraph, I stopped reading.

It was too boring and confusing. I suspected most journalists wouldn’t bother to read past that first muddled paragraph either.

The first paragraph of a press release - sometimes called the lead - holds a lot of weight. Its crucial job is to hook readers and relay important information while promising something interesting in the paragraphs to come.

Getting the lead right - whether it’s for a press release, a blog post or an article – takes savvy.

For example, if the topic you are touting is already well-known, piggyback on this success, but find a new angle.

If you write a press release about a topic that’s already been covered in the media many times, you might think this proves the worthiness of your own press release. But editors or television producers in search of new stories might not see it that way. Instead, they might see your press release as rehashing the “same old stuff” and delete it or toss it in the recycling bin.

Keep this in mind if you’re writing a press release about staying fit this summer. Begin with something interesting and fresh. For example, introduce a new spin on an old idea. “Get in Shape for Summer" has been done many times and it’s pretty generic. It’s not particularly compelling either – any journalist can think of that idea on their own.

You need a better hook. For example, "Shape Up to Prevent Summertime Hiking Injuries" or “Remake Your Shape: 7 Summer-Fit Moves You Can Do Anywhere.” Both examples present some type of focused hook.

Bottom line: Increase your success by putting a new and specific spin on a familiar topic.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

The Comma: Truly Exciting Stuff

You know, I really like punctuation. One of my favorite books is Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. It's all about commas and exclamation points and apostrophes - and, yes, I read it for business and pleasure.

If you have an affinity for punctuation like I do, I highly recommend Eats, Shoots & Leaves. And if you can't quite see why any of the following examples are horrifying to someone like me, resolve to do better by checking out the punctuation game I link to below.

Have you ever written something like this?
  • Buy all three fitness DVD's and receive a set of dumbbell's for free.
  • This workout is known for its' fat burning drills.

  • Our hard-core training sessions, and fun boot camps are sure-to-please!!!

Pretty bad. I just want to fix those examples above so bad (or is it badly?).

Hey, check out the COMMA I.Q. game. Who says you can't have fun with commas? (I got one of the 10 questions wrong. Guess which one.)

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Monday, May 4, 2009

More Direction for Using Twitter and HARO

I recently recommended joining Twitter and HARO to boost your fitness marketing opportunities. If you've already done that, or you're still figuring out how to make sense of it all, here's a little more guidance.

Tip 1: Please, please, please add a picture and thoughtful bio to your Twitter profile - it'll help you gain followers. Include a bit of professional info in your bio, but also a thing or two on a more personal level.

Even a well-thought-out series of words that describe you can be effective. Here's how I wrote my Twitter bio:

Tip 2: If you haven't already, check out these two posts on this blog:

1) The Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You on Twitter (it's by another writer and links to, and

2) Using Twitter for Marketing & Publicity (it's a video from that you can watch right from my blog).

Tip 3: Try out a site or two that will help you manage Twitter and finetune your networking potential there. lets you set up keyword alerts so you know when people are tweeting (chattering on Twitter) about you and/or stuff that matters to you (hint: it's a good way to choose pertinent people to follow).

Also, have a look at to get a real-time overview of who's talking about subjects of interest to you.

For example, type "fitness" into a search bar and see what pops up. You can also make your searches more specific, such as who's talking about fitness where you live.

Tip 4: If you subscribed to the HARO e-newsletter (HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out) as way to score publicity, but you're unsure about how to respond to journalists, read this article by a writer from Mopwater PR.

Still in doubt? Ask me for more tips by posting a comment here or posting to the discussion board on the Active Voice Facebook Group.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to Find Ideas for Blogging, Writing Articles and Publicity

Looking for something to blog about, write an article about, or use as a hook to get publicity in your local newspaper?

Cite this new study that suggests walking roughly 100 steps a minute - or pretty much to the beat of the Bee Gees song Stayin' Alive - keeps you moving at a moderate-intensity pace.

Apart from being an excellent news hook (I've already hammered out several queries that make use of the study), these findings are a simple way to demonstrate to your clients what moderate-intensity exercise feels like.

In fact, after strutting around my living room to Stayin' Alive, I bet a lot of fitness clients would be encouraged to know they can hoof it a lot faster than the song's beat! Move over, John Travolta.

Here's an audio summary of the study with lead researcher Simon J. Marshall, Ph.D. of San Diego State University. (Audio courtesy of

Source: Marshall SJ, et al "Translating physical activity recommendations into a pedometer-based step goal: 3000 steps in 30 minutes" Am J Prev Med 2009.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sell More Fitness Articles/Get More Publicity

Simple Ideas for Building on the Media Promotion You're Already Getting

Suggest Another Story: When a journalist interviews you for a story, you have his or her full attention. Take advantage of this golden opportunity to receive more media exposure.

After you’ve addressed all the journalist’s questions, pitch an idea for another article that you could contribute to as an expert source. This works whether you’re doing a phone or email interview. Just be sure to make your pitch short and to the point.

Sell Your Articles More Than Once: Make your health and fitness articles work for you many times over. Sell them as reprints for extra revenue (often with a time investment of 10 minutes or less).

Use your previously published articles as lead-generating content for your client newsletters or website. Tweak the wording for new audiences. For example, an article on the benefits of boot camps can be easily adjusted for a skiing magazine, running magazine, parenting magazine, business magazine and more.

Keep the Love Alive: Stay in touch with the media people who contact you. This sounds so simple, but the vast majority of fitness pros don’t do it. The hardest part of scoring the kind of media exposure that brings you the recognition and credibility you want is breaking in.

This applies to both writing articles and getting publicity. Once you’ve made contact with members of the media, you’re on the “inside,” so to speak. This is your chance to turn one valuable media hit into ongoing exposure and marketing power for your fitness business.

I’m not suggesting that you add journalists to your newsletter list without their permission (this is a good way to get your email blocked from reaching them). I’m talking about pitching ideas, sending informative press releases, occasionally asking if they need help with a story, and so on.

More simple ways to recycle your media promotion.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Facebook, Twitter and Publicity for You

Use the Web to Get Media Attention

It's still winter in Vancouver, B.C. - it snowed here this week - but I'm already in summer mode, partly because I'm still unpacking my flip flops, tank tops and bikinis from a vacation to sunny Mexico earlier this month.

But it's also because magazine editors plan so far in advance; right now, they're asking me for fitness stories with a summertime twist.

Now's a good time for you to plan how you'll use the media to promote yourself and your health/fitness business during the upcoming year.

To help you get started, I offer these five tips for gaining success with the media using online resources. Everything I suggest below is totally free, and each tip takes just a few minutes at most to implement.

1. Subscribe to the
HARO e-newsletter: HARO stands for Help A Reporter Out. These newsletters arrive to your inbox three times a day packed with media leads from journalists who are looking for experts to quote or feature in an article, on TV, on a blog or on the radio.

Each newsletter includes a specific section for health and fitness stories, but be sure to check the other categories, as well. Fitness-related queries sometimes appear in categories such as lifestyle or travel.

2. Join Twitter: Micro-blogging using sites like Twitter helps you expand your sphere of influence as you write short updates about what you're doing.

Being on Twitter pays off. A producer for a popular cooking show in Vancouver recently contacted me through Twitter, asking if I would consider being on the show.

However, she wanted me to talk about healthy eating AND cook at the same time. I'm a bad cook, so I declined and referred her to someone else. It was an important lesson about knowing your limits even when you want the publicity.

3. Follow the Media on Twitter: Once you're on Twitter, connect with media folks there. Follow writers, producers, magazines and media outlets that interest you.

Check out who I follow to find fitness writers. And also search for media folks on Twitter through associations for journalists, such as MediaBistro, skydiver (that's HARO), WoodenHorsePub and prnewswire.

4. Share Media Hits Online: Most online magazines and newspapers now allow you to quickly and easily share links across the web.

Recycle your media promotion in social networks like Facebook by sharing links to articles you've written or that quote you. In my experience, the more you market your media hits, the more media opportunities arise.

5. Join the Active Voice Facebook Group: Speaking of Facebook, stay on top of media opportunities and learn more about how to succeed with the media by joining the Active Voice Facebook Group (find it by searching “Active Voice Writing Service” under Groups).

Post a question (I'll answer it!) and read advice from a former Shape editor, a regular contributor to Men's Fitness magazine and other fitness pros who've achieved success with publicity and fitness writing.

If You Write Articles or Want to Start ...

Check out these two resources from Active Voice:
How to Write Winning Queries
Anatomy of an Article

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

FOLLOW FAIL: The Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter

An article I just read on from Atherton Bartelby. Whew, he followed me back!

FOLLOW FAIL: The Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter