So you think you can be a lifestyle writer?

by Anna Warwick
03 May 2019

It’s a given that lifestyle writing is one of the most coveted niches out there – but what do you need to become one? Being a student of life who’s insatiably curious, a good listener and a total people person is essential, but that’s just for starters.

Lifestyle writing is all about covering stories of positive and good humans – and most lifestyle writers live the life they write about. They might be mad about yoga, crazy about all things vegan, a lover of alternative therapies or keen to explore new places and experiences. A good lifestyle writer’s work stays fresh because of their genuine interest in what they’re pitching and writing about – so there’s that authenticity. And of course it’s also fun to research and work on a subject you’re passionate about.

How to break into lifestyle writing

When you’re starting out say yes to everything (I once ghost-wrote a book for a Polish billionaire). Take any publishing role to get a foot in the door – even interning. Find a mentor in publishing and nurture this relationship. Network with other writers online, at work or in a course.

As you get more established, work will come from who you know. While you’re getting experience, make lists of lifestyle publications and websites you’d like to write for, get to know those outlets intimately, and start pitching stories. At first, it might be easiest to mine your own life for ideas, eg:

  1. Advice – e.g. a listicle of life hacks you’ve tried and tested (keep it original and back up claims with expert quotes)
  2. Opinion – e.g. An unusual take on a Zeitgeist issue (set up Google alerts on your favourite subjects for newsworthy tidbits)
  3. Real people stories – e.g. something legendary a contact has done or what you learned the hard way while travelling.

Don’t forget to create a website and ensure your paid work is front and centre, with beautiful screen grabs or pdfs so any editors checking you out can easily see what you’ve previously written and what you’re capable of.

Should you specialise?

The most in-demand lifestyle writers may specialise in one area and write mainly about one topic, but be able to cross over into others. For example, a general health writer may also write about sex, relationships and parenting. You may be a travel writer, but find there’s crossover in writing about food and wine and reviewing new restaurants. Or perhaps you’re interested in home decor and interiors but can also turn your hand towards renovation articles or client posts about roofing treatments or trends in emerging technology for the home. If you’re organised and have wide-ranging contacts for a range of ‘lifestyle’ industries, you’ll have more opportunity for work in print and digital content.

It probably goes without saying that you always want to be thinking ahead as a lifestyle writer. Could this story you’re working on parlay into another two or three? Same goes for travel destinations. How many additional stories can you sell out of that one trip to review a new swanky hotel? You always need to have your business hat on in order to keep the work flowing.

When writing a lifestyle story

Lifestyle is notorious for being a saturated market; you often seen the same types of stories over and over. So always do a heap of research and look for new angles, new studies, new people so you’re not rehashing the same-old, same-old. Also, get the ‘colour’ – this involves paying attention to your surroundings, the little details, the sounds and tastes (and taking copious notes).

Always respect your sources – you’ll have at least two, unless it’s an interview. Check names and titles. Send them your story to check before you hand it in. I learned the hard way when I wrote my book of true dating stories, that representing somebody in an unflattering light (even tongue-in-cheek) really hurts them. I’ve rarely had a subject less than tickled pink with what’s been printed since. Plus, subjects usually make good changes that improve the story.

Often in custom publishing, it’s a requirement that you check all quotes with your interviewees before filing so it’s a good habit to get into (you shouldn’t send the whole story, just the sections in which the person’s quotes appear).

What’s changed in lifestyle writing?

Lifestyle writing used to be all about penning classic long-form articles for glossies or online magazines, but times have changed. This work is still available of course, but to make a living you’ll need to be able to supplement print work with content marketing and custom publishing. Read widely and practice writing in different styles so you can shift your tone when required. This is key in becoming a commercial writer.

Look for content producer roles within lifestyle businesses. Advertising and content agencies use freelancers to do blogs, stories and social campaigns. PR companies hire writers to do press releases and custom articles. The more chunky contracts you get, the better your chances of subsidising a freelance career. Working in-house ‘client side’ also gives you a taste of the real world if you’re feeling a bit isolated, so it’s win-win.

7 tips for pitching lifestyle stories

  1. Don’t cold call – ring the editorial assistant and ask whom to email (typically it’s the features editor).
  2. Ask which issue they’re currently planning and if it’s themed (ie, some magazines will do themed issues on ‘aging’ the same month every year).
  3. Pitch two or three ideas for print and one evergreen (e.g. relationships/health) and two clickbait ideas (celeb/opinion) for online. Add a catchy title – think about what you click on/pick up and why.
  4. Help the editor sell your idea to their publisher and sales team, by outlining why their reader will love/needs to know this.
  5. Respect the commission –  if they wanted it rushed and three-quarters complete, their intern would have done it.
  6. Deliver extra – fact boxes, great images.
  7. If the angle’s not working or your source won’t talk, call the editor with a solution e.g. new source.

Are you a lifestyle writer? What are your top tips for making a living from it?

Photo by Kylie Lugo on Unsplash
Latest posts by Anna Warwick (see all)

We'd love to hear your thoughts...