You’re a writer, or at least flopping the idea around in your head. No lie: That’s absolutely fantastic. We want you to write for us. More importantly, we want to pay you $100 to do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re Michael Crichton or the new kid on the block, Listverse thrives on the words of people just like you. If you’ve already written a top 10 list, great! Skip this whole thing and head right over to our submission page.
Not quite ready yet? Don’t worry: We want to help you. First of all, bookmark our author guide for later. You’ll want to read that thing through with a magnifying glass, because that’s seriously exactly what will get your list published. But while that’ll get you the whole way, sometimes it helps to have a few stepping stones to ease the journey. From one writer to another, here’s my process for writing for Listverse.
10Get An Idea
Easy! Oh, wait, not so much? I’ll be honest: This is usually the hardest part of the entire writing process. You’d think that with so many weird and bizarre things happening all the time all over the world, it would be easier to come up with one skinny little bare-bones idea for a top 10 list. Especially if you’re making a cool tenth of a grand doing it. But hey, it’s not that easy to find that ticket to the Listverse front page.
So stop trying to find one. Wait—hear me out. Instead of forcing yourself to find an idea, go about your daily life. Browse the same sites, read the same books, watch the same shows. But stick a little hitchhiker in the far left corner of your brain that looks at everything and says, “Hey, that could make a great list.” And if you’re still dead in the water, branch out a little. Interested in science? Check out LiveScience, NatGeo, or Phys.org. Unsolved murders? The New Yorker, Harper’s, and NPR run some amazingly in-depth pieces on murders and cold cases. Strange history? How about the DC poison squad or Smithsonian‘s bizarre timeline of the Ouija board?
The nuggets of ideas are out there, and they’re waiting for you to come along and snag them. For example, all those links up there? None of those stories have been covered by Listverse yet.
9Stick A Theme On It
We love lists that tightly orbit a central idea. Most of the time, that theme is going to end up being your list’s title, or at least the gist of it. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering, but it should make the ground tremble. After all, that’s the first thing readers will see on the site. Each entry is also going to tie into that main theme, which is why it’s so important to figure it out before you run off to find your list’s entries.
Really want to guarantee that your list will be accepted, not just by us, but by our readers as well? Here’s a tip: Take your idea, and twist it. Instead of writing 10 Unsolved Murders, show us something like Robin Warder’s 10 Mysterious Disappearances With Bizarre Clues. Instead of just talking about Abraham Lincoln, give us 10 Reasons Lincoln Was Secretly A Terrible President. Surprise us by making us look at something in a new and unexpected way.
Don’t worry about the actual title yet—just get that general theme going, because it’s going to make researching your list a lot easier. The tighter your theme, the better.
8Research The Dickens Out Of It
You’ve got a powerful starting idea and a twisted theme that’ll have Listverse readers tearing their hair out with slack-jawed amazement. Now what? The Internet is a vast sea of treacherous knowledge eager to suck you into its depths for eternity, and finding your specific entries is akin to throwing a rock in the air and hoping it hits the Moon.
That’s why you have a theme. Think of it as your anchor to the shore when you’re searching for new entries.
One thing you can do to make successive lists easier is make your own database of useful sites. I tend to gravitate toward science-based lists, so I have Wired, LiveScience, Phys.org, MNN, and NASA bookmarked for easy reference, to name a few. If I want to write a list on, say, insect zombies, I can search for crazy examples through those sites directly rather than wading through a quagmire of Google results.
If you like to write about creepy urban legends, bookmark sites in that vein. Politics? Go for the big names: CNN, BBC, New York Times, The Guardian. Google Books is an awesome search tool for historical lists. Even the vast Internet sea has its crannies of specialized life.
One thing to remember when you’re researching is that you have to provide sources for your information, so save the links to every site you use. We don’t take Wikipedia or tabloid-esque sites like The Daily Mail or The Metro as sources. If you use Wikipedia to start your research (which is fine), make sure you can find the same information presented in a different source. You can find more info on acceptable sources in the author guide.
Research can make or break a great list, and it’s not uncommon to find a ton of entries and then realize that the list as a whole won’t work. (If this happens to you, read on a bit farther.) Don’t let it discourage you.
7Get Your Outline Going
When you research, the easiest way to manage everything is to keep a Word document open to paste quick entry titles and their corresponding links. As you go along, the skeleton of a list is going to form on that page. My outlines usually look something like this. It’s incomplete and a little muddled, but that gives me the bare-bones idea for each entry. If I get more than 10, I can whittle them from that list until I have the best options. Alternatively, if I start finding that my entries are veering toward a different focal point, I can split them into two separate lists right there, then choose the one I like best later.
How you set it up is entirely up to you, of course, but if you’re just easing into the idea of writing for Listverse, an outline like that is a solid starting point for organizing your thoughts. It may be a little more work at the beginning, but that white lady isn’t going to come home on her own. Guide her in gently.
And hey, when you stumble across a potential entry idea, run a quick search on Listverse to make sure we haven’t covered it already. (For future reference, the search tool is the little magnifying glass on the top-right corner of this page; you can also use your Google-fu to search only on Listverse.) We probably won’t want to cover a story again unless we’re bringing a significant amount of new information to the table. It’s a quick extra step that’ll save you the hassle of rewriting an entry if it turns out the idea has been featured on the site before.
6Write An Entry
Yep, just one. Don’t worry about the other nine. They’re off having lunch; they’ll be back later. Right now it’s just you and a keyboard and 150 words and all that research you just did. Pick one entry you really like from your outline—maybe that first one, the idea that got you rolling on your list—and tell us about it. Lead into it with the most important fact, the one that defines the entry.
Specifics? Okay, maybe you’re writing a list about 10 people who shouldn’t be alive, and maybe you take that story about that woman who made a cup of tea after taking a .38-caliber bullet through the skull. Maybe, just maybe, the entry starts like this:
With her dead husband on the floor and blood streaming from two bullet holes in her head, Tammy Sexton needed something to take the edge off. So she brewed a hot cup of tea, then sat down to wait for the police.
Right off the bat, you’re giving readers something to sink their teeth into, and from there you can expand on the details of the story. Before you know it, you’ve written a whole entry. Then do it again, and again, and each time it’ll be a little easier because you’re that much closer to finishing the list. It’s all too easy to look at a list as a whole and think, “Whoa, no way I can write all of that,” and if you’re lazy and easily distracted like me, you never will. So trick your brain by taking it one entry at a time.
And hey, want to use that example above? It’s free, so see if you can build a unique and intriguing list around it and send it on in.
5Some Basic Rules
Every day we receive around 100 submissions and while many of them are excellent, a few don’t quite pass muster. Here are the main reasons we don’t accept a list:
1. The English is not quite up to standard (or is downright non-existent). This is the main reason we reject lists. We don’t expect you to be an English professor but we do expect you to be able to write English like a native speaker. More than 70 percent of the lists we reject every day are rejected for this reason.
2. We (or other websites) have already covered the topic. The best submissions are original. They are not re-workings of our old lists or content from other sites.
3. The topic is way off-base for us. Every day we receive lists on why you should become a vegan (hint: you shouldn’t!), how to improve your mental health by doing yoga, the writer’s favorite ten shirts in their wardrobe, the best tourist destinations in Smalltown (population 5), etc. I probably don’t need to expand on why these lists are not for us.
4No Funny Business
You’re a funny guy or gal. I can tell already. But keep in mind that Listverse wants facts, not comedy. There’s a fine line between being original and shoehorning in a joke just for laughs. Some humor is important because it keeps the writing from getting too dry, but the first order of business is always presenting your information in a clear, easy-to-understand way. That’s what our readers expect from us, and we try every day to make sure it happens.
If you absolutely, die-if-you-won’t, have to add humor to your list, find a way to present the information itself in a humorous way, rather than using extra lines purely for the sake of having a joke in there. I’m guilty of some terrible jokes myself, and take it from me: What sounds hilarious in your head usually just makes you cringe when you see it online later. For example, this list about condoms has some great examples of Listverse humor done right. It’s subtle and the double entendres give you the kind of straight-faced inner chuckle that would make Harrison Ford proud. In the end, we want readers to leave remembering the knowledge, not the jokes. A good rule of thumb for jokes is if you’re not sure about it, go ahead and leave it out.
Your list doesn’t have to be perfect, and we don’t expect anyone to Vonnegut their paragraphs around here. In fact, very, very few lists are fit for publishing right out of the acceptance gates. We do have editors, and they’re actually pretty good at what they do, but that list is going to get out on the site a lot faster if it comes in cleanly. It’s incredible what you’ll pick up after just reading through your list once after you finish it.
Misspellings, repeated words, all the little things spellchecker switched around behind your back like the scheming bastard it is—most of these simple mistakes will leap out at you the first time you read them. If they don’t leap out at you and there aren’t too many, the editors will grab them, but the whole process works best if we all work together like a team.
Besides, don’t you want to be proud of your work as a writer? Because if you followed all these steps, that’s what you are now: A bonafide professional writer. Trundle on over to the Listverse submission page to send us your words. And don’t forget to fill in the field marked “Paypal or Bitcoin Address;” that’s how we pay you.
Now take a deep breath . . . and keep doing that forever, because that’s how you’re alive. Alive as a writer, you dog, you.
2Hit The Listverse Forum
You’ve done it. You’ve written, submitted, and published a list on the front page of Listverse. Your pocket’s burning with that hot Benjamin we Paypalled straight into your account, and the world is a shimmering oyster through which your newly awakened writerly eyes can see all the layers of possibility that make up reality. Sugar never tasted so good.
So, erm, now what?
Well if you want, hop right back on that horse and write another list. There’s no limit to how much our writers are allowed to write, and no limit to how much you can make doing it. If you felt an unmistakeable tingle of exhilaration discovering that first list, you’re definitely in the right place. The tingle never dies.
Once you’ve published your first list with us, you also get an email with access to the Listverse forum. This is where writers and editors hang out together, toss around ideas, and get to know each other. It’s magical, and it’s filled with helpful writers just like yourself who understand the trials and pitfalls of list-writing. Nobody’s going to downtalk you there or call your ideas stupid; we’re all in the same boat, floating down the same river.
Even better, there’s a section of the forum that we call World of Ideas. If an editor or a writer finds a super cool tidbit but doesn’t have time to do anything with it, they’ll drop it in there for anyone to claim. It’s like an idea factory. We also have an optional place to pitch ideas to Micah, our Head Honcho of Words. He’s nicer than he sounds, and he’ll give you real-life, personalized feedback on your own ideas, and either a green light to write it or some feedback on why it didn’t work.
You can also follow our Facebook page and Twitter account to see your list broadcast to 150,000 people, which is an awesome sight all on its own. Sort of like seeing a whale breaching in an avalanche.
1Forget All My Advice
In the end, you’re the writer. Even though we want you to stick to a few basic rules, we also want you to bring your unique voice and angle to your list. That’s what makes Listverse so diverse: the many talented writers we work with. We wouldn’t be able to publish new and interesting lists every day if we didn’t have creative ideas coming in from creative people.
What I’ve just outlined for you is my personal process. It’s a good launching point, but now I want you to take those pieces, let them tumble around in your head, and then stack them into something new and beautiful. I’m just one little guy who writes here; get an idea of the process from me, sure, but don’t make it canon. Everything I’ve just said can be changed to suit you.
Can’t get into doing an outline? That’s fine—just figure out one entry at a time and let your list evolve from there. Write as you research each point, if you want. The idea is to find a method that works for you, and only you will be able to figure out what that is.
For more tips on writing for us from another seasoned author, Morris M., check out his list on 10 Tips for Getting Paid to Write for Listverse.