Most freelance writers struggle to find ideas to write about for magazine articles. But you won’t – not with these tips! Here’s how to improve your chances of getting published and help you make money writing…
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To learn how a professional freelancer actually earns money writing for magazines, read Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments by Jenna Glatzer. She reveals secrets about what the high-paying magazines really want, how to build relationships with editors, how to know which sections of a magazine are open to freelancers, what kinds of articles are in demand, what to do if a deadbeat publisher doesn’t pay up, how to market reprints, and how to become an expert in your niche.
Before we get to my 10 tips, here’s one of my least favorite quips about finding ideas to write about:
“Ideas for articles are everywhere! All you have to do is stand in line at the grocery store, and you’ll overhear a conversation that’ll lead to a fascinating article idea.” Sure – ideas may be everywhere. The problem is recognizing what the GREAT articles ideas are! It’s not just the idea that’s important; it’s finding the best slant, the most current research, the most compelling anecdotes.
And check out my tips for writers…
How to Find Ideas to Write About for Magazine Articles
Strong feature articles have to be timely, well-rounded, and relevant. Solid freelance writing ideas take work! I don’t believe that strong, salable freelance writing ideas are everywhere. That’s too easy…and writing isn’t easy.
Great ideas are like diamonds: they need to be sought and mined.
1. Use a phrase, idea, or person in a current article. For instance, I recently wrote an article about “how to love your job” for Reader’s Digest.ca. In researching that idea, I came across several unusual jobs. So, I pitched an article about “odd jobs” to Reader’s Digest. They bought it! See how freelance writing ideas snowball? Even a so-so article idea can lead to a strong, publishable article – if keep your eyes and ears open.
Ideas can be found in other people’s articles, books, blog posts, or poems. If you’re reading something and a question or though pops into your head, follow it up. That’s a great way to find ideas.
2. Read through your old articles. If you’re really stuck, peruse your old articles for possibilities. I love writing round-ups or “10 Things You Never Knew About…”, and there are usually tons of ideas in my past articles. Here’s a freelance writing tip for new freelancers: peruse those top 10 lists for ideas for articles that will work for you.
If your old articles focus on a specific topic, read How to Get Your Magazine Article Published in a Niche Market.
3. Look through past research – and find out if new studies are out. My research contains dozens of ideas for new articles: why women don’t fall asleep after sex, whether aromatherapy works for men, and new discoveries about depression. Successful freelance writers learn how to recognize new ideas in past research discoveries, and find ways to spin off previously successful articles.
4. Take a retreat, class, or workshop. Getting out of your normal routine will expose you to new people, new writing ideas, and new ways to look at life. In trying new things and taking risks, you’ll find ideas to write about for magazine articles — and you’ll sell those article ideas to magazines!
5. Skim science or news websites. I read ScienceDaily and Eurekalerts every day for new ideas for articles. While most freelance writers have their own method for coming up with article ideas, I daresay most tap into the daily news or recent research. And those studies can be cited repeatedly. For example, I used a research finding about aromatherapy and depression in three or four different articles, all with different spins.
6. Listen to TV or radio talk shows. Freelance writers can really tap into “the pulse of the nation” when they watch The View, Oprah, or The Today Show. Learning what’s happening on TV is a good way to find ideas to write about for magazine articles — but successful writers can’t chase trends.
7. Find a good press release feed or website. This another way to find ideas to write about for magazines: keep up with current press releases. They can be a solid source of article ideas.
8. Don’t ignore the daily routine. As much as I don’t believe that magazine article ideas are “everywhere”, I do admit that you can create articles that sell from your life. I’ve done it. My first article sale was to alive magazine, called “The Upside of Ulcerative Colitis.” It was about how to cope with a chronic illness, which I do every day. Though my first article sale came from my own life, I’m not a big fan of mining my life for ideas.
9. Visit forums and discussion boards. Another way to find ideas to write about for magazine articles is to visit forums and chat rooms. It takes time to go through the various discussion boards, but freelancers can find all sorts of ideas and questions there!
10. Make WIIFM your standard. WIIFM stands for “what’s in it for me”? This relates back to my writing pet peeve that “writing ideas are everywhere.” The ideas could be everywhere, but the paid assignments aren’t…unless you’ve looked through your WIIFM lens. To test the merit of your article idea, answer the question: “What’s in it for the reader?” You’ve gotta help or entertain them somehow, or you won’t make money as a freelance writer.
For awhile, I was hiring writers for Quips and Tips. It was a great experience because it showed me what editors go through when receiving pitches and working with writers. To learn what I learned, read Can’t Get Published? Freelance Writers, Stop Doing This…
If you have any thoughts or questions about these tips for selling feature articles to magazines, please comment below…