You need to think like an editor if you want to sell your articles, blog posts, and books. These tips for writers will help you get published – or at least see the idea-generating process in a different way.
Finding article ideas that editors will actually pay to publish is the hardest part of freelance writing! I already knew this as a writer – but I’m seeing the problem in a whole new way as an editor.
About 90% of the Quips and Tips article ideas I’m pitched are not fresh, specific, tightly focused, creative, or unique. This doesn’t mean the writer – or the writing – isn’t edgy and quirky. And it doesn’t mean the topic isn’t valuable…it just means the idea is old, flabby, boring, lifeless, and o so general.
These tips are designed to help writers find article ideas that I as an editor can’t wait to publish – and they’ll help all freelance writers pitch better articles to publications of all types.
“You can’t wait for inspiration to strike,” said Jack London. “You have to go after it with a club.”
It’s the same with finding article ideas that editors will pay to publish, my friends. It’s a sweat-making endeavor, but boy, is it worth it! If you want to get serious about developing your creative thinking and brainstorming skills, get the Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition.
How to Think Like an Editor
Look at the publication’s past issues before pitching ideas. Editors have told me over and over that it’s very important that writers search the publication’s website before sending an idea. Why? Because if I recently published an article called “How to Think Like an Article”, then I can’t afford to pay to publish it again. But – and here’s where it gets tricky – I as an editor would be very interested in a spin off or unique slant to an article about “how to write an article.”
Remember that editors have a budget. Whether you’re pitching to a national magazine like Reader’s Digest or a small blog network like Quips and Tips, you have to consider the bottom line….money. As an editor and a businesswoman, I simply can’t afford to pay for articles that are too general and/or that have been written about literally millions of times before. So, don’t take my rejection of your article ideas personally. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s business.
Remember that web editors need to attract readers. For me to keep paying writers – which I really really really want to do – I need to publish articles ideas that don’t turn up 40,000,000,000 results when searched on Google. General articles get 40,000,000,000 results, while specific, tightly focused articles “only” get a million or two results — which I can live with. Also, I have to be uber concerned about the number of searches a particular topic gets, or the number of times a reader asks Google for that topic. If it’s only searched for a few hundred times a month, then I can’t afford to pay for the article because it’ll never be found because nobody cares enough to search for it. According to Google. Who rules.
Focus on “the same yet different.” Lawrence Block said editors and readers want “the same yet different.” A few years ago, I wrote an article for Reader’s Digest about celebrating an “Eco-Friendly Valentine’s Day.” Now that idea is no longer fresh or creative — but back then, the editor happily paid me to publish it! While there are few or no new ideas under the sun, you can find popular ideas (holidays, topics, customs, people, etc) and give them a fresh new twist. And the good new is, the more you do it the easier it gets.
Get specific and tightly focused. How can you make an article called “How to Get Published in a Magazine” different? By zooming in on something more specific. Picture Google Earth zooming in on your country, state/province, city, neighborhood, street, house, and current location. Now that is getting more and more specific and tightly focused. I’m an editor who would pay to publish an article called “How to Write a Humorous Article About a Serious Subject.” Another example: on Short and Curlies, I recently wrote How to Decorate Your Coffin.
Give readers what they’re searching for. On How to Write Your Life Story, a reader asked how to write his memoirs without hurting his family. So, I wrote an article called Tips for Writing Your Memoirs Without Hurting Family Members. Fresh, specific, tightly focused, creative, and unique (if I do say so myself)! It’s an dusty old idea (writing your memoirs) with a fresh new twist (not hurting the peeps you love). I have lots of reader comments on Quips and Tips for Love and Relationships, and no time to answer them (much less write articles that answer my readers’ questions!). That may be a great source of article ideas, if you’re so inclined.
Talk to editors about how they decide what to publish. When was the last time you talked to an editor about her job? I think it’s a smart idea to interview a few editors about how they hire writers, why they publish the articles they do, and what they want to see more of. The best way to think like an editor is to get inside her mind….and then you’ll get inside her magazine.
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What do you think about thinking like an editor? Comments and questions welcome below.