You think you have a fantastic idea for a magazine article, but will the editor buy it? Yes, if it meets the following 10 criteria. Here’s how to focus your pitches and land more assignments…
“Editors frequently complain that freelance writers don’t study their publications before they submit unsolicited ideas and manuscripts,” write David Sumner and Holly Miller in Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle, and Anecdotes. “Experienced freelance writers pick a magazine or group of magazines they want to write for before they decide on a story idea. That’s because the best source of ideas will come from seeing the types of articles those particular periodicals publish.”
When you’re searching for article ideas to pitch to editors, make sure you put yourself in their shoes. The only way to do that is to learn as much as you can about what it’s like to be an editor for a magazine. Reading articles such as How to Get Good Story Ideas for Ezines and Print Magazines is a great way to start. And, so is reading books written for journalists and freelance writing. I taught high school journalism for three years, and used Feature and Magazine Writing as one of my reference books.
“Great article on creative ways to find article ideas, but I have two more tips to add,” says Joan J. Carrigan on 5 Creative Ways to Find Ideas for Articles for Magazines. “Controversial writing is an old journalism trick that still serves us well online. Controversial editorials, for example, are considered a good thing because they get a huge response. Even if receives a storm of negative feedback, it’s considered a success because it gained a passionate response.”
She also says that the best articles ideas are about topics that aren’t covered properly. “You don’t have to the first or only person covering a topic, you just have to be the best,” she says. “If you find a post that grabbed your attention on social media but then it disappointed you with a lack of detail, take the idea, research it properly, and do it better.”
Below are their quick tips on how to recognize great ideas for magazine articles.
10 Tips for Recognizing Great Article Ideas
You don’t need to answer “yes” to every one of these ten tips – just the majority of them.
1. A great article idea is new and original
To be great, your article idea has to be so new and original, you can’t find any books written on it. (A tall order!)
2. A great article idea is appealing
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“Is your topic of broad interest to the narrow group who read the particular magazine for whom you are interested in writing?” ask Sumner and Miller in Feature and Magazine Writing. “Or will it just appeal to a narrow group within this narrow group?” To be a great article idea, it has to be broad enough to appeal to the magazine readers – and yet specific enough to be different.
3. A great article idea covers basic life issues
Love, money, health, careers, death, sickness, etc are basic life issues that all readers are interested in.
4. A great article idea has a strong theme
Your central idea or focus needs to be strong and clear.
5. The best articles include at least one action verb
If you can state your angle in one sentence using an action verb, then you’re more likely to land an assignment.
6. A great article idea offers intelligent insight
“Does your angle allow you to offer intelligent insight, as opposed to saying something that’s obvious, common sense or that readers have already read about many times?” ask Sumner and Miller in Feature and Magazine Writing.
7. A great article idea includes drama
Even nonfiction magazine articles need elements of conflict and drama to attract and sustain readers.
8. A great article idea tells a story
Readers love anecdotes because they illustrate ideas, facts, and statistics in a colorful, engaging way. If your article idea won’t be supported by human interest stories, it may not be assigned by an editor.
9. A great article idea contradicts assumptions
If your theme questions what most people think or assume, then you’re on the right track. “The best articles call into question the conventional wisdom about a subject,” write Sumner and Miller in Feature and Magazine Writing.
10. Great articles are open to input from expert sources
If you don’t have the expert sources you’ll need to write this article, then it’s not the best idea. The best sources should be participants, keen observers, or experts on the topic.
If you have other tips for recognizing great article or book ideas, please share below! I welcome your questions, too…