How to Find Article Ideas That Editors Will Pay to Publish

finding article ideas to write aboutFinding 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.

“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, read How to Get Ideas by Jack Foster.

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 clever or sexy. 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 my Quips and Tips writers find article ideas that I can’t wait to publish – and they’ll help all freelance writers pitch better articles to publications of all types. They’ll help you learn how to think like an editor (which is what I called this article when I updated and re-posted it).

Writing Articles That Editors Will Pay to Publish

One of the most important tips is to look at the publication’s past issues before pitching ideas. This is NOT a fresh, creative, or unique suggestion! It’s old and flabby. Editors and freelance writers have been saying it for decades.

Before you pitch an idea, do a quick search on the publication’s website. For instance, if I’ve published an article called  “How to Write an Article” before, 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.”

And finding that slant is what these tips are all about…

First, 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.

And 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.”

magazine editors pay for articles

How to Find Article Ideas That Editors Will Pay to Publish

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 – and I will pay to publish you

How can you make the article idea called “How to Write an Article” 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.” If you’re a Quips and Tips writer who wants to write that article, email me! I will assign it. But only once.

On Quips and Tips for Achieving Your Goals, Vidya Sury recently wrote For Adults With ADHD – 9 Ways to Organize Your Life and Time. By themselves, both topics (adults with ADHD and organizational tools) are too general. But together, they live happily ever after because their union is specific and tightly focused.

Browse through the Quips and Tips comments

On How to Write Your Life Story – 5 Tips for Telling Your 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 Money and Love, 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.

Run article ideas by editors – they will eventually pay to publish you!

Even if you think an article idea is dumb or overdone or too far “out there”, please don’t hesitate to email me. I may be able to help you slant it in a more unique way….or maybe not. I dunno.

For instance, a Quips and Tips writer suggested an article about teaching your cat to fetch. The good news is that topic has low competition (a few hundred thousand search results on Google) and we could probably rise to the top quite easily. But the bad news is nobody is actually searching for how to teach your cat to fetch! But, people are searching for how to toilet train your cat…so I asked her to write that article instead. See how important it is to communicate with your editor? You get assignments!

For more idea generating tips, read 10 Ways to Find Ideas to Write About for Magazine Articles.

Does this help you find article ideas that editors will pay to publish? Comments and questions welcome below.

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13 thoughts on “How to Find Article Ideas That Editors Will Pay to Publish”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    It IS tough to find unique, creative, fresh article ideas that editors will actually pay you to publish! Especially since there’s nothing new under the sun.

    I think the trick is developing such a great writer’s voice and style, it doesn’t matter WHAT you write about. You could write about a pencil, and be fascinating.

  2. hi.The trick is finding mainstream ideas that are unique, creative, fresh, and specific! Tough. Even if you think an article idea is dumb or overdone or too far “out there”, please don’t hesitate to email me. I may be able to help you slant it in a more unique way….but if writers can do it, editors will love them forever. And publish them. And pay them. thanks…..

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Amy, that’s an interesting observation. Maybe it depends on the type of publication — some are more conservative than others! And, ultimately it depends on the readers. Don’t we want information that is familiar, so our worlds aren’t threatened?

    David, thanks for your comments. Your book idea sounds like a bestseller — and who knows what’ll happen after you write it? 🙂

  4. David @Fast Rift Leveling

    Hello, my name is David and I have heard most sayings about writing as my mother was a creative writing teacher. There really are no more new ideas but there are millions of ways to freshen up the existing ones. Sadly my one great idea would more likely be a good one for a whole novel. Something John Grishamish like two people getting together to scam money out of the justice system by one of them being wrongly convicted of doing something to the other one. Of course they get caught in the end by some super sluething lawyer.

  5. I understand the “same but different” concept. I couldn’t help noticing (while watching the hockey game last night) that so many commercial themes are simple regurgitation’s of old popular songs. Some are more obvious than others. Some are only slightly referential. I’m getting the idea that in order for publishers to feel safe about “new” content, it has to essentially be a rip-off.

  6. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    The trick is finding mainstream ideas that are unique, creative, fresh, and specific! Tough….but if writers can do it, editors will love them forever. And publish them. And pay them.

  7. Phil@yacht charter croatia

    I discovered a long time ago that having mainstream tastes will help you with your writing. If you enjoy the same things that 90% of the people do, it’s easy to find readers. The talent comes in giving an unique view to what everyone else knows already.

  8. Hey Laurie,

    Thank you for giving us all this information. I think sometimes the internet is a friend, but sometimes when one’s trying to find a topic it can be overwhelming.

    This really helps me understand where I need to go as far as topics are concerned.

  9. Vidya Sury, Freelance Writer and Blogger

    When I received today’s newsletter and saw the title, I just dropped what I was doing and settled down to read it – because I consider any info related to this topic “on-going education”. And I was suitably rewarded when I saw my article mentioned – thanks Laurie. You ARE the best.

    And I love writing for Quips.