Yes, you can be 100% sure that your pitches will pique the editor’s interest! Here’s how to get good story ideas to write for ezines, popular blogs, online journals, and even print magazines.
“This is a great article on creative ways to find story ideas for articles, but I have two more tips to add,” says Joan J. Carrigan on 5 Creative Ways to Find Ideas 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 it receives a storm of negative feedback [from ezine or magazine readers], it’s considered a success because it gained a passionate response.”
Joan adds that the best story ideas are about topics that aren’t covered properly. “You don’t have to the first or only writer covering a topic, you just have to be the best,” she says. “If you find a story idea that grabbed your attention on social media but then it disappointed you with a lack of detail, then you can take the idea, research it properly, and do it better.” Those two tips on how to get good story ideas are our appetizers. Here, fellow scribes, is the main course…
One of the best ways to sell your story ideas to ezines or print magazines is to put your editor’s hat on. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be an editor? When I was hiring writers for my “Quips and Tips” blogs (actually, it was more like an ezine or online magazine than a blog), I got a good taste of the types of pitches editors get from aspiring writers.
You don’t have to be an awesomely talented writer to stand out in the slush pile! For every good story idea I got, I had to slog through 15 bad story ideas filled with poorly written English, typos, bad grammar, and incomplete sentences. If you put a little effort into learning how to be a professional journalist or freelance writer, you will sell more than your fair share of story ideas to ezines and print magazines.
7 Tips for Getting Good Story Ideas for Ezines and Magazines
Remember that you’ll probably have to work through several bad story ideas before you get a few good ones. Learning how to get story ideas takes practice; learning how to recognize good story ideas is even more difficult.
But don’t give up, okay?
“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.” – Steve Jobs.
1. Learn what “good story ideas” are
“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.”
What is the best way to learn what a good story idea is? Read the ezine. Study the print magazine. What types of articles do the editors publish, and what story ideas are most popular with readers? Put yourself in the readers’ shoes. What do they want from the ezine? The editor wants what the readers want.
So, when you’re searching for story ideas to pitch to ezines and magazines, put yourself in the editors’ and the readers’ shoes. The only way to do that is to learn as much as you can about what it’s like to edit and/or publish a magazine. Reading books and blogs is a great way to start! Especially books written for journalists. I taught high school journalism for three years, and used Feature and Magazine Writing as one of my reference books. Learn what editors are looking for by reading their online and print magazines.
2. Merge old with new story ideas
One of my favorite journalism quotes is that editors want “the same, but different.” A good story idea is familiar because it resonates with readers. The ezine has probably captured a niche magazine or market for readers, which means the editors and readers want to learn about some specific topic. So, your story idea has to be familiar – it has to be of interest to readers.
And yet, the best story ideas are different! Perhaps they teaches readers something new, or encourages them, or inspires them. A different slant on a familiar story idea is an easy, effective way to get published in an ezine or print magazine. For example, “How to Get Good Story Ideas for Ezines” is old (writers and bloggers are always looking for new article ideas) and a little bit different (I haven’t written about pitching to ezines before, so this is new to my readers).
3. Look for story ideas that appeal to the broad ezine audience
“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?”
Good story ideas have to be specific, but not too narrow. Broad enough to appeal to the majority of the ezine’s reading audience, but focused enough to cover a topic in some amount of depth. How much depth? It depends on the readers, the past articles, and the editors’ content marketing plan and editorial calendar for the future.
4. Catch editors’ interest with life-related story ideas
No matter what niche the ezine or print magazine serves, all readers are interested in matters of love, money, health, careers, death, and sickness. Those are basic life issues – or themes – that bleed into whatever topic the ezine is about.
Remember that the ezine’s readers – and editors – are human. They are dealing with real-life problems that affect their health, jobs, relationships, and daily life. Learn how to get good story ideas that relate to basic human nature, and you’ll go from “good” to “excellent.”
5. Ensure your stories have a clear theme and focus
In How to Write an Article – Test Your Story Idea, I describe several ways to make sure you’re on the right (write) path. But, in that blog post I neglected to say two things:
- Your central idea or theme needs to be strong and clear.
- You need to be able to state your angle in one sentence using an action verb.
When you’re pitching story ideas to ezine editors, you’ll increase your chances of success if you can share exactly what your article is about in clear, action-oriented language. For example: “Assertiveness Tips for Ezine Editors: How to Say No Without Making Enemies of Writers.” The action verbs are say and making; the theme is learning how to clearly and non-offensively state your opinion.
6. Insert a little intelligence and creativity into your story ideas
“Does your story idea 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.
This was one of my biggest pet peeves when I was accepting story ideas for my blogs! It was the same old boring pitches all the time: “How to Get Good Story Ideas” and “How to Write for Ezines.” These are obvious, mundane, commonsense blog posts that have been written about a gazillion times.
So why am I writing this blog post on finding good story ideas? I have an ulterior motive 🙂 I’m actually practicing my rewriting and editing skills. I first wrote this post in 2009; it’s called 10 Quick Ways to Recognize Great Article Ideas. I want to grow as a writer, and the only way to do that is to edit my past writing…so I’m rewriting my previous blog posts. Going back to my old story ideas is a heartwarming and embarrassing way to see where I’ve been – and how far I’ve come as a blogger!
7. Make sure your article idea actually tells a story
If you’re pitching an article to Writer’s Digest (the print or ezine version) about assertiveness for editors, then include an anecdote. Readers love anecdotes because they illustrate ideas, facts, and statistics in a colorful, engaging way. Without a colorful illustration or anecdote, you won’t bring your article alive.
5 Essential Elements Of a Story
I probably learned the elements of a story when I was in elementary school – and I probably taught it when I was teaching grade 8 Language Arts! But I decided to give myself a refresher because I am, after all, supposed to be growing as a writer.
These five components that are essential to all good stories are: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. These essential elements keep the story running smoothly and keep readers engaged.
- The characters are who the story is about. You need to give your readers just enough information about the characters to bring them to life. You don’t have to provide detailed descriptions of your character’s physical attributes and personality traits – unless you’re writing a personality profile or expose. Even if you’re sharing tips on how to get good story ideas for ezines, your article should contain at the very least a voice. Read What is Writer’s Voice? The Key to Writing a Good Story for more info.
- The setting is the location of the action. Where is your story taking place? The environment or surroundings – if it’s relevant – should be shared in enough detail to allow readers to picture the scene. Unusual settings (such as a fantasy world) can be interesting and more detail-oriented, but even the most basic everyday settings can help a reader better visualize the plot and theme of the story.
- The plot is the actual story around which the article is based. A print or ezine article should have a very clear beginning, middle, and end, so your readers can easily follow along from start to finish. This is where editors can be extremely helpful. As a writer, it’s sometimes difficult to identify confusing parts of the story, because we’re right in the middle of it all. It’s our story!
- All good story ideas have conflict. All story plots are centered on conflict. What problem does your story idea solve for the ezine readers? How will they resolve their problem? Good story ideas solve the editors’ problem as well, because it gives them content for their ezine or print magazine.
- The solution is how the story ends – the resolution. The resolution is more than the conclusion of the story. It’s the how everything fits together in a neat little package, how things shake out or unfold. The resolution must fit the rest of your story and solve all parts of the conflict.
It may seem basic, but knowing these five basic elements will help you learn how to get good story ideas. Remember that a story doesn’t have to be 50,000 words – or even 500 words. Ernest Hemingway told a story in six words: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Do you have a good story idea for an ezine or print magazine, but you don’t know how it needs to be told? Read 11 Types of Articles to Write for Magazines.
Have you learned anything new or interesting about how to get good story ideas, fellow scribes, or are these the same old boring tips that you’ve read before? Feel free to share your big and little, positive and negative thoughts below.
P.S. “Let your working ideas go for a picnic — sometimes the fresh air and ant bites are just what they need. Many great ideas were bitten a little at the beginning.” – Terri Guillemets.