As writers, we are always on the lookout for new ideas, fresh topics and original stories to tell. Effective writers are those who can not only find a topic, but determine if it will sell, to whom they should sell it and how to develop this idea to pitch to editors. There are several factors to consider, and some writers have trouble separating the salable topics from the rest. They’ll wonder just how to know their unique slant, how to pitch the idea to a publication and how to develop the idea into a full article.
As I have begun to get my bearings in the writing world, I have developed a list of ten questions that should be applied to any topic. These questions test the topic’s suitability for a particular market, help determine the particular slants that could be applied, and flesh out the beginnings of an idea into a fully developed topic. Below are the ten questions.
Who is my audience? – It’s important that you figure out who you’re writing for, or the main market of the publication you’re thinking of pitching. Are they men or women? What age group are they in? Do they have a specific locale in common? Who are they? Regardless of your topic, you’ll need to know your audience before you can sell your article for publication.
How does the topic relate to my audience? – Once you’ve figured out who you’re writing for, figure out how the topic relates to them, if it does. If you can’t figure out this relationship, chances are high that your topic won’t sell to this audience.
What does my audience care about? – Go more in depth in understanding your audience. For example, assume that your audience is made up of women, ages 18 to 35. What do they care about? Chances are high that they will have strong feelings on specific issues such as breast cancer, marriage, motherhood, as well as such general issues like career, politics, music or religion. Because of the age range, they won’t necessarily care about new kid’s shows or about nursing home administration, unless of course those issues are tied to them. Relate these issues to their concerns, such as choosing kid’s shows for their children or how they can find the right nursing home for their parents. They have specific cares, interests, causes and concerns, and you need to know what those are.
How does this topic address or relate to these cares? – Once you’ve found out what your audience really cares about and responds to, you can tailor your article to meet those tastes. Make a list of all these cares, then determine ways that your topic can somehow tie into as many of those cares as possible. The more relevant an article is to your market, the better it will sell.
What will the audience learn about this topic? – What information are you going to cover? What information is new and what is simply rehashed? Look closely at what facts your topic relies on then decide the best ways to approach those facts. Remember, your information doesn’t have to be new, it just needs to be presented in a fresh way. New information has the benefit of being new, but even those bits need to be presented in an appealing way.
What information resources are available to me? – Before you can approach a topic, you’ll need to ask yourself this very question. Before you approach an editor, you’ll do well to have answered this question, at least in a general way. Where will you go for information? Will you consult experts in the field? Who are those experts? Are they lawyers, doctors, accountants, garbage men, manicurists, stunt men, rodeo clowns or babysitters? What books are there out on the subject? What websites, college classes, museums, or information hotlines can you use? Figure out where you can turn for information before you ever even query the topic. Maybe you’ll realize that there is little or no information available on this subject and you’ll need to rethink your topic.
What questions can I ask about my topic? – What do you want to know about it? What will your readers want to know? Start with the Six Questions of Journalism; who, what, when, where, why and how. List as many questions as you can think of, and then select the few that are most pertinent for your article.
How will I catch reader’s interest? – If you can’t grab the interest of a reader, they may never read your piece. More importantly, if you can’t catch the attention of an editor, you may never sell your piece. How will you hook them? What will grab their attention and fill them with a desire to find out more? Perhaps it’s a catchy title, an eye-grabbing picture or a shocking lead. Whatever it is, figure it out – that’s your ticket to a sale.
How will I keep that interest? – So you’ve gotten the reader to give your article a glance. Now what? Will they keep reading or will they just flip to the next page? Maybe you’ll start them off with a gripping anecdote, or a chilling statistic. Maybe you need to raise questions in the reader’s mind that will cause them to eagerly read on for answers. However you do it, you’ll need to keep their attention once you’ve got it. While this may not influence the sale of this particular article, it will influence the editor’s opinion of you as a writer. If you can keep interest on one topic, you’ll be more easily trusted the next time you query them, or when they need a writer for a topic of their choosing.
What is the core message or theme of this article? – Once all is said and done, what does your article really say? Does it simply inform? Does it entertain, or even inspire? Is there some deeper truth you want to convey, some sense of purpose to the article? This is the question that can take your writing from good to great. Understand the answer will give your writing depth and make it more than simply words.
By applying these questions to your own article ideas, you’ll weed out the ideas that don’t work, you’ll find the ones that do work, and you’ll flesh out your idea into a topic ready to query!