As a freelancer, I’m always looking for the next big gig. It’s easy to come up with topics I’d like to explore, but finding a fun angle for an idea is sometimes challenging. I’ve found the best way to sharpen my hook is to use prompts in my target publication. Let’s say I want to write about list making, because I think lists are useful tools people can use in to enhance productivity and minimize stress. Before I sit down to draft a query, I need a clear sense of direction. Without a hook, my pitch will ramble aimlessly. I want it to pop off the page as a saleable article idea.
I often use article titles in the magazine I’m pitching as brainstorming prompts. I might start with the cover or a specific section I want to break into. A quick scan gives me the following headlines: “100 Ways to Look and Feel Younger;” “Free! Free! Free! Smart Phone Apps to Keep You Safe”; “They Did It! These Women Changed Jobs After 50 and You Can, Too” and “How Fear Makes You Stronger.”
Using each title, I rethink the topic of list making, looking for something sexy. I think about “100 Ways to Use Lists in Your Life” and “Lost Your List? Free Smart Phone Apps to Keep Lists at Your Fingertips” and “How Lists Expand Your Brainpower.” I consider a profile piece that shares personal stories from three women who have used lists to tackle life-improvement projects like losing 100 pounds or subcontracting their new home’s construction. I might free-write for 5 to 10 minutes on each idea to see what bubbles up. This process helps me find an angle and focus my pitch more tightly.
I’ve found editors are most likely to say “Yes” to a pitch for a piece they can visualize on the page, so I closely study article formats as well. Maybe the magazine ran a decision tree on how to evaluate car-buying options. I decide to explore that form for a piece on helping teens choose the right college. You get the idea.
Ultimately, the key to making ideas more marketable is to get inside an editor’s head. Using previous stories and structures to kick start my thinking allows me to do just that.
Heidi Smith Luedtke writes about personal development, people skills and parenting for more than 80 regional and national magazines, including Parents, Costco Connection and Military Spouse. She’s currently putting final touches on a parenting e-book, due out next month. Learn more at HeidiLuedtke.com.