Selling Evergreen Articles: It’s All in the Slant By John K. Borchardt

An evergreen topic is a common one that people want to keep reading about, year-after-year. How can you persuade editors to accept your queries on evergreen topics? Magazines repeatedly publish articles on these topics: staying healthy, becoming more physically attractive, investing your money wisely, etc. The list is endless. However, editors are looking for new takes on their favorite evergreen topics. Instead, the queries they receive are often the same old same old: tired and limp. To sell our queries, we need to find fresh slants on familiar topics.

For example, railroads across the world are replacing wooden railroad ties with concrete ones for a variety of economic and environmental reasons. However, when I queried railroad trade magazine editors on findings about the comparative impact of concrete and wooden railroad ties on the environment, they weren’t interested. One told me the idea had “been done to death.” So I queried “Precast Concrete,” a concrete industry trade magazine. I slanted my query to explain how these firms could use the advantages of concrete ties to more successfully sell them to U.S. railroads. The U.S. is the last country in the world where most new railroad ties are still made of wood. The result of this novel slant on a tired subject was a nice sale and a new customer for my work.

Causes of obesity and methods to lose weight are popular topics in consumer magazines targeting adults of both genders. However, I went a different route. I was very interested in two press releases describing research on horse obesity. There are several magazines published for horse lovers on how to care for and train their animals. I was able to sell an article to the editor of “Equus” by taking a fresh slant: focusing on horses and recent veterinary science research on the subject. Later, I queried on new discoveries on horse domestication that pushed the partnership of humans and horses back thousands of years earlier in the past. The result was an article sale to “The Horse,” rather than a history magazine.

Company mergers have resulted in firms closing large laboratories often employing 2,000 people or more. Currently this trend is widespread in the pharmaceutical industry but other industries have undergone previous waves of lab closures. Many recent articles on these closures have recently been published in pharmaceutical industry and professional society magazines describing how research programs have been restructured and the hardships undergone by professional society members who have lost their jobs. I decided to take a fresh slant and explore what happens to the laboratory buildings. I successfully sold an article to the editor of “Area Development” magazine describing how area development managers, usually government or university officials, have promoted the sale and reopening of these large laboratories as industrial parks.

How do I get my article ideas? Some come from press releases. Suppose a particularly interesting press release on a popular evergreen subject issues one day. Science writers will pepper editors of a science magazine with queries based on this press release. Competition will be fierce. I’ll rack my brains to develop a novel slant and query a magazine for which the press release topic will be fresh, not evergreen. This is usually not a science magazine. The editor will see few, if any, other queries on the subject.

Other ideas come from my discussions with other writers. For example, I called a staff writer who works for “Chemical & Engineering News.” I complimented her on her article on employment problems people were having when the large laboratories they worked in were closed. I asked her what happened to the buildings. She didn’t know. When I suggested that she write an article on this subject, she said her editor wouldn’t be interested, given her just published article. So I wrote two articles taking the different slant of asking what was happening to the expensive buildings. The result was two articles published in magazines with very different readerships than “Chemical & Engineering News,” which doesn’t pay freelancers.

Some of my ideas for novel slants on evergreen subjects also come from magazine editorial calendars. I burn my brain cells trying to think of fresh subjects that fit the broad article categories listed in these calendars.

John Borchardt is a freelance writer who covers business, employment, career management, science and technology. More than 1,200 of his articles have been published in a variety of trade and consumer magazines and online publications. His Oxford University Press book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers was a Science Book Club Alternate Selection.