Are you a writer in search of an article idea? These days, the big-earning article writers have loads of ideas for editors.
But if you’re someone who really finds idea generation tough, there’s another way to earn well. You can do it by getting more mileage out of your short stack of ideas.
Get out of the habit of coming up with one article idea, landing an assignment, and then moving on.
Instead, think in terms of spinning that one little idea straw into a big pile of gold.
How? Here are ten different ways:
1. Develop evergreen topics
The first rule for wringing more cash from and article idea is to avoid breaking news. These stories go out of date fast, and don’t allow you time to find additional angles or audiences for them.
Instead, focus on topics that are likely to stay newsworthy for a long time. Think of big issues that you might write a series of follow-ups on. Marketing, relationships, entrepreneurship, personal finance, celebrities, food, media, and housing are all mainstays, for instance.
2. Turn your essay into a reported essay
These days, there aren’t many good-paying markets for personal essays. Few writers are able to earn much of a living in that niche.
But…if you’re willing to use your personal experience as an opening anecdote, and then explore the issue with experts, you can write a reported essay. There’s way more opportunity there, at lots of the better-paying, national consumer magazines.
3. Re-slant for a trade audience
If you have an article idea about a trend in any type of business, you might earn more from it by pitching it to a trade publication for that industry, rather than trying to interest a consumer magazine in it.
For instance, you’re interested in the trend of wearable tech? You can try (and try) to get a feature assignment writing about that for a women’s mag…or you might more easily sell an article idea on the top ways to market wearable tech in your retail store for, say, Chain Store Age.
If you’re interested in marketing, human resources, merchandising, theft prevention, or any of the basic issues all companies deal with, then you’re in even better shape, as you could write one trend story on any of those topics and resell it to many trade publications, each in a different industry. (See ‘reselling’ below for more on this.)
Unfamiliar with trades? Google “<industry> trade magazine” and you’ll turn up the ones you want — or explore the amazing plethora of trade titles at tradepub.com.
4. Angle for a custom publication
Love to write about shopping? Maybe you’ve got an article idea that you could pitch to one of those magazines you find in retail stores. Interested in healthcare? Perhaps the magazine your local hospital puts out would be an outlet for your idea.
Custom publications are put out by businesses, rather than magazine publishers. And there are tons of them. The trick is that these serve a company agenda — so be ready to angle your article idea so it encompasses something that company offers, and wants to promote.
5. Sell reprints
Leaf through your Writer’s Market, and you’ll discover that many print magazines still accept reprints. Now that Google hates duplicate content, it’s a bit more challenging to get reprints paid online, so print magazines may be your best bet here.
Remember to think about noncompeting markets when you resell. If you’re writing for local or city magazines, you may be able to sell that idea to another city parenting or lifestyle magazine elsewhere, if the topic is universal and doesn’t quickly go out of date.
Reprints don’t usually pay nearly as well as a new article, so if you go this route, you’ll want to learn how to sell a lot of reprints.
6. Re-slant, rewrite, and resell
This idea is simple: find a slightly different angle for your article idea and sell it again, to a new market. Since it’s hard to sell reprints these days, this is often the next best thing. The big advantage here is this isn’t a reprint, and the resold article should still get pro rates.
One easy way to find a new slant is to target publications with a different audience. If you wrote a parenting piece for a local city paper, for instance, you might take that idea and sell it to a trade pub for baby-products retailers. That audience switch will recast your story, as retail buyers will want different information on the topic than moms did.
Another common approach is to sub out an expert or two for another expert who’s in your new target market. Presto! Freshness.
7. Post on your blog with an offer
Not all pay from article ideas comes from selling that idea to someone else. Another approach is to write your story and post it on your own blog, with a link or banner to a relevant product or service. This could either be something you offer yourself, or something you’re affiliate selling — say, Freelance Writers Den.
You’ll notice me taking this approach with this very blog post, which offers a banner at the bottom that links to the 4 Week Journalism School course I co-teach with Linda Formichelli.
Done right, posting on your blog with a link to something readers might buy can earn you way more than you might have received if you sold your idea to a magazine.
8. Guest post and link to an offer
This is just like the point above, except instead of posting on your own blog, you find a higher-traffic, popular blog and write a guest post. In this case, your link usually goes to a product or service you offer, as most popular blogs won’t let you use affiliate links on your guest post.
I did a bunch of guest posts with product links when my Small Blog, Big Income e-books were first coming out. For example, here’s a guest post I wrote for SmartBlogger on a related topic — Why Your Blog Needs a Tagline. Check out the tagline on that post, and you see how this works.
9. Nationalize a local story — or vice versa
If you don’t have article ideas, you can always steal them from the news. Then, change the scope of the piece to sell it as your own. For instance, if healthcare reform is all over the national news right now, you might pitch a local pub a feature on the impact on local families of a particular type (single moms, veterans, the elderly).
The reverse is also true. If you spot a local trend and write it for a local newspaper or magazine, you can then investigate whether it’s happening in other cities, too. Find a few more places it’s going on, and you’ve got a trend story to pitch to a national magazine.
10. Update or revisit your article idea
When you’re short of ideas, it’s time to flip through your portfolio (or look back on old blog posts) and see what you’ve already written. Often, those ideas could use another look. Stories done a year after a natural disaster, that update readers on impacted lives or rebuilt infrastructure, are a classic example. A company’s milestone anniversary can be a great opportunity for a new story — here’s one I did for Nordstrom’s 100th anniversary.
If you wrote about a trend, it can be great to go back a year or ten later and see if it turned out to be big, or fizzled. In either case, you can round up experts to discuss why. Or, spin that trend to the future and ask those experts to forecast the next evolution of that trend.
Keep your ideas working
My final tip is to get organized on how you track your ideas. Calendar followups for anniversaries or updates. Research which of your old ideas could be refreshed for a new audience.
Your ability to earn more from your idea is really limited only by your willingness to keep pitching it around. Don’t get discouraged by non-responses or noes. Keep turning that idea, updating it, tweaking it, and thinking of other audiences who might appreciate it.
How have you earned the most from your article ideas? Leave a comment and share your angle.