Note: In this post from the past, you’ll learn about one easy method to come up with story ideas that never gets old.
Are you short on story ideas to pitch magazine editors?
A lot of writers make it a lot harder than it needs to be to come up with story ideas to land an assignment.
You try and be ultra clever. You spend countless hours doing research looking for a nugget of information…and then another. Or you second guess every single one of the story ideas you come up with. Sound familiar?
Some story ideas deserve that kind of attention. But if you’re hustling to land more work and make more money, you need to pitch story ideas that sell.
And there’s one angle that few writers take the time to craft, but that often results in an easy sale.
What is this slam-dunk idea? Let me show you how it’s done:
Spin story ideas into the future
When you come up with a story idea for a publication, dissect it in as many ways as possible. Come up with fresh angle for a different market, interview new sources, and turn that one story idea into many story ideas and assignments.
But what if the pub you really want to pitch has already published a piece similar to your story idea? Don’t give up. There’s at least one more great way to spin a story– and that’s into the future.
The magic of follow-up
The one story that’s never written enough is the follow story. A big news story happens and the media is all over it. Then, it fades from view.
But a story is never just one point in time. It continues to unfold.
And often, nobody comes back to find out how it all worked out. Often, things don’t go as forecast, and there’s a nice, juicy story there just waiting to be told.
Start looking forward
When I was a staff reporter, I used to keep what journalists call a “future” file. It’s a big tickler file with future dates on all the pockets. You could just as easily use the calendar in your phone or on your computer.
When something happened — for example, when a promise was made by a politician or business leader — I’d drop a note in my file for the anniversary of that event or promise.
I’d drop one in for a year after an earthquake. Or the month that government agency’s five-year plan was supposed to be achieved. A year after a company’s bankruptcy or merger.
Then, when that time rolled around, I’d be back to write another story that updated the news.
Follow-up stories are great for nearly every type of article topic. Examples:
- Celebrity: A year after the divorce, the career-making Oscar, the movie blockbuster or dud
- Business: Did growth targets announced previously get met? Did the merger really save overhead?
- Government: Did that aid program meet its goals? Where did the money really go?
- Arts: Did that new museum open on time? If not, what’s the holdup? If a local director went off to Broadway — how’d they do their first season?
All too often in our short attention-span world, stories fade and we never find out what the outcome was of a drama that once captivated us. But we’d love to know.
One editor of mine loved a variant of these called “Where are they now?” stories.
If a prominent figure has faded from view, and you’ve found out what they’re doing today, it’s always a great story.
Follow the money
Yes, it’s an old saw — but one that leads to a lot of great story ideas editors love. Anytime big dollar amounts are being tossed around, pay attention. There are always good stories lurking.
- For instance, once I discovered there was a public database where you could see who got the federal stimulus money. That allowed me to get an assignment from Seattle Business magazine following up on what happened to all the stimulus grants won by organizations and agencies in my state.
Having a future file allows you to get ahead of story ideas that can be fat packages too, such as the opening of a big new institution or a big corporate anniversary.
Sell more story ideas the easy way
Hitting an anniversary early enough to get it assigned and published at the right moment takes planning — it takes a futures file.
Anytime you hear of something that’s supposed to happen in the future, make note. That’s the seed of a great story just waiting for you to pitch.