Your article idea must be new — but not too original

Editors lie. They tell writers they want to fascinate their readers with what’s new and exciting. But if you read their magazines you see that they always recycle old topics, and if your article proposals are too edgy, editors won’t buy.

For example, in 1995 (I know I’m old) I was trying to sell articles about the Internet to general-interest and women’s magazines. No sale. At that stage, the Internet hadn’t erupted into mass consciousness. That taught me that topics must be familiar to a magazine’s readers, but with a new slant.

Your article idea must be new — but not too original

The easiest way to enliven a topic is by using what’s in the headlines. At the moment, if you’re writing about women’s health, and if you know that controversy about Hormone Replacement Therapy is news. Use this to give your articles an up-to-the-minute flavor.

A journalist updated “intuition” as a topic by using a news story that was making headlines in Australia. A tourist was abducted in the outback and is still missing. The tourist’s female companion hadn’t obeyed her intuition and the journalist used this as an effective hook for her story.

My favorite way of making topics new is by developing a new slant. I wanted to write about procrastination, so I spoke to a life management coach, a business trainer, and a psychologist. Procrastination is an old topic, but I got some great quotes from the experts, who had unique ways of handling it with their clients.

What if you want to write about a topic that’s non-mainstream? You can get lucky with a proposal if your topic is familiar to the editor you pitch. A few months ago I became fascinated with energy medicine and a technique called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). I knew this was likely to be too new for mainstream magazines, but I got lucky.

An editor at Australian Woman’s Day was familiar with the technique and accepted the article. Alternatively, your idea may be quite standard, but new to the editor. This happened with a story on the Glycemic Index I sold to a health and fitness magazine.

Look through your file of unsold article proposals. Make them “new”, and sell them. Here’s how. For each proposal:

* Consider whether this topic has been in the headlines recently (no matter how tangentially);

* Ask yourself whether an expert might have a unique take on the topic;

* Search for new books on that topic;

* Brainstorm new slants and hooks;

* Don’t give up on your “too new” topics — send the proposals out periodically (say every six months). Sooner or later every new topic becomes mainstream.