How do you know whether your brilliant article idea will strike a chord and get you the assignment or land your neatly crafted query letter in the slush?
Use the following checklist to determine whether you have a winner or another stale idea that the editor’s been rejecting since she set foot in her editorial office.
1. What’s new?
If you’re writing for a pregnancy magazine, chances are the editor has already covered topics such as exercise and diet regulation. What are you going to say that stands out? Can you provide a unique spin to these topics? If yes, you’re in the door.
Be different. Instead of talking about diet issues, write about 10 fatty things that a mother-to-be can eat during pregnancy that she has to avoid otherwise. Flip issues on their head and come up with stories that are counter-intuitive.
2. Will the reader connect?
You may have a perfectly publishable story and idea, but it will still lead to a rejection if you’re targeting the wrong market. The first thing an editor wants to know when she lays eyes on your query is whether or not her readers will connect with the subject matter, whether or not its relevant to them. If her readers aren’t likely to be impressed, she isn’t either. As I frequently teach my students in the 30 Days, 30 Queries e-course, there are more than 30 ways you can reslant an idea. Which way is the best fit for this publication?
3. Will it keep the reader captivated?
Picture this: I plop myself on the couch after a long, hard day at work. While I’m relaxing, I could flick channels on the remote or pick up the magazine in front of me and leaf through the articles. My eyes rest on your piece. Is the story you wrote intriguing and interesting enough to make me stay with you or would I prefer to watch what’s on TV?
4. Is there a bit of a surprise?
Readers love being surprised, and therefore, editors do, too. Surprise doesn’t always have to mean an anticlimax or irony. Surprises can be subtle. Add little known statistics or funny anecdotes to your pieces. Go out of your way to find an amazing fact or figure. In a serious business piece, add a touch of humor.
5. What’s in it for me?
What does someone take home with her once she’s closed the magazine, newspaper or browser window and gone her own way? Has she learned a lesson? Will she take with her an experience? Will she be a better mother, daughter, wife, friend, or person because of it? In every article that you write, this question holds the utmost importance. What are you giving your reader?
What questions do you ask about your article ideas? Do you have any examples to share? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments!