I have written for the web for about a decade now and have focused on finance writing for over eight years. I have watched the internet morph into the amazing, giant media monster it is now. Because of this shift, the internet is just saturated with articles.
With in-print magazines and newspapers, editors could get away with publishing the same type of article once a year. Now editors are constantly looking for what’s fresh and what is going to get their article to go viral. Want to pitch Forbes with a brilliant work at home strategy? You’re out of luck. A quick search reveals that they’ve done three similar pieces this quarter already.
So how do you get your story idea to stand out and get editors excited about hiring you? Here are my four tips.
1. Lead with a Personal Story
Personal stories will never go out of style. On the whole, people care about people. Jill isn’t going to care about improving her debt situation unless she reads about Mary who paid off $30,000 worth of debt on a $15,000 salary. Greg isn’t going to get pumped about reading SEO tips unless he reads the story about Jane Millionaire who used three SEO strategies that launched her business.
I believe that everyone has an interesting story to share, and this can be a significant lead on topics that are over covered.
Every time I start to interview someone, I feel like I am mining for gold. There are so many amazing people out there that have done impressive, daring, and unique things. Find them and add them to your story, and if you have a story to share, don’t be afraid to share it.
I had the privilege of sharing about motherhood after my mom’s suicide on Scary Mommy (back when they paid writers). Whenever you can share or lead with your story, you are just going to capture the reader. We are all human, and so many times, we just want to know that someone else knows how we are feeling, whether that be in the article topic of dating, parenting trials or just trying to figure out working from home.
2. Tie an Evergreen Topic to Pop Culture
This works well for casual sites, millennial sites, or news that everyone is talking about – i.e. the presidential campaign. Find ways that you can link your niche to a popular TV show, book, event, or celebrity.
Even if your niche has nothing to do with celebrities or books, almost any niche could work. For example, if you write for a mental health site, a post like, “What (Popular TV Show) Taught Me About Living Positively” could intrigue the editor. If you had timed it correctly, a post like, “What Lady Gaga’s Half Time Show Taught Me About Job Interviews,” could make the editor at a millennial career site jump.
Here are some great examples:
The financial lessons of ‘Game of Thrones’ via Reuters
5 Things Kim Kardashian Taught Me About Business via American Express
See also: Writer’s Productivity Hacks
3. Take an Overused Topic and Reveal a New Idea
The most read article for The New York Times in 2016 was “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” There are so many articles on how to avoid marrying the wrong person or advice on what to do if you marry the wrong person, but this piece makes some new waves by flat-out saying that you will marry the wrong person.
Some other ideas from the media:
Could the “Art of Tidying” Change Your Work Life? via OfficeNinjas
Ladies, Care for Good Work Life Balance? Try these 4 Wearables via Entrepreneur India
Need a fun way to do this? Write 10 words related to your niche down, then write 10 random (but not irrelevant) words down. Try this link for a free random word generator. For example, as a finance writer, my lists would look like this:
- Save money
- Earn money
- Credit score
- Credit card
- Work at Home Mom
You can cut up your lists and put them in a jar to pick from, or you can just let the two lists inspire your brain to think of new connections. For example, some ideas that spring to my mind are:
- Getting Past the Honeymoon Phase of Retirement
- The Bizarre Way This Entrepreneur Funded His Business
- How to Get Your Bad Credit Card Habits Forgiven – For Good
- What These Three Casino Managers Can Teach You About Budgeting
- Useless Work at Home Mom Advice You Need to Ignore Today
4. Disagree with the Norm
No one likes a negative Nancy unless you are a writer pitching a new angle. I have had success with writing an article that contradicted a fellow writer’s advice. For example, one writer wrote a piece on why she wouldn’t give her kids any money for college, and I followed up with an article of why I would be saving $20,000 for my children’s college fund. My piece ended up getting shared on LifeHacker. As long as your article upholds the value of the site and brand, articles that go against the norm can peak an editor’s interest.
Examples of this:
Dave Ramsey’s Advice on Mutual Fund Investing is Wrong via The Balance
I Purposely Paid My Credit Card Bill Late & Accidentally Discovered a Credit Score Hack via Credit Sesame
Peter Thiel Says He Never Invests In A CEO Who Wears A Suit via Business Insider
See also: Land Your First Writing Gig
A lot of people have asked me how I come up with article ideas, but the truth is, I wish I could turn my brain off from so many ideas. If you are struggling with ideas, then read more and schedule more “unplugged” time. I get my best ideas when I am on a quiet walk (minus the kids asking for crackers and water every 10 seconds), in the shower and when I am laying in bed. Have your phone or a pad of paper nearby and quickly jot down your ideas when they pop up. You will not remember them the next morning!