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Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Word Freelancers Hate to Hear: "Fresh" (and how to Make your Pitches More So)

If you write for magazines, at some point you'll hear the word "fresh." As in, "solid pitch but not quite fresh enough," or "we're really looking for fresh ideas." Mention the word "fresh" to any long-term freelancer and you may wind up hearing a diatribe on the vagaries of pitching so-called fresh ideas. 

Here's the thing. I think the word fresh is overrated. A fitness publication like Fitness, Shape, or Self covers topics related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. A bridal magazine will cover bridal-related topics that include wedding planning, the relationship between bride and groom, and financial issues. So it's a safe bet that in every issue there will be a piece on these subjects. Your job as a freelancer is to take a subject that's been covered for years (and will be continued to be covered) and make it fresh. Make it new. Make the editor think, "Hmm, I hadn't thought of that approach before." 

As someone who reslants, or writes about the same subjects over and over, I've had to learn how to think fresh. I've said before that all of my dozens of stories (not to mention several books) come down to four words: "eat less. Exercise more." But by coming up with multiple approaches to this subject, I've managed to create so-call fresh approaches to the same old subject. (For example, I've written articles about:  
  • How to "eat like a man" (for a women's magazine) and lose weight;
  • Eat more fiber and lose weight; 
  • Eat more often and lose weight; 
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and lose weight; 
  • Drink more water and lose weight; 
  • Eat lower glycemic-index foods and lose weight; and
  • Eat more soup and lose weight.   
And that's just a start. Believe me, at this point, I should probably pitch a piece on how eat more M&Ms and lose weight. Time to do some first-person research on the subject! 
 
So how can you make a pitch "fresh," especially an evergreen? Here are five says to do so:  
  • Take a counterintuitive approach to the subject. If you're pitching a parenting magazine on ways to get your kids do better in school, you might suggest that one method is to spend less time helping with homework. (For a bridal magazine, your pitch might be "Spend less money, have a more beautiful wedding. For a fitness magazine, "Spend less time in the gym, get a better body.") 
  • Come up with a time peg, whether it's a recent statistic, study, or anniversary. I guarantee that every of a women's fitness magazine will have at least one article on a new workout plan. 
  • Pitch a quiz. Quizzes are an engaging way to share information with readers, especially for online markets.    
  • Offer a round-up. Round-ups are a pain because they involve a lot of time to collect the responses/quotes, but if you're willing to do them, the collection of individual voices and/or tips makes put a fresh spin on an old subject. 
  • Dig. Find a story that the editor truly hasn't heard before. One of my first feature sales was a piece on a young woman who had suffered from a mysterious illness for years, and was even misdiagnosed by the Mayo Clinic. It sold. Your ability to come up with a topic that your editor can't find on her own makes you invaluable, and makes you more likely to sell your pitch. 
Readers, what say you? Do you dread the word fresh? Or have you found other ways to make evergreen ideas seem new? Please share them! 

***Are you a new freelancer, or know someone who wants to break into freelancing? My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know