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Monday, September 13, 2010

A Time Peg: Your Query's Secret Weapon

First off, thanks for all of the great suggestions/questions on my earlier thread...I'll announce the winner of my giveaway on Wednesday, September 15! Stay tuned...

As a writer who often covers "evergreen" subjects, I'm constantly looking for new, "fresh" ways to pitch a story. (And believe me, editors want the same thing!) Instead of pitching "10 ways to lose weight," for example (boring!), I might instead pitch a piece on the surprising reasons you're gaining weight; how lack of sleep can make you fat; how your friends and family may be making you fat; or how even your environment cause you to gain weight. Get the idea? You scout for different ways to approach the same basic idea.

I've found that one of the most effective ways to do so, and to up my chances of getting an assignment, is to employ what I call a "time peg." A time peg makes your evergreen topic of interest right now. Here's an example:

Dear Ms. Editor:

You've been watching your diet and working out, but that number on the scale just won't budge. Wondering what the problem is? The culprit may not lie with what you do during the day, but what you do (or don't do) during the night--namely sleep. A recently published study found that people who slept just four hours (compared to eight hours) a night consumed an extra 559 calories the next day! It's easy to see that several weeks of sleep could easily show up not just as undereye bags, but as extra around your middle as well.

[Rest of the query omitted.]

Get the idea? The study gives my evergreen idea (how to change your lifestyle to lose weight) a timely spin, and makes it more likely to be assigned by an editor.

That's why I suggest you look for a time peg (be it a new study, a statistic, a news story, an anniversary of an event) to make your evergreen story timely. Are you doing this already? How do you make your evergreen stories sound fresh?


  1. Kelly, great tips! I tell my students the same thing, but a concern that typically comes up is, "but you said magazines work about six months ahead, so how do you know what's going to be timely in six months? Won't whatever study you cite be old news by then?" This is when I encourage them to look at the calendar and think of seasonal tie-ins ("Hey! It's National Sleep Awareness Week in six months!"), but I'm curious about your thoughts on this? Thanks!

  2. Hi, Susan--

    Thanks for your comment! I agree about using upcoming tie-ins for upcoming stories--obviously you can't know what will be happening in six months, but if it's timely now (i.e. due to a new research article, etc), there's a good chance mags will cover it then as well. Print pubs just aren't as able to capitalize on "breaking" news the way TV/radio/online markets can, so they don't typically try to be up-to-the-minute, IMO.

  3. Great reminder. There are so many studies out there for just about everything. Do you limit yourself at all about which studies (or maybe the question is from what sources) you use in pitches?

  4. Good question, Kristen--and the answer is, not really. In fact, studies in big journals like The Lancet, JAMA, and New England Journal are more likely to be covered in the press, so coming up with a study that's a little bit under the radar shows some reporting ability, IMO. :)

  5. Any suggestions for finding great research? Is there some journal database? A few I have found require memberships to access the info. Thanks!

  6. Hi, Carrie--
    Check out Medline, the database for the National Institutes of Health, at: