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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Write about the Same Thing Over and Over--and Get Paid Over and Over, Too

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I'm all about making the most of my time. That's why I try to never write about the same topic just once—I “reslant,” or come up a new angle on my original idea, as often as I can. Take the evergreen topic of changing the way you eat to lose weight. I’ve covered it with the following angles:
• How eating breakfast can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fiber can help you lose weight.
• How eating more low “GI” (glycemic index) foods can help you lose weight.
• How eating more fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight.
• How eating more protein can help you lose weight.
• How using smaller plates and bowls can help you lose weight.
That’s six ways of reslanting the same basic idea, and I remembered and wrote them down in less than a minute. Yet I wrote those stories at different times. An even more efficient way to reslant, and one of my favorite ways to “double dip” is to pitch two very similar ideas to different markets at the same time. As long as they’re not competing markets,you’re fine even if they both get assigned.
Here’s an example. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to write about social media. Number one, I knew next to nothing about it and needed to figure out what the heck it was. Why not get paid to do so? Number two, one of my good friends had just written a book that discussed social media and I knew I could use her for a source (and plug her book as well). And number three, just about everyone I know spends part of their day on Facebook and Twitter, so I figured it was a timely topic.
I pitched the idea to two of my regular markets, Chicago Parent and Complete Woman. Because I write for both of them frequently, a short pitch is all I need. Here’s the relevant section of each of the queries I sent:

Dear Tamara:Okay, you asked for some ideas for May and beyond…I’m focusing on the CP reader as a woman *and* as a mom, not just as a parent, as I have in the past. Here are some topics that may interest you:
1. [Pitch omitted]
2. Your Online Identity: What Social Media (and How You Use it) Says About You. Millions of us log onto Facebook, Myspace, and Linkedin every day, but is the use of social media helping or hurting your social life? I’ll interview a couple of experts about this subject and talk about how social media can help support your IRL (In Real Life) friendships as well as how to know when you’re going overboard with it. I’d also like to take a fun look at what certain things say about you (i.e., your choice of profile photo, types of posts, etc). I think this would be a fun yet informative piece, with a sidebar on the most popular social media sites. Again, I’m thinking 1,200 words for the story.
3. [Pitches 3 and 4 and rest of query omitted]

And here's the pitch I sent to Complete Woman:

Hi, Stephanie!
Great to hear from you … here are a couple of ideas for you and Bonnie to consider:
Your Online Identity: What Social Media Says About You
Hooked on Myspace? Spend half your day on Facebook? This piece will describe how women use Facebook, Myspace, and other forms of social media, and what their use of social media says about them. (For example, your choice of profile picture, type of posts you make, what types of people you connect with online, and how often you check in with social media all give clues to your personality—and that of your friends as well.)
I’ll interview at least one expert on this timely subject and interview several “real women” for the piece, which will be a fun look at this ubiquitous technology. I estimate 1,000 words for this light yet informative piece, but that’s flexible depending on your needs. (I’ll also give readers an idea of how to interpret potential romantic candidates’ FB and Myspace pages as well…and what to look for in a promising guy as well as “red flags.”)
 [Pitch 2 and rest of query omitted]

One idea, two different spins--which led to two assignments and two checks. Sure, both queries sprang from the same basic concept—how to harness social media—but they took different angles and have different audiences in mind. Get in the habit of reslanting every idea and you’ll market more efficiently—and hopefully effectively as well. 

[This post was drawn from Secret 22: Reslant every idea, from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you're serious about freelancing, I hope you'll check it out. Thanks! Or if you're a total newbie to freelancing and want to know how to sell your first article, you won't find better, more practical advice than in my ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article


  1. Hey Kelly,
    I've been working to do more of this—but a large part of my previous clips have been for one trade magazine, writing about pets. I'm having trouble reorienting my own head from a business standpoint to a consumer one... and was wondering if you had any tips for reslanting business ideas specifically.

  2. Hi, Melissa--I think you have to think about not the main part of the story itself but ancillary topics as well. For example, if I was doing a story for a trade magazine on "save the butchers" (an actual piece!), I might pitch a piece on surprising ways to save money on meat or what to look for when buying fresh meat for a consumer magazine. Make sense? You do have to stretch a little sometimes to come up with a consumer angle. Good luck and keep me posted! :)