By Steph Auteri
Having trouble generating new story ideas? In my opinion, that’s one of the toughest things about being a freelance writer. In order to make writing lucrative, you need to come up with ideas that are so fresh, an editor will actually pay you to write about them. And you have to do this over and over again.
One brainstorming tool I like to use is to consider all the different story formats I have at my disposal. Then I take a topic and try to apply it to each story type. What are the story types you should be considering?
1. One great way to break into the print magazine market in particular is with front-of-book pieces. The word counts are small and, sometimes, they don’t even carry bylines, but they’re a great proving ground if you’re a primarily untested young writer.
2. Another good way to build up a portfolio is by writing reviews. It can be quite easy to break into smaller, regional publications with a well-written review pitch, especially if you have access to advance book copies, screeners, etc. Or you could pitch yourself to a publication like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews. Just send an LOI that highlights your specialty or niche.
3. Have access to a celebrity, public figure, or highly interesting person? Pitch an interview, which can be written in a narrative format, or a Q&A format.
4. Or there’s the personal essay, one of my favorites. While publications may be cutting down on longer-form content, there are still markets for well-written, insightful, and relatable essays. (mediabistro has a great series on personal essay markets they update fairly regularly.)
5. Or you may have noticed that confessional blogging has made way for a plethora of expert blogs. For this reason, how-tos and other service pieces have become the bread and butter of online content. Have a very specific area of expertise? Pitch yourself as an expert and convince an editor you’re the perfect person to tell readers how to choose the best wine and food pairings, or how to convince an ex to take you back, or how to save money in order to purchase a house.
6. Lists do similarly well, both in print and online. Readers love their content in carefully organized, easily-digestible, easily-scannable pieces.
7. Roundups are a type of list, and many readers go bananas for them. They’re penultimate collections of the best… the nerdiest… the most fashionable… the most whatever in a particular genre.
8. And finally, there are features. Sadly, such assignments are also the most highly competitive, as fewer and fewer of them are commissioned every year, leaving only the most extraordinary of writers (or perhaps the most extraordinary of self-marketers?) to land them.
Knowing all of these story formats can be helpful in brainstorming multiple story ideas around one subject. For example, as a crazy cat lady, I’ve written a couple stories for Petside. But I know the subject holds the potential for even more. How could I take this list of story formats and generate eight different story ideas about cats?
1. FOB: I could write a few hundred words containing stats on the most popular domestic cat breeds.
2. Review: I could write a review of Bash Dibra’s Cat Speak.
3. Interview: I could interview pet psychic Suzan Vaughn.
4. Personal Essay: I could write an essay on how the way my husband and I care for our pets makes me wonder how we’ll be as parents.
5. How-To: I could write a piece on how to introduce a new cat to the family.
6. Listicle: I could create a list of the items you should buy if you’re bringing home your very first cat.
7. Roundup: I could create a larger list of the best darn cat comics out there. (I was always a fan of Get Fuzzy.)
8. Feature: I could do up a feature on pet therapy, and how pets help people deal with depression.
I’ve already done at least half of these. And it looks like I have a few more query letters to write up. But before that, it’s your turn.
If you’d like to try this yourself, sign up for my mailing list in order to receive a free copy of Freelance Awesome: A Starter Kit, which includes this story-generation worksheet, among others. Then? Watch the assignments roll in!
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Image courtesy of luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net