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How the hell do you come up with freelance topics?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SheffieldAvenue, Apr 12, 2011.

  1. SheffieldAvenue

    SheffieldAvenue New Member

    The Thomas Lake thread said he became a freelancer at SI by selling a story to them on spec.

    I've read through the stickied GQ/Esquire thread up top, and I think it has a lot of helpful advice. But as a long-time newspaper guy, I've basically torn my hair out trying to figure out how to pitch stories that magazine people want to publish. I'm fairly accomplished, but can't seem to start collecting some of those bylines that it seems every writer of significance collects like stamps (I swear every book jacket notes that the author has written for the NYT, Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or some like combination). I've pitched and pitched and pitched, and either gotten rejected or not even responded to. Clearly it is something I'm doing wrong. Not coming up with good ideas? Not selling myself well enough?

    There are, of course, stories all over my local city's major pro league and major college sports teams, but magazines all have beat writers for that, right?

    Sorry to rant.

    To bring it back to the beginning: How the hell do you come up with freelance topics that mags and newspapers will actually buy?
  2. Piotr Rasputin

    Piotr Rasputin New Member

    I think of a friend named Lance, who is unjustly imprisoned. And I go from there.
  3. dkphxf

    dkphxf Member

    Try to figure out what gaps sports department aren't filling. For example, there will always be coverage of the traditional sports, but there's always a hole in the nontraditional sports. Maybe you've got great feature ideas for volleyball or swimming.

    There's always the trend/enterprise story that newspapers/magazines may not have time for their staff to do.
  4. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    I have been freelancing for almost a year now and have pitched hundreds of stories in that time and still don't really know why some get snapped up and others don't. I've got two ideas in particular that I've pitched several places that I think are dynamite. I can't imagine people not wanting to read these stories if they are written well and I've pitched them to all kinds of pubs, including some where they are of local interest and barely heard anything back.

    Conversely, I've pitched ideas that I frankly thought were kind of stupid of gimmicky and they've been snatched up. I'm hardly in a position to turn down work that pays decently, so I wrote them and dreamed about selling the stories I thought could be BASW quality if done well.

    I haven't landed any bylines in GQ or The Atlantic, but I wrote a few for FanHouse that I was pretty proud of. A former editor there and I seemed to be on the same page about what ideas were interesting.
  5. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    You think them up.

    You know, in your head.
  6. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    As an editor and someone who also has freelanced, it's all highly subjective. You may be catching editors when they're busy and don't have time to process what you're pitching. You may be pitching something that the place has already done or already has in the pipeline.

    A few years ago, I was a regular freelancer for a magazine, doing short items -- not takeout features -- and I know I just got lucky with that opportunity. A lot of people responded to the ad, and it just happened that the editor liked the way I wrote my email inquiring about the work. As Jake Taylor said, once you get that first foot in the door, you start understanding what that editor is looking for and you're all set.

    But I don't think there's a science to nailing down freelance work. When I got that magazine work, it was really a fool's errand for me. I was genuinely interested in the subject they were looking for someone to write about. But I didn't think I had a chance in hell, so I just wrote an email in my own voice -- not formal cover-letter-speak BS -- describing my interest in the topic. I didn't even attach a resume or links, but it worked out. You just never know.
  7. dkphxf

    dkphxf Member

    A semi-related question: Can you take legal action if a news outlet takes your story idea?
  8. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Sure you can, winning is a different question.
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