Free Advice Friday: Turning Ideas Into Article Queries

What’s on the iPod: Have Love, Will Travel by The Sonics

What a week. Unlike most summers, I’ve been working to the point where I had to postpone my vacation a few weeks just to get caught up. I did, but more came in. No matter — I’m out of here either way. I need the mental break.

I was reading some interactions on a forum recently that was interesting. There was a discussion about how to find article ideas, which I’ve covered already this year. Then the discussion moved into how to turn those ideas into a query.

Great topic for today’s Free Advice Friday, don’t you think?

The Idea
So let’s start with an idea. I opened Bing news and saw this:

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! premieres and gets all the Twitter buzz.

Yes. We’re talking about Sharknado. There’s an article in it. Trust me.

Brainstorm Topics
Now that we have our news item, let’s brainstorm. I see a few ideas in here — the popularity of cult classics, the factors that make a really bad show really popular, how cult classics are born, ideas for creating a social media frenzy (oh yes, they did), activities for your next Sharknado Party…

Since I’m more of a technical writer, let’s go for the social media angle. Remember, at this stage your ideas are concepts — they can change as you need them to.

Find a Good Home
Now that we have an idea to work with, let’s look at the magazines. Where are we sending our ideas? Let’s create a list of magazines that would be interested in social media topics. Open your search engine. Type in “Social Media Magazines.”

Here’s what came up for me:

  • Inc.
  • The Social Media Monthly
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Net Magazine
  • IR Magazine
Ah, but let’s not forget other magazines that could have an interest. Here are some:
  • Marketing Today
  • Target Marketing Magazine
  • Forbes
Here’s another idea. Type in “social media articles” and see who’s printing articles on the subject. Here’s what I found:
  • The New York Times
  • Chicago Tribune
  • LA Times
  • Time
  • US News
  • The Guardian
I could go on, but you get the idea. Plenty of places for you to shop your idea around. So let’s choose one. Let’s go with Inc.
Research the Magazine
Start with this post I wrote a while ago on how to research magazines. Let’s look at Inc. We want to know:
  • Who their reader is
  • What topics they cover
  • What the focus of those topics are (what angle do they use most often?)
  • How they answer the ‘what does this mean to the reader?’ question
  • Where your idea fits within the magazine format
  • How your idea should be presented for the best fit to that magazine
A note right here: forget trying to convince any magazine that doesn’t cover a particular topic that your idea is right. They know best what their readers want. It would be arrogant and foolish of any writer to tell them what they need.
Find Your Angle
With these questions in mind, let’s look at Inc. Their articles are, for you, little gold mines. These articles show you exactly what the magazine wants to publish. (Just remember a blog post isn’t going to compare to the article you’re proposing, so make sure to search the main section.) Yes, the blog gives you hints, but blog post material is usually less formal, quick-and-dirty approaches to topics. Nothing wrong with that, but we’re looking to write an article.
  1. Who is their reader? – business owners and decision makers at all levels of business success.
  2. What topics do they cover? – innovation, business growth, technology, etc.
  3. What’s the focus? – managing and growing business
  4. What does it mean to the reader question – how are trends impacting business, how to leverage knowledge into profitability/growth
The last two questions are where the real work begins. How are we going to take Sharknado’s social media success and turn it into a story for this audience?
Match Angle to Need
Here’s how. Creating a Viral Sensation: How Sharknado’s Creators Surfed the Twitter Wave to Social Media Success. Why this angle? Because after having studied the magazine (not the website, but the magazine issues) we see that they tend toward articles that personalize trends. Here are three articles from the latest issue: 
  • How Dollar Shave Club Rode a Viral Video to Sales Success
  • How Soulcycle’s Co-founders Split the Job of Company Leadership
  • How Zulily Maintains a Startup Vibe as a Public Company
You can probably come up with at least four more ideas for this query topic, but let’s say for the sake of argument this is the best one.
Now you write your query. Refer to the quick links to the right of this post for my query-writing posts. Don’t forget to come up with questions, potential interview sources (in this case, the writers or producers), and the name of the appropriate editor.
Writers, how do you turn your ideas into queries?
What other ideas can you come up with from the Sharknado headline?

About the author




  • Paula July 24, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    You might be sorry you shared the Sharknado idea, Lori. Yesterday I read an industry blurb noting Syfy has already ordered Sharknado 4. (If you decide to run with your idea, I can put you in touch with someone who can get you access to the marketing/promo team behind it.)

    When I look for ideas I try to find the less-than-obvious – often less-glamorous – angle. Yours is a good example of that. Instead of focusing on the celerity (I saw way too many mentions of all of the NBCUni "talent" who made cameos in Sharknado 3), I'd focus on the business side or perhaps something about the behind-the-scenes crew that bring the scripts to life.

  • Anne Wayman July 24, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    How to avoid the whole Sharknado fuss and get on with your life?

    Actually, Lori, the article is excellent, per usual.

  • Paula July 24, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    I love Anne's angle! I haven't seen any of the Sharknado "movies" and don't intend to start now. Accidentally bad is way funnier than something designed to be bad so people will laugh at it.

  • Lori Widmer July 24, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    LOL! Anne, that's the best idea yet. 🙂

    Paula, I saw five or ten minutes of the first one. I hit Fast Forward and just watched in comic light speed the insanity. 🙂 I think it's rather funny that this has become such a cult classic. I guess it's true that something can suck to the point of being its own parody.

    And I may take you up on that!

  • Jennifer Mattern July 27, 2015 at 9:58 am

    I've been saving the Sharknado installments for a "bad horror" party night. But even for those it's been tough to commit to them. LOL Guess I'll just have to make the time.

  • Lori Widmer July 27, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Jenn, I think it's a few hours of my life I can waste elsewhere. 😉