Thus, your life issues may be the best article idea file you can find. In other words, look to your life for article and essay ideas. If you are struggling with issues, the likelihood is that others are as well. That means an editor somewhere will be interested in your idea.
Don’t worry about the fact that you don’t have the solution to the problem. You can interview experts who do. I’ve done this on numerous occasions with situations involving my children. For example, when my children ended up attending four different elementary schools I became worried about how that might affect them. I proposed a story on the topic to a regional parenting magazine. They published “The Ins and Outs of Changing Schools,” which also landed me their publishing company’s Best Practices Award for a local feature. When both my children were involved in competitive sports-related activities, I wondered how that stress would affect them. I proposed a story to the same magazine. They published “The Competition Dilema.” I moved into the national magazines with a story about dancers’ foot problems after my son, a dancer, incurred several foot injuries, and I wanted to know how he could prevent them in the future. They Dance Teacher Magazine published “Fancy Footwork.”
You may not think you are an expert on anything, but you are. Everyone knows something about something. You have had experiences. You have gained knowledge. Maybe you know how to keep the deer away from your plants or how to grow really great lettuce. Maybe you know how to teach children to love learning languages or to paint. Maybe you know the best places to hike in your neighborhood or how to care for a diabetic cat. You know something, and some publication wants that knowledge—and so do their readers. That means they will buy your work.
A number of years later I wrote a piece for the same regional parenting magazine based on my family’s experience with teen suicide. I queried them because I felt that even their audience, which consists of parents with young children, should be made aware of the prevalent problem in the community and how to prevent and deal with it. The essay was based solely on my own thoughts, but I did interview an expert and offer advice in a sidebar, and it accompanied a story on bullying. It was called simply “Teenage Suicide.” In March I have story in LI & Business that is based on my experiences as a book, writing and author coach. I discussed how writers can use social networks to help them write their books. I didn’t interview anyone; I was the expert source. I’ve written a number of articles on boys in dance “off the top of my head” and numerous essays on Jewish and spiritual topics this way. For instance, “I wrote If God Were Sitting at Your Sabbath Table, Would You Notice?” and published it at www.JewishMagazine.com.
All of these articles and essays me platform for the books I want to write. (I am building platform in three areas: writing /publishing, religion/spirituality/human potential and dance.) And that’s something important to think about. The topics that interest you because they are issues or problems with which you grapple make great book ideas. So do the areas that you know something about that other people know less about—or that may hold interest for others. Why? Because most readers of nonfiction books purchase them to solve problems, learn how to do something, find out how to handle issues they are having, or somehow create change in their lives.
Today, make a list of:
- the problems you wish someone would solve for you
- the issues you face
- the challenges in your life
- the things you know
- the things you wish you knew
- the things you are good at
- the things you wish you were good at
Now write a query based on each one of these topics. Then get out the current issue of 2012 Writer’s Market and research the magazines that might be interested in your proposed article or essay. Then start sending out those queries. Let me know how it goes.
And if you’ve had success doing this exercise (previously or after taking my advice), please leave me a comment and tell me about it.