Question of the day: You did a great blog a while back about how you packaged a story with a "Why You Resist/Why We Insist" theme and I wondered how a big a part of the process that is -- coming up with the catchy concept and headline.
I think that coming up with this complete package is one of the most critical parts of landing a pitch. Here's why. Let's be honest: virtually every idea under the sun has been covered by a magazine before. There are only so many subjects, frankly, that we can write about: diet, sex, relationships, fitness, mental health, etc. So what editors are looking for are catchy new plays on these same topics. The particular story referenced above was a play on breaking bad habits: namely, why you resist breaking them, and why we (the magazine) insist that you do. This isn't a rocket science of an idea, but it is a fun spin on the same old advice. You could just as easily send a pitch that says, "I'm pitching a story on breaking bad habits." But is that really going to garner an editor's attention? They get a million of those queries a week. Instead, by coming up with a catchy idea AROUND THAT VERY SAME SUBJECT, you're likely to get your editor thinking, "Ooh, I can totally see this tag line on the cover of the magazine!"
Another example of this is this piece I wrote for InStyle Weddings that I remember very clearly pitching. It's called Weddings A to Z, and basically, I knew that my editor was looking for an evergreen article that covered a wide scope of wedding planning. Well, how could I come up with a fairly creative way to encompass that? I pitched the A to Z idea, complete with a few examples like, S is for Stephanotis or D is for Destination Wedding, or what not, and she got a very clear idea of just how the article would play out. Bam, I got the assignment.
I'm not claiming that these ideas crack the genius shield. But they're clever ways of reinventing the same-old, same-old wheel, and in this tough market, you have to find ways to stand out. Period.