In my Write for Magazines e-course, I once had a freelance writer who used wheelchair. One of the pitch ideas she generated was about how people should treat the disabled: the common mistakes people make, why they shouldn’t make them, and what to do instead.
Her second idea was about the subway commuter who saved an epileptic man by hauling him off a subway track right as a train roared by. Her premise was that this man shouldn’t be treated as a hero because he didn’t know how to help someone with epilepsy and stuck his wallet in the man’s mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue...which "everyone should know you’re not supposed to do." In fact, she said, the real hero is the person who lives with epilepsy every day.
Another student, who worked in retail, wanted to pitch an article on how people can be better customers; for example, they should put the items they’re looking at neatly back on the shelves, and not enter the store when it’s about to close.
These writers were passionate about their content ideas. They knew how to write. They were hard-working and professional.
And I had to tell these writers that their ideas would likely not sell.
Readers Don't Want to Hear That They Suck
Would you want to read an article that basically told you, “Hey, you’re annoying me...and here’s how not to"?
No one wants to be lectured to. When people pick up a magazine, visit a blog or website, or download a guide, they want information that will help them improve their lives. These two ideas didn't meet those requirements. In fact, they were more vents than articles.
(The retail writer did point out that stores have to raise their prices so they can pay more employees to clean up after customers, pay employees overtime to serve lingering customers, etc. But that's much too tenuous a connection for readers to care about.)
Your Writing Isn't For You
We all have things that make us angry or annoyed or anxious, and the temptation is to write about what people can do to make us feel better.
In fact, many writing coaches (including me!) have advised freelance writers to keep their ears open for what people are complaining about and then to pitch ideas based around that. This advice applies to you as well. What makes you mad? What's bothering you right now? Chances are, many other people are feeling the same way.
The fatal mistake happens when you don't take the idea to the next level, which you do by offering advice that helps the reader. Instead, you simply spill out a rant, thinking (wrongly) that it will force people to change their evil ways...and make your life easier.
How to Turn That Rant Into a Sale
There’s a wrong way and a right way to turn a vent into an article idea. The wrong way is to take your vent wholesale and plop it onto paper, call it a query, and send it off.
The right way is to consider how your idea will improve people’s lives. This opens up all different types of markets you may not have thought of.
For example, my student who used a wheelchair could have pitched a parenting magazine an article about how to handle difficult social situations with your kid. One of those situations could be that your child points at someone with a disability and loudly asks why the person can’t walk/looks "different"/has a service animal/etc.
This round-up might also include, say, how to react when your child announces he doesn’t like a gift someone gave him, what to do when you’re having dinner at someone’s house and your kid refuses to eat the food, and so on.
Or she might have pitched an etiquette article or column that answers common questions from readers. "Should I grab the handles of a stranger's wheelchair if they're having trouble navigating?" Is it OK to ask about someone's disability?" "Can I offer treats to a service animal?" "Do I need to enunciate my words or speak slowly when talking with someone who reads lips?"
This format focuses the service on the reader—who really does, in most cases, just want to be polite and helpful!—instead of on the writer. The freelancer would still be informing readers how to treat people with disabilities, but minus the lecture.
As for that idea about how to be a better customer: How about an article for a retail trade magazine on how to "train" your customers to pick up after themselves, leave when the store is closing, etc.? Or on how to handle the top 10 most common types of difficult customers, one of which is the customer who barges in two minutes before closing time?
If you want to reach shoppers directly, consider an article on how to get the best customer service while shopping, online or off. One of the tips might be to treat the store's employees and products with respect, which addresses your personal peeve. Then you'd round out the pitch with tips to, say, shop during less-busy times (plus how to find out when those times are), and to call customer service direct rather than relying on the website chat box.
Now you’re pursuing your own agenda while helping others. Win-win!
Sell More of Your Writing By Turning Rants Into Service
A hiring editor's biggest concern is the company's customers—not the company's writers. Flip your vent into a helpful piece of content for the end reader, and you'll be sure to make more sales.