Updated: Jul 13
You're a magazine writer who's dying to sell an article idea. Or maybe you're a blogger looking for post ideas that will inspire your audience, or an on-staff content writer who's tasked with developing ideas that will generate engagement.
There's just one problem: How can you come up with ideas that are good enough to garner engagement (and sales) when it seems like everything has already been done?
Let’s start with the basics: three types of content ideas that magazines, blogs, and other content media always love. Then, I'll show you how to take each idea to the next level to improve your chances of success.
1."TK Ways" Ideas
In publishing parlance, TK means “to come.” Apparently, TK is less likely to occur in real words than the combination TC, so it's easier to use search-and-replace to find it...and a tired editor won't accidentally leave it in the published piece.
In this case, the TK is a number, as in the following article titles:
"10 Ways to Reduce No-Shows."
"25 Indulgent Spa Finds for Under $25."
"15 Ways to Say ‘I Love You.'"
"TK Ways" articles are especially popular in service content—that is, media outlets that run how-to pieces. Think health magazines, consumer finance blogs run by credit unions, or video channels for entrepreneurs.
Take Your "TK Ways" Content Idea to the Next Level
A caveat here is that this type of content has become so popular as to be overdone, so you need to make sure your TK Ways idea is unique or surprising. For example, expanding on the decidedly ho-hum topics above:
"10 Surprising Ways to Reduce No-Shows, According to Real Dental Patients."
"30 Affordable New Products That Will Make You Feel at Peace with the World"
"15 Kind Ways to Say 'I Like You But Not That Way'"
Notice that in each of these cases, I added a little something extra that made them different from the hundreds of competing pieces.
I found over 10,000 pieces of content on the basic topic of "how to eliminate no-shows"...and not one where they interviewed actual dental patients. The "indulgent spa finds for under $25" idea now features new products, and I pumped up the promise—you won't just relax, you'll feel at peace with the world. And the final piece of content is no longer a tired post on ways to say I love you, but instead on ways to tackle a more specific, stickier situation.
2. Evergreen Ideas
Evergreen ideas are those content topics that seem to be published month after month. An evergreen idea for an industry trade website might be a profile of a successful business owner in that industry. An evergreen story for a shelter (home) magazine might be how to make over your living room. One for a health coach's podcast will be on how to lose weight.
The reason evergreen ideas do well is that, well, people are always interested in them. They never go out of style!
Take Your Evergreen Content Idea to the Next Level
To make your evergreen idea different from what's already out there, first figure out what is the nub of the idea. Check out the relevant markets—whether those are magazines, blogs, or your own brand's competitors—and see which types of stories they tend to run month after month. Articles on software solutions for common problems? Money-saving tips? Profiles of people who made a difference in their hometown?
Now, brainstorm twists on that general evergreen idea that haven't been done yet (or at least haven't been done quite as much).
Let's take the How to Make Over Your Living Room example from earlier. Here are three ways that shelter publication might spin it:
Ways to make your living room feel cool when it's 100° outside
Luxe living room makeovers with thrift-store finds
How to incorporate Pantone's color of the year into your living room—no matter what color your décor is right now
Think about what you bring to this idea that a client or your audience hasn’t seen before. You add no value if you pitch “10 Ways to Walk off the Weight” to a health magazine, because editors can come up with stories like that on their own. (And they do—every issue.)
An example from my own writing career: Pet magazines run stories every month about how to keep your pet healthy. My twist on this topic was “Is Your Lifestyle Hurting Your Pet?” about how your bad habits—like smoking and eating junk food—can affect your pet. I ended up selling this story to WebMD Magazine.
WATCH NOW on Writer Burning Bridges: Freelance Writers, Don't Make This Common Idea Generation Mistake!
3. Trendy Ideas
Everyone wants to know about new trends that affect their lives—or that are just interesting. So pitching or publishing content about something that's in the news is a good way to be relevant and timely.
Take Your Content Idea to the Next Level
The problem is, everyone is creating content around these same trends, and they quickly get played out. Here are two ways to get out of the rut.
Sometimes the easiest way to freshen up a trend idea is to stand it on its head. So if a trend seems been-there-done-that, try pitching or publishing the opposite.
For example, a while back, the media was chock full of content about how peanuts had been banned from airlines. I pitched a story on the health benefits of this humble legume—and sold it to Oxygen magazine.
Change Up Your Audience
A trending topic may be old news to one audience, but not to another.
When my husband Eric saw a photo in Reader’s Digest about the International Wife-Carrying Championship in Maine, he sold a short piece about the event to GAMES magazine, whose readers were unlikely to have heard of the event.
He repeated the same trick a few months later. Reader’s Digest ran a photo of a man who straps weather balloons to his body and floats thousands of feet in the air; Eric interviewed the high flyer for GAMES.
Brainstorm on how you can use these three basic types of content topics—then sprinkle in some special elements that take them from meh to amazing.