Broadening Your Appeal

Sometimes a nonfiction idea will be too narrow to suit the markets you want to reach, and you'll need to explore ways to expand the idea for a broader readership. One way to do this is to look for trends. A national magazine is unlikely to be interested in a profile of the new Brazilian restaurant in your city, but it may well be interested in a story about how such restaurants are popping up in major metropolitan areas across the country.

Personal experience and inspirational pieces in particular can suffer from limited-appeal syndrome. Sometimes you can overcome this by marketing your idea as an exception to the rule, but more often you'll have to recast the premise of your article to cover more material. Your memoir about working on a swordfish boat, for example, most likely needs to be more than a simple diary of your experience to find a buyer. Unless you're a celebrity or otherwise well known, you'll have to provide other elements, such as adventure, insight into the character of a swordfish boat captain, and information about the commercial fishing industry, to capture a wider potential readership.

Sidebars — short pieces that amplify a point in your main article or provide additional information — are an easy way to give your magazine article a broader appeal without interrupting the flow or focus of the main story. Editors often look for these kinds of packages when considering submissions, especially for feature-length articles.

Similarly, a magazine piece about flying under the new Homeland Security rules probably will have more appeal if you include the experiences and opinions of several people, from passengers to security personnel to flight attendants to government officials. Even if you envision this piece as a first-person essay, including the observations of others can add texture and color to your writing.

Here are a few techniques for making sure you don't put too many restrictions on your idea's appeal:

  • List characteristics of people who should be interested in your story or article. Start with gender, age, occupation, education level, geographic location, income, hobbies, and personality traits.

  • Check the readership profiles provided in most publishing directories to see whether you've overlooked potential readers.

  • Do a search on the Internet for keywords related to your topic. Study other articles and the markets in which they appeared, as well as any results for associations and organizations related to your topic.

  • Look for profiles of people — experts, researchers, participants, etc. — related to your topic. You might gain a deeper understanding of what motivates them.

  • Organize your research results into main points and side issues. Play with different combinations of essential and nonessential information to see if something new emerges.

  • Expanding the appeal of an idea has two main advantages for the beginning writer. First, it stimulates your creativity by forcing you to look at your idea in ways you ordinarily wouldn't consider, sometimes even opening your mental eye to new angles. Second, it keeps you from unduly restricting the potential markets for your idea, because you're always thinking of new readers to reach.

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