Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with article or book ideas that will excite an editor, but there is a technique that can help you generate fresh, innovative, and commercial ideas. I call it the “oh yeah?” method. It is to question what ‘everybody’ says.
Let me give you an example: recently I was sent an email selling a new subliminal program. ‘Everybody knows how powerful this method is, ’ the message said, and it cited a study that showed that in a cinema that flashed subliminal messages about drinking and eating, the sales of popcorn and Coca Cola shot up.
Being skeptical by nature, I looked this up, using Google, and guess what? The study was a hoax, and the (fake) results were published in a book by Vance Packard, which is now still quoted as the truth.
Another example is the “fact” that a study of public speaking revealed that 93% of your message is transmitted by your tone of voice and body language, and only 7% by what you actually say. This is repeated over and over in books and articles, but if you look up the original study (again, quite easy with an Internet search), you’ll find that this applies only to very specific kinds of emotional messages.
One more example is a study that supposedly showed that monkeys on an island passed on new knowledge to others without actual contact. This has been cited in dozens of mind-body-spirit books. Again, if you track down the original study, you’ll see it wasn’t true; the study was mis-reported in a book and ever since others have been citing the mistaken report.
Exposing such accepted stories makes great articles.
ACTION: Consider what are the generally accepted but untrue beliefs about the subjects you know best. Probably you are aware of dozens of them, that could be the basis of articles or even an entire book. If not, just start checking up on the truisms in your field, using the Internet. You are bound to come up with at least a few that are based on incorrect or flimsy evidence. A good title for an article exposing some of these might be, “Six Myths About (your topic)” or “Eight Things You Don’t Know About…” or “Ten Things They Don’t Want You to Know About…” Try using this format in your query letters to editors and you will see a big increase in your hit rate.
Your writing coach Jurgen Wolff shows you how to achieve writing success in his new book, YOUR WRITING COACH (published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing), available now from barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com and bookstores (find more information at http://www.yourwritingcoach.com ). He has written more than 100 episodes of television, six non-fiction books, short stories, articles, and plays. He is also an international creativity and writing teacher coach. More tips and techniques are available at his website: http://www.timetowrite.com , where you can also sign up for his free monthly Brainstorm e-bulletin. Also see his blog at http://www.timetowrite.blogs.com