April 14, 2010
Mining Your Family for Query Ideas By Debbie Swanson
If sitting thoughtfully at your computer leaves you dry for query ideas, go hang out with your kids. They unwittingly hold an abundance of possible topics. The age old question "what did you do today?" will yield the classic answer: "nothing", but if you get in the habit of digging a little deeper, you'll have endless material to work with. Here are some ideas:
Study school papers: After you've looked over children's school papers, don't send them to the recycling bin too quickly. They're full of possible pitches: look for interesting slants on holidays, unusual trivia, little celebrated historians, and similar eye-catching tidbits. I credit a children's leap year story I wrote on a tiny piece of trivia printed on the school's lunch menu one February.
Share your solutions: If you've seen your three children through four years of science fairs, chances are you know a thing or two about the process. Think about the bigger projects you've tackled together - slumber parties, sports tryouts, first days of school - and sell some service pieces, sharing your wisdom.
Projects: Big homework assignments are often a query waiting to be written. When my daughter had to find and study a variation on a classic fairy tale, I soon sold a piece to a local newspaper on teaching diversity by reading the many varieties of Cinderella. If the project itself doesn't lend an idea, think about what you learned in the process. Did your child wait until after dinner to start constructing an active volcano, due the next day? Write a piece about avoiding procrastination. Is your son terrified of presenting his book report? Pen a child-friendly piece on overcoming nervousness.
Snoop into their Social Culture: Translate your tween or teen's social complaints to problem-solving pieces. For example, if your child protests the lack of designer clothing in her wardrobe, pitch a piece on ways to snag designer labels for less. Or, reach out to the teen market with a piece on the pros and cons of following the crowd. (A bonus: use the profits on this one to treat your fashion conscious teen!)
Nose in the News: Frequent the web sites of all your town's schools. One year I wrote an article on an achievement at the high school, then later received reprint cash when the high school asked to use it. Though I have no children in high school, I got the tip in my periodic perusing of the school's websites. Watch for notable guest speakers, charity efforts, classmates doing something special, or sports accomplishments.
Furry members contribute, too: Pets can contribute to your querying potential without saying a word. If you just researched the pros and cons of different types of dog food for your own pup, put your knowledge to use and pen a query. Illnesses, training, and adventures together all translate into topics.
Parenting magazines are a good choice for many of these topics, but don't stop there; most can be slanted toward a variety of publications. Senior magazines cater to readers who are active with (or even raising) their grandchildren; fitness, sports niche and women's magazines welcome stories that inspire children; teen and children's magazines love unique news and age-appropriate advice pieces; and your local paper welcomes timely pieces and human interest angles.
One tip to keep in mind: no matter how good the story, always honor your family's privacy. Consider using pen names when mentioning children, particularly attention-conscious teens. If your child was part of a very unique event (their school project on Rare Octopi won the National Octopus Awareness Award), make sure you ask them if they're happy to receive media attention.
Next time your children come barging in while you're at your computer, don't think of it as an interruption to your workday; lean back, put on your miner's cap and gather some ideas!
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