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How to create multiple stories from the same idea

by Leo Wiles
25 May 2018

One of the greatest lessons freelance writers can learn from PRs is the ability to take an idea, brand or angle – and turn it into multiple stories.

I’m not talking about the stories you’ll remember fondly on your deathbed. Or the stories you might walk on stage to collect a trophy for. This is about looking at how a good idea can be re-slanted, re-purposed and rolled out to different publications, regions or even industries.

Learn to do this effectively and you’ll maximise your output with the least amount of energy!

One idea, multiple markets 

You might come up with a 10 ways to make your clinic welcoming template for a medical client. Could that same template be spun to work for clients in similar fields – like dentists, chiropractors, osteopaths, vets? Similarly, a blog post titled 5 money-saving cloud solutions for small business owners is something you could pitch in a unique way to a pile of different trade mags. If it’s a feature, could you recycle it for non-competing markets or regional mags / newspapers?

One trip, multiple stories

Great travel writers also have this tactic down pat. They’ll go on a famil and literally carve it up to produce all kinds of stories on the same destination. Often, these will be about the same hotel or experience but just from a different angle or non-competing market. For example, a new boutique hotel in a great location could work as a piece for a travel mag or newspaper travel section. But could you also write about the hotel’s hatted chef for a food mag? Or pitch a story to an interiors mag on the high-profile designer who created the eclectic fit-out? Could there also be an angle there for a business mag? It’s all about thinking laterally.

One format, multiple columns

Finding a great idea that works in a plug-the-gaps format can also mean regular money and less writing time. The easiest $1/word I ever earned was writing for a trade gym mag, asking high profile athletes how they trained and what they ate. The structure was the same, the questions were the same, so the only hard work involved was coming up with two new household names per month that the client would sign off on. Kaching…

Evergreen ideas you can keep re-purposing

If you use our pitch tracker, splitting your pitches into months can make it easy to scroll back and see stories that you can re-write and recycle year after year. Maybe you wrote How to de-clutter every room in the house last January for a women’s mag. Can you do a fresh new angle or format and re-pitch it elsewhere? Similarly, What you can claim at tax time can be re-written and re-purposed for endless markets, making you a motza. Getting wind of a publication’s editorial calendar (often guarded like gold) can also be handy. You can also create your own calendar of annual ‘themes’ and, leaving yourself plenty of time to pitch ahead, look through your old stories and see if there’s a way to re-write a piece including a new expert, or a new study that’s come out or something else that makes it fresh.

Before you start…

Re-selling a story in its entirety to a completely different market is one thing (you’ll want to check you have the rights to do this). Re-purposing an old story idea for a new magazine or market means completely re-writing the story so it’s unique copy. If you want to use the same experts to save time that’s fine, but you’ll need new quotes or quotes from the transcript you haven’t used yet. Ultimately, though, thinking of ways to create multiple stories from the same idea is a strategy every freelancer should adopt – because it saves time, is an easier way to make money and can help make sure you never run out of ideas at all.

Do you re-purpose stories? What are your top tips for doing this?

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

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