Theme List Tactics

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magazines.jpg

Have you had trouble following through on magazine theme lists or editorial calendars? If you're like me, the answer is a big YES!

I'd request theme lists and, sometimes when they arrived, they'd spark an idea or fit a story I'd already written. But, too often I left them to look at later. By the time "later" came, I had missed deadlines. I'd wail, "but I had an idea for that topic!" Sometimes in my stack, I found editorial calendars and theme lists that were months or even a year out of date.

One day I decided I'd had enough. There had to be a better way. So I gathered together all my theme lists and began organizing. Here's what I devised:
For each magazine/take home paper, I record the name of the magazine, audience age, word length, topic deadlines, and a summary of the topics. I use a table in my word processor and have the computer sort the information by deadline date, but it could also be done on 3x5 cards or on separate pages of a notebook. Each magazine in my table has an entry for every deadline date on the theme list. This could mean one topic per entry or many topics. The final entry for each magazine is a reminder to order the next theme list. (And, I still file my theme lists--I might need more detail than what's in my table.)

Here's a selection from my original chart:
Theme list info.jpg *those marked with an asterisk buy all rights

When a deadline is past, I delete the entry. And, of course, when new theme lists arrive, I add the new information and resort the table.

I knew organizing would help me focus on topics with earlier deadlines, but what I didn't realize, was that looking at all the topics together would have other benefits.

First off, it was easy to see which magazines were looking for similar material. Ah ha, maybe that story on will work for two or three or four editors.

Secondly, I now have a reminder to write for a new theme list. It's nice to get new theme lists before half of the deadlines are passed!

But perhaps most important was how it freed me up for inspiration. For at least a year, I'd had a note hanging around my desk that said "a story on mailbox bashing." I knew I wanted to write something on this form of vandalism, but each time I looked at the note, it got reshuffled into the stack. But the day I organized my theme lists, one of the topic suggestions combined with my mailbox idea and immediately I wrote the first draft of the story. The very same day another theme list topic jumped out and I knew I could use my daughter's recent fear for a springboard for that story.

I still don't always meet theme list deadlines with this method, but now that lists don't just gather dust on my desk--or stay in some forgotten directory in my computer--my chances have improved tremendously.

Anyone else have methods they'd like to share? (Click on the title if you don't see the comment box.)

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