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Crossover appeal: Finding stories in unexpected places

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BY TOM WATSON
I’ve been a freelance outdoor writer specializing in paddle sports, camping and other adventuring for more than 30 years. You can count all the traditional hunting and fishing stories I’ve written using just the toes on my left foot. But it would take all the feet on a centipede to recount the stories I’ve developed from reading hunting and fishing magazines and other subject-centric publications, by ferreting out leads that I could use for crossover topics in other writing arenas.
A hungry freelancer is always hunting for fodder for an article. Every magazine, regardless of how much of a disconnect you think there might between it and your subject matter, can be a garden of story ideas ripe for the picking.
While recently perusing BoatU.S. Magazine, I came across three articles on subjects I could adapt for different audiences. In one case it was modifying the focus of the article; another offered a concept I could adapt for a different subject matter; the third opportunity involved merely changing the user from a yachtsman to a kayaker. All three were written specifically for a large, motorboat, saltwater-savvy audience, but the premise worked for paddlers on smaller inland backwaters, as well as hikers on a wilderness trail.
Many of the publications that target outdoor activities focus on products and how-to articles within the niche the magazine covers. It’s often not much of a stretch to see those same items or topics fitting nicely into a story for a completely different outdoor interest or venue.
Backpackers and paddlers prefer gadgets that are light, small and multi-functional. A new product designed for fly-casters and introduced within a fishing magazine might also be a modifiable fit for a backcountry hiker and merit a gear review for a backpacking magazine.
As a weekly outdoor columnist for our area newspapers, I am constantly scanning everything I can read to see if something clicks. I recently perused a regional newspaper looking for ideas for ways to present an article on wildlife watching during the winter. I saw a piece on a particular songbird’s visits to the author’s feeder.
I realized it made sense to focus on specific species of winter critters each issue. The plan would not only resonate better with readers, it also gave me column fodder for months to come.
That same train of thought works as you are nurturing article ideas, too. Maybe a broader subject would sell better if it were narrowed down and restructured to be more focused and specific. Scanning sources outside your editorial comfort and knowledge zone could again lead to more story options.
However you go about pursuing ideas and venues for stories, look beyond the familiar editorial borders in search of potential subjects that you can rework into other articles, and article styles you can rework for other subjects. Working the multipurpose, crossover angle can get you more ink on the page and more dollars into your pocket. ♦
— Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in Horizons magazine
— Tom Watson, an active OWAA member since 1988, is a freelance writer and author. Besides contributing to two outdoor websites and writing a column for two local newspapers, Watson actively pursues freelance opportunities for the bulk of his writing income.
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