If you were a magazine editor, which of these travel queries would you buy: “Vacation Ideas” or “Home Swapping—Your Guide to Free Travel Accommodations”? “Vacation Ideas” is a promising topic, but it’s like a shotgun blast: long on coverage, but short on focus. “Home Swapping,” on the other hand, zeros in on a limited subject with rifle-like precision. It’s targeted to sell because it ignites editorial interest with an original and intriguing slanton the subject of vacationing.
What is a slant? A slant is more than just a title—the home swapping piece wouldn’t lose any of its appeal if you’d chosen some other title for the query, or used no title at all. Instead, it’s a way of cutting a big topic that you couldn’t describe fully in a book or article into a size that can be explored in detail within the confines of your intended length.
A slant is a center your writing will revolve around. It might be a viewpoint: “The Allure of Macho, Macho Man”; a theme: “Failure Can Be Good for You”; a narrowly defined subject: “Shopping the Discount Outlets”; a key question: “Are You Being Paid What You’re Really Worth?”; an issue: “Combating Teen Suicide”; or even a plan of organization: “The 10-Day Shape-Up Program.”
Here’s how slanting can save you time and improve your prospects for a sale. Imagine that you’ve selected politics as the topic for your next piece. Since complete coverage of the subject could easily become your life’s work, a few decisions are in order. First, how will you define politics? Is your subject national, state, or city politics/ political methods and maneuvers; political opinions; or the exercise of power and strategy in daily life? You might have to repeat the defining process several times to find a subject narrow enough for magazine treatment.
Once you’ve selected your subcategory, your next question is, “What approach should I use?” You might decide to make the piece sexy, practical, controversial, personality-oriented, humorous, historical, speculative, or descriptive, or you might take any number of other approaches. The end result—your slant—might turn out to be: “The Young and the Restless—The New Wave Reformers,” “Winning at Office Politics,” “The Art of the Washington Power Lunch,” “Your Child Could Be a Congressional Page,” or “How Much Is That Pork Barrel in the Window?”
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