Saturday, 20 September 2008

#20 – Using trivia in round-up articles

Or making money from themes.

Can’t get to the world’s biggest cave?
In my previous post, I suggested using snippets of pub quiz-worthy trivia as a basis for stories. This is all very well, but what if you can’t get to the place? It’s all very well, for example, knowing that the world’s biggest cave is the Sarawak Chamber in Malaysian Borneo, but it’s a right bugger to get to. And not cheap either.

Round-up articles: Bread and butter
So does this information become useless again? Not at all – it’s just a case of using it in a different way. And by that, I mean a round-up article.
Round up articles are great bread and butter for travel writers. A lot of the time, you don’t need to go to the places mentioned – just find five, ten, twenty things linked by a theme, write 100 or so words on each and put in details of how to get there.

Writing for the internet
It’s not glamorous work, but it can lead to good money. It’s also the sort of thing that many editors want to balance out their destination-based pieces. And if writing for the internet, then round-ups are almost certainly what the editor is after.

Record-breaking caves
To use the cave example, the Sarawak Chamber can easily be used as part of a round-up. That’s the biggest cave, but where’s the biggest cave complex? Where are the world’s oldest caves? The biggest accessible caves? The biggest stalagmites and stalactites? Work on slight variations on that theme, and you have a piece on record-breaking caves.

World’s booziest nations
The same applies to my Luxembourg example. Luxembourg consumes more alcohol-per-capita than any other, but what if you can’t get there to investigate more? Well, how about breaking the stats down? Look at which country consumes the most wine (it’s Luxembourg, again), the most beer (Czech Republic), the most rum, whisky, vodka and gin. There you have the basis for a piece on the world’s booziest nations.

Thinking in themes
A similar approach can be applied with almost any bit of trivia that has a vague relation to geography. If you know where the world’s shortest airport runway is, then a bit of research can lead you to a piece on the world’s scariest airports.
If you know where the world’s longest bridge is, then look into the tallest, the most expensive, the most used etc.
These pieces won’t always sell, of course, but the important thing is to start thinking in themes to make the most of the material you have. There’s good money in it.

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