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Sally up to any newsstand display, and I guarantee that the one thing nearly every magazine cover will have in common -- no matter how niche the publication's subject matter might be -- is numbers. Like these --
"Family Travel: 22 Places Perfect for All Ages," Conde Nast Traveler
"Get More Energy: 10 Simple Ways to Boost it, Keep it and Feel Great All Day Long," Shape
"Nine Signs of a Crooked Contractor," This Old House
"12 Mistakes that Can Sink Your Book Proposal," Writer's Digest
"How to Save Five Shots," Golf Digest
…you get the idea.
What Numbers Where?
On February 10, 2006, the New York Times ran an article about this very phenomenon, gleaning several lessons from the covers they examined and the editors they talked to --
1) Teaser numbers are getting bigger and bigger -- particularly in the beauty and fashion niche. "Size matters," as one editor put it. It used to be that 101 ways to do anything was impressive enough, But these days, editors are reaching well beyond that -- as in Marie Claire's "1,157 hot looks (all shapes, all sizes, all prices)."
2) Odd numbers seem more believable than even numbers -- 7 is particularly appealing, and editors avoid unlucky 13.
3) The subject matter often dictates the size of the number -- for "positive" things, a big number is better, like "53 Great European Hotels for Under $100 a Night," but for "negatives" or things that take work, a lower number is better. In other words, "5 Tummy-Busting Exercises" is stronger than "35 Tummy-Busting Exercises."
What's it mean for you?
How to Frame Your Own Numbers-Driven Articles
Most important: These numbers-driven, round-up articles sell. And sell. And sell.
They offer you a smart way to frame -- and pitch -- your story ideas.
If you're inclined to describe an article you're writing as a "weekend getaway foodie piece," resist the urge. The editor you're approaching may respond more positively if you call it, instead, "Seven Ways to Eat Your Way through Baltimore this Weekend."
No matter what you're interested in writing about, step back for a moment and think about one or two "numbers-driven" angles you could take.
… say you're planning to spend your Saturday exploring a little town within an hour's drive of home. You'll do a bit of antiquing, eat lunch out, maybe grab a snack at a bakery in the afternoon or duck into a bar for a drink. You'll stroll. If you have the kids along, you'll likely include an activity or two for them, as well.
And as your day unfolds, you should be counting. What I mean is: Look for numbers in every place you go.
Take the antique shops. How many of them are there? How many of them do you like or would you recommend (and why)? You could do a piece for your local paper called "Anytown's Quirky Finds: 5 Must-Visit Havens for Antique Lovers." And then you write a two- or three-paragraph introduction, describe the five places, give some sample items from each with pricing, and you're done.
Or consider the kids' angle. You could call your piece something like, "A Day Out in Anytown: 7 Thrills for Kids that Will Leave You Happy, Too." And then you proceed to outline the day you just spent.
Perhaps it looked a bit like a recent excursion of mine to Pueblo, CO did, with a trip to the Children's Museum -- hands-on art projects (1) and a build-your-own cabin with what amounted to four-foot-long Lincoln Logs (2), then a walk to have lunch, passing en route a fountain for frolicking in (3), lunch at a little café that serves great homemade mac-n-cheese (4), cookies for dessert, picked from behind the glass case in a great little bakery (5), a $3 ride on a river boat with commentary about local history (6), and a game of "find the hidden animal sculptures" along the river's banks (7) as we headed back toward the museum parking lot to pile into the car for our ride home.
The message? No matter where you go, think about ways you can integrate numbers into your articles. It's an easy -- and tidy -- way to define a story. And it's a way that's proven to sell.
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