We're all self-help gurus to one degree or another. You give advice to someone about relationships. That person gives advice to someone else about car care. That person gives advice to someone else, still, about growing bigger tomatoes.
Statisticians estimate that we give advice at least half a dozen times a day. You may not have noticed yourself on the giving end of the Dear Abby Syndrome, but that's only because giving advice is about as spontaneous as breathing. It's only when we stop that we notice.
Admittedly, not all the advice we share is earth-shattering or mind-boggling. Some guy advises his wife to lose the red sweater and put on the brown one. Before she walks out the door, she tells him to be sure to mail the mortgage check on his way to work.
So the exchange of advice is everywhere. Most of the time, it's free. (Some of the time, it's not even wanted--but that rarely stops us from rendering it!) But nearly as often, someone somewhere is making money off of it.
Your doctor advises you to give up smoking, then bills you $35 for the privilege. Your broker tells you to dump the blue chip stocks and pick up some high-tech loads. Your lawyer warns you to get a new lease from your landlord with a non-cancellation clause in it. Whenever a professional gives advice, the cash register rings. In fact, we're betting you pay hundreds of dollars a month on advice that you could just as easily be getting free...if you knew where to look. In fact, you could be getting paid for looking. Check this out:
American Fitness, 15250 Ventura Blvd., Suite 200, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403, 818-905-0040, Web site: http://www.afaa.com/. Contact: Dr. Meg Jordan, editor. "We need timely, in-depth, informative articles on health, fitness, aerobic exercise, sports nutrition, age-specific fitness, and outdoor activity." Absolutely no first-person accounts ...."
Now, you may think this is a market listing for American Fitness magazine. Wrong! In reality, it's a desperate cry for help. Some editor named Meg Jordan is asking for your advice. She wants you to offer something that will make her readers take notice. Furthermore, she's willing to pay up to $200 for it. See what we mean?
But what do you write about? Which area is most likely to net you an assignment? How can you turn your willingness to offer advice into dollars? That's where the fun begins.
Where free advice usually involves narrowly defined areas of expertise ("Oh, I wish I knew which shoes looked better on me, the brown or the black!"), paid advice in the form of a self-help article is wide open. To hell with brown or black shoes, go for the juggler. Think out of the box. Get creative!
We noticed in the market listing above the phrase, age-specific fitness, and we wondered what that meant. Exercises for teens? For infants? Or, perhaps, for octogenarians? So, pulling up our trusty meta-search engine, we plugged in the terms, "octogenarian" and "exercise."
With very little searching, we found an item on an energetic octogenarian who still teaches yoga at the age of 80. Here's the query we drafted:
Offbeat Octogenarian Workouts
When Mary Cavanaugh demonstrates a Yoga position to her students these days, it's no big thing. Until, that is, you realize she's over 80!
After more than 35 years of teaching yoga, Cavanaugh still approaches her daily workouts with the blind enthusiasm of youth. As limber as a teenager and twice as energetic, she is anything but blaze about her work.
"It still blows me away when I see the improvement in people," she says. "I say 'Wow, this really works.' Every time I see it happen, it surprises me."
It shouldn't. Cavanaugh's own spiritual mentor and yoga adviser, Indra Mataji Devi, is still teaching at 103! "She's an inspiration to me," says Cavanaugh. "To all of us. I only hope I can move as well when I'm over a hundred."
A hundred? Does she really expect to live past the century mark? "And that's just for starters," she chuckles.
So what gives with all these "old people" and yoga? Have they found the long-elusive Fountain of Youth? Are they onto something the rest of us can only hope for?
Do you see what we mean? Inside of half an hour of reading that market listing, a light bulb went on, a search was initiated, and a query was written. Another half hour later, and it could have been winging its way to sunny California.
So get in the habit of thinking of yourself--the writer you--as a professional advice-giver. Whenever you peruse a magazine or book market listing, think in terms of what might make for interesting, unusual, or entertaining words of wisdom that--with just a little bit of research--you can pass along to your readers. That's what self-help and inspirational writing is all about, after all, isn't it?
Hey, would we steer you wrong? Take our advice.