“I get satisfaction of three kinds. One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my ass all afternoon.” – William F. Buckley (1925-2008)

Right now, there’s no better business in the world than information publishing.

Whether you are marketing e-books, newsletters, or any other electronically distributed product, the advantages over most other businesses are enormous…

There’s no inventory or warehouses. No spoilage. With the Internet, distribution is virtually free. You can work from practically anywhere, anytime. Because of near-zero overhead, profit margins can range from very good to incredible.

There’s just one problem.

You can’t really be successful selling information.

We’ve said it before in ETR, and now I’ll tell you again. These days, no one needs more information. What people are looking for is advice… expert guidance… trusted opinions.

Just think about today’s most popular media personalities. The days of solemn “fact-reciting” talking heads such as Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner are long gone. The new stars are brash and opinionated . Howard Stern… Rush Limbaugh… Chris Matthews… Jim Cramer… Anderson Cooper… Keith Olbermann… Bill O’Reilly… and on and on.

In The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman explains how the data collection of straight journalism has been largely outsourced to low-paid stringers. The value is added later, when it’s filtered and interpreted in “opinion and analysis” pieces.

So here’s a thought. Maybe instead of Information Publishing, we should start calling what we do Idea Publishing! Because when you give people advice and ideas, they’ll listen… and pay for the privilege.

Rodale Inc. reported revenue of $632 million last year, primarily from marketing dozens of advice publications such as Prevention, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Organic Gardening, Runner’s World, and others. Agora Inc. had sales of over $300 million in 2007 through newsletter publishing. And thousands of individual publishing entrepreneurs on the Web today are pulling in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

So let’s say you’re interested in getting into this field. (And why wouldn’t you be?)

One of the first problems you’ll have to overcome is very common. Here’s how ETR reader Liby Nel put it in a recent letter to us:

“My biggest challenge at the moment is to learn how to write down powerful ideas that can be used as headlines, attention-grabbers, and concept-originators. Conceptualizing is something I really have to push. So, any pointers, advice, or sources that you can provide on these subjects and on stimulating creative thinking in general will be lapped up, I think, by many ETR readers. After all, brilliant ideas and original concepts presented perfectly is what everyone is after.”

Liby is correct. You won’t become wealthy or successful publishing boring, unoriginal ideas and advice.

Your readers or customers will pay for unique, interesting, useful, actionable, and cutting-edge ideas. They will pay more for ideas that can help solve their biggest problems.

But how do you, as an aspiring “Idea Publisher,” get such ideas?

I’ve looked into this challenge myself, and through research and personal experience, I’ve discovered five distinct stages:

Stage 1: Preparation

You should always be gathering raw material for ideas. Do this by becoming an information junkie. Explore new areas. Be active. Do stuff. John Locke said that “all valid knowledge comes through experience.” You’ll probably get lots of little ideas during this stage. They won’t seem especially interesting, but “hold that thought”… because they’ll be back soon.

Stage 2: Mastication

Here’s where you take the problem you’re trying to solve and chew it over… toss it around… think it over for a while. Start mixing in the little ideas, the fodder, and see if anything happens. Usually it won’t. Not right away, anyway. That’s why you need…

Stage 3: Disassociation

Take a nap. Go for a workout. Do something else for a day. Free your mind of the details. This is a key step, and it’s why I’m not a big believer in “brainstorming” sessions as the be-all and end-all of idea generation.

Brainstorming is really the mastication step done in a group setting. Yes, sometimes good ideas will come up here. But if that’s where you stop working on them, you’re going to miss out on some far better ones.

Stage 4: The Aha Moment

Out of nowhere, there it is. You don’t know why, but you’re lying in bed… taking a shower… driving the car. And suddenly, BAM! You’ve got it! This is what you’ve been hoping for.

What you’ve got to do now is get it on paper, tape recorder, or computer as soon as possible. At this moment, you’re going to be filled with energy and the details will be gushing out of your neurons. You have to capture that immediately or you’ll lose the magic and power of the idea.

“When it comes to getting brilliant innovations actualized, time is your enemy,” says Michael Masterson. In Ready, Fire, Aim, he explains: “Time fogs the memory, erases important details, and eventually dissolves all great ideas. The faster you can get a great idea out of the realm of the conceptual and into action, the better your chances of preserving its original brilliance.”

Stage 5: Refinement

But wait just a second. You need a reality check here to make sure your good idea is not really a stinker. How will you know? Michael advises that you define what “good” actually means. For example, if it is a product idea, does that mean it’s better than the competition? Or that the market needs it? And in what quantity?

Be humble. Don’t assume the world is dying for your idea. Make sure there’s already an unmet need for it.

So now that you know the five stages of developing good, marketable ideas, here’s some practical advice for generating those ideas:

* Read and Absorb Life Like a Sponge – ETR’s good friend and business futurist Rich Schefren says he starts the day with one goal: Learn one new, useful, interesting thing. Just one.

As I mentioned, exciting new ideas rarely appear out of nowhere. They need plenty of fodder – the little ideas you get from reading and observing and learning new things.

* Get Pissed Off – Television infomercial genius A.J. Khubani is always on the alert for little annoyances in his life that are likely to be irritating to many other people. And then he thinks of ways to eliminate them. AdAge.com tells this story…

“When Khubani went to fix a fuse in his house a few years back, he found himself on the dark side of his basement. ‘I said, “When we built this house, we really should have put a light bulb here,”‘ he recalls. ‘And that was it.’ Light bulb! He invented a battery-operated light that looks like an ordinary incandescent. Its holder sticks to the wall, but the bulb can be removed and carried around. It made its debut in September 2006. More than 5 million have been sold – so far.”

* Recombine – Take existing ideas and try fitting them into different places and spaces. In ETR’s program Think Inside the Box, David Deutsch has tons of unusual suggestions for getting results this way. For example: Do the Opposite (flip it or reverse it)… Divide It Up (split it into pieces)… and Take Something Out (extract, isolate, or highlight one part).

* Zone Out – At Rich Schefren’s recent “New Beginnings” conference, Product Launch guru Jeff Walker was asked how he comes up with good ideas. I was a little bit annoyed when Jeff “stole” what I considered MY best practice…

“When I’m trying to solve a tough problem, I go for a run,” said Jeff. “Chances are better than not that I’ll come up with a great solution by the time I’m home.”

I’d say at least 75 percent of my best ideas come to me when I’m out running. I strongly suspect there’s some kind of chemical change that kicks in and actually triggers something upstairs. Sometimes I’ll get one idea. Sometimes all sorts of stuff starts popping up. What fun! More than once, I’ve come home from a run and had to scramble for a sheet of paper to write down the ideas before I forgot them.

Kellogg School of Management professor Andrew Razeghi agrees with Jeff and me. “Encounters with extraneous and apparently irrelevant bits of information appear to be common precursors to moments of creative insight,” he writes in his just-released book The Riddle – Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. “Write down the problem or question you have. Then do something else for a while. When you come back to it, see what new ideas may have emerged.”

Try out this physical approach to mental inspiration and see if it doesn’t work for you!

* Travel and Network – Here at Early to Rise, we’re big believers in getting frequent exposure to new ideas from outside the office.

I’d estimate ETR’s Internet Marketing Director, Patrick Coffey, attends an outside conference at least four times a year. Inevitably, he returns bursting with ideas for new marketing strategies and tactics.

ETR’s Publisher, MaryEllen Tribby, always seems to be flying around the country to attend various events. In fact, she spoke at Rich Schefren’s big summit in Orlando just two weeks ago. She explained to over 200 attendees that ETR’s success has come largely from being an idea publisher rather just a marketing company. “If you’re just trying to sell the next hot product, you’re going to be spinning your wheels and working too hard,” she told the crowd. “But a single good idea can explode into multiple marketing ideas, multiple content ideas, and multiple product ideas.”

And this week I’m off to South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW), where I’ll hear from (and report back to you on my blog about) cutting-edge idea generators like MIT professor and futurist Henry Jenkins, Mark Zuckerberg (23-year-old founder of Facebook), Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek), Frank Warren (of the viral “My Secret” postcard phenomenon), and dozens more.

Start thinking today about how you can integrate the “idea factory” steps I’ve given you into your life… and how they might help you become the next multimillion-dollar “Idea Publisher.”

You know the old saying: When you can invent a better mousetrap (or light bulb or social-networking website…), the world will beat a path to your door.

And with wallets wide open!

[Ed. Note: Charlie Byrne is ETR’s Creative & Editorial Director. Once you’ve put his idea-generating advice to work, you will be well on your way to creating a lucrative “idea-publishing” business. Get step-by-step instructions for getting that business off the ground with ETR’s Magic Button program.]

Charlie Byrne

Charlie Byrne is a former Senior Copywriter and Editorial Director for Early to Rise. Charlie spent the earlier part of his business career as a systems analyst, project manager and consultant in New York City for Fortune 100 companies including Philip Morris, Digital Equipment, and Citicorp as well as New York University and Columbia University. He then spent over ten years at Reuters Ltd and Interealty Corp designing and implementing financial, real estate and news information services. In 2003, he joined Early to Rise as a senior editor and copywriter. Since then he has helped publish over 1000 editions of ETR, resulting in gross revenues of well over $25 million. He has also produced dozens of winning sales letters and promotions, including two that brought in over $200,000 in under 24 hours, another two that have grossed over $1 million each, and a single sales letter that sold 25 units of a $10,000 product.