I honestly have no idea what sets people off in my columns. Some days I'll write about something I think everyone in the industry will get excited about and it's nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds on the Spin Board. Other days, I'll write about something that's off-topic and get a huge response. In fact, in the past several months, the only column I've known would get a lot of response before sending it off to my editor was the one where all the buzz marketers came out of the woodwork to challenge my assertion that paid agents didn't make sense for a brand. That's the only one I knew beforehand would set off a shitstorm.
So get this... A heady column on Social Networking gets one response, but I write something about digitizing and chucking my CDs and I get 50 responses, two dozen private e-mails and an interview request from a radio station in Los Angeles.
Every once in a while, a columnist needs to step away from his preferred subject matter for a bit and write something off-topic or out of character. It's important.
The best column Dave Barry ever wrote was the one where he described his final moments with his father. (I wish I had a link. Google is not my friend today.) I first encountered that column in one of his compilations. I was reading through his stuff laughing at all the booger jokes and suddenly I come to this unbelievably striking piece about Dave saying goodbye to his Dad. It was incredible to go from laughing to wanting to cry in such a short length of time.
Stepping out of the usual subject matter and doing something unexpected not only allows you to challenge yourself as a writer, but it also keeps your audience engaged. Of course, the hardcore folks in your audience will sometimes e-mail you and tell you to cut the crap, but most readers will find it refreshing and engaging.