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Write a List, Make a Sale
by Shirley Raye Redmond

As a compulsive list maker, I keep shopping lists, trivia lists, Christmas card lists, books-to-read lists and must-write lists. Once, while glancing over my collection of ideas for beating the rejection letter blues, it dawned on me that if my list was helpful or informative, I could probably sell it in the form of a how-to or round-up article. Deciding that everyone, not just writers, suffers from the doldrums now and then, I generalized the ideas on my list and sold "Beat the Blues" to MODERN ROMANCES for $150.

While waiting for a friend’s wedding service to begin, I picked up a church hymnal and casually flipped through its pages. I noted that many of the hymns had been written by women. Quickly, I scribbled down a list of names of the more prolific ones. The following week, after a little background research at the library, I compiled an informative round-up article on little-known women hymn writers. The 900-word article sold immediately to WOMAN’S WORLD for $500.

After selling a list article entitled, "How to Write Memos That Others Will Read" to COSMOPOLITAN and "New Year’s Resolutions That Could Save Your Child’s Life" to PARENTING for a dollar a word, I realized that list articles were quick and easy to write. They were also lucrative. And when I used a seasonal slant, the queries usually got an immediate go-ahead. After all, editors always need holiday material with a fresh approach to the same old seasonal subjects.

With that in mind, I successfully pitched my tips for tackling test anxiety to BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS for their back to school issue. A list of safety tips gleaned from my collection of utility bill inserts sold immediately to LADY’S CIRCLE as "Is Your Home Safe for the Holidays?" And my list of nonprofit groups in need of funds sold to VIRTUE as a timely piece on "Unconventional Christmas Gifts."

Once you’ve polished all your personal lists for publication, creatively recycle others’ lists. For instance, a casual perusal of THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY OF NURSERY RHYMES intrigued me. I learned that "Ring Around the Rosies" was really a gruesome little ditty about the bubonic plague and that Humpty Dumpty was no egg at all, but King Richard III who "had a great fall" off his horse during a battle in 1485 and "all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again." He died shortly after this accident.

The list of nursery rhymes and the real histories behind them would surely interest youngsters, I decided. So I queried and subsequently sold two different versions of "The Not-So-Innocent Mother Goose" to HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN and SEVENTEEN.

I’ve often assigned my writing for publication students to produce a list article and often as not, it is their first successful foray into the world of writing for money. The next time you find yourself scrounging around for an idea, consider a list that meets a need. For where’s there’s a list, there’s a sale.

© Copyright 1999, Shirley Raye Redmond

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