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Generating Sales From Outlines
by Deborah Clark

Outlines are organizational tools that help a writer define the focus for a particular body of work. They also can be excellent marketing support devices. From research to article, an outline presents a plan to develop the topic and address additional markets.

A research outline serves to define the focus of the search. A writer needs to research most topics, whether they are fiction or non-fiction pieces. As any researcher can attest, research for a specific topic will create a pile of information, much of which is destined for the compost pile. The writer then sifts through the heap and extracts the useful bits necessary for the article. A creative writer will see, in this mountain of data, the germ of an idea for other articles or markets. The prudent writer logs these ideas into a system. Any system, used consistently, will work.

A "highlighter, folder, and notebook" system works particularly well. To manage my system, I have a series of colored markers, a drawer full of folders, and a notebook full of loose-leaf paper. I keep all original information in one file folder. I label the folder, and use colored markers to follow the information I use. The notebook I use to keep track of the sources from these folders. I use this system consistently.

For example, I found a clipping about a local group who was having a Peaceful Play Festival. I cut it out and placed it in a file folder and labeled it "PLAY". A second article appeared, elaborating on the Festival and giving me another tidbit of information; they were having an exchange of violent toys for peaceful alternatives. I placed it with the first, in the "PLAY" folder. I decided this might make a good piece for the Chicago Tribune. I needed a Chicago tie-in so I called the group's coordinator and asked questions. She told me there were a number of groups promoting peaceful play, including a group in Chicago. I had my tie-in. I went back to my file and placed the interview notes in it. All of the research for the original topic I keep in one file folder.

I queried the editor. He accepted my proposal. Now the search was on in earnest. I took out my blue highlighter and noted all the relevant information. My blue marker indicates the first market or idea that the research develops. I e-mailed the Chicago group. I downloaded and highlighted the information from their web-site. A representative returned my e-mail with information about their "Peace for Children" initiatives. I highlighted this information in blue. I found a possible lead for another story about Christian groups and peaceful protest. I noted this with pink highlighter, my color of choice for secondary ideas or markets. Each time information is noted, I assign it a number. I jot down this number, along with a brief description, into my notebook. I place each new idea entry on top, so I am always working with the most recent, and they are the most easily accessible.

So far, I have sold the article to the Chicago Tribune and used the information to generate a second article, with a child care focus, to a national publication for child care professionals. I queried a national parenting magazine and plan to write smaller pieces to regional parenting magazines. In all, I have isolated more than a dozen markets and three separate topics from one small clipping in the local newspaper.

It does not matter what system a writer uses, as long as he or she uses it consistently. It will develop an awareness of market potential and idea creation. After a while, the writer will see potential multiple markets for each idea.

The article outline refines the information gathered during the research project. Once the article is written, return to the outline. Review the information in the outline; especially useful are fact and regional or historic references. Isolate the key ideas and markets. Outline the new idea to estimate its length and focus. Review the information at hand. Choose a market. Then query.

Outlines can generate additional sales by providing starting points for slanting information to additional markets. The writer is limited only by time and market availability for the myriad of subtopics that outlines spotlight.

© Copyright 1998, Deborah Clark

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