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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
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
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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