Tips for Overcoming the Writing Outline Blues

This Wednesday's guest article is by Moira Allen of Since a number of writers use outlines for their work, and those new to the process aren't sure how to go about tackling this writing process, here is a great article. While the article was written with the freelance writer in mind, it can be adapted for any type of writing:

The Outline Demystified
by Moira Allen

I don't know any writer who likes the prospect of creating an outline. That's probably because we all remember being taught that horrible "1,2,3 -- A,B,C" format in high school. (Hands up, everyone who used to get around those exercises by writing a paper first, and then creating the outline after the paper was done?) Relax -- I'm not going to "teach" that kind of outline.

An outline is simply a way to construct a road map of where you want to go with your article. Another way to look at an outline is to think of it as a filing cabinet. When you research your article, you're going to gather a lot of information. How will you know what to put in and what to leave out? By creating an "outline" that, in a sense, places "headers" on the files in your cabinet, you'll know whether the information you've gathered fits into the "files" that you have -- or whether it doesn't. If you don't have a "file" for that information, chances are that the information doesn't belong in your article.

For example, when I decided to go "full-time" as a freelancer in 1996, one of the first articles I pitched was a piece on "cancer in cats." I chose to write the article because my own cat had recently died of cancer. When I got the assignment, I roughed out the areas I planned to cover:

•    Types of cancer
•    Breed-specific cancers
•    How to detect cancer
•    My experience with a cat with cancer
•    Preventing cancer
•    Treatments
•    Hope for the future
•    Hi-tech treatments
•    Diagnostic techniques

A quick look at this list showed me that some ideas were actually sub-categories of others. "Breed-specific cancers" fit under "types of cancer," while "diagnostic techniques" fit under "how to detect." "Hope for the future" fit under "treatments." One category also stood out as not fitting with the rest: "My own experience." I ended up with four "file folders" to work with:

•    Types of Cancer
•    Detecting Cancer
•    Treating Cancer
•    Preventing Cancer

This, by the way, is an outline. It can be as simple as that. Besides serving as a framework for my article, it provided a framework for my research: I knew what types of questions I had to ask, based on the information I wanted to include. I researched the article on the Web and by interviewing experts, asking questions based on my four topic areas -- and "filing" that information in the appropriate place. If information came in that didn't fit into one of these four areas, I knew that it probably didn't belong in my article.

I also had a slant or "core concept" -- "What you need to know about cancer in cats." (Note how a slant can make a great title: "Is your cat at risk of cancer?" or "How you can reduce your cat's risk of cancer.")
Having that core concept or slant is essential. It tells you what is vital to your article -- what is at the center of your idea -- and what isn't. If you have information or thoughts that don't relate directly to the core concept, then that information probably doesn't belong in the article.

Five Ways to Approach the Outline

I'm no fan of the "1,2,3 -- A,B,C" approach to outlines. This approach tends to get one bogged down in the mechanics -- Is this a subset of #2? Should I move this section here? There are easier ways to put your ideas and information in order.

1) Ask yourself what questions a reader would ask. What would a reader want to know about this subject? Make a list of those questions. For example, a reader interested in cancer in cats might want to know:

•    How common is cancer in cats?
•    What kinds of cancer affect cats?
•    What cats are at greatest risk?
•    How can I tell if my cat has cancer?
•    What can I do if my cat has cancer?
•    What kinds of treatments are available to me?
•    What are their success rates?
•    What are their risks to my cat?
•    How long will my cat live if it has cancer?
•    Can I prevent my cat from getting cancer?
•    Where do I go to get more help?

Sometimes, simply jotting down a list of questions is all you need to define the basic areas your article will cover, and even the order in which you might wish to cover them.

2) Think in "subheads." Most published articles are divided into sections with subheads. This is a good way to organize your information (and putting in your own subheads always pleases an editor). The four "file folders" that I developed for my feline cancer piece would also serve very nicely as subheads:

•    Is your cat at risk?
•    Protecting your cat from cancer
•    Detecting the signs of cancer
•    Choosing a treatment plan

Subheads help you organize your information logically. You'll also be able to determine whether your article is "in balance." If you have 250 words under one subhead and 1000 under another, chances are you need to reorganize the article.

3) List events or concepts chronologically. What happened first? What happened next? What happened after that? What happened last? This approach works well for an article that focuses on events that occurred over time -- e.g., a historical piece, a personal profile, etc. For example, women's magazines often publish stories of how a family coped with a child's illness. A chronological outline of such an article might look like this:

1.    Family notices something isn't right with the child
2.    Family goes to traditional doctor
3.    Family gets reassurances, goes home
4.    Child gets worse
5.    Family seeks more help; gets more reassurances
6.    Child gets worse
7.    Family gets desperate; seeks more information
8.    Family finds special doctor/support group/information on line
9.    Family locates specialist/special treatment/new cure
10.    Family is warned of risks of treatment
11.    Family goes ahead with treatment
12.    Child gets better

4) List points in logical order. Many how-to articles have an obvious logical order: Do this first, do this next, do this next, and do this last. Your outline here may consist simply of a list of things to do, and the order in which the reader should do them. This works well for a how-to article, for example.
A travel article might also have a logical order, based on the order in which one would see or visit a location. If, for example, you'd start at Point A and travel to Point X, a logical way to present your information is in the order in which the traveler following your route would encounter it. This works even for a single location: Trace the route a traveler would take if walking through a site, such as a castle or museum.

5) Make a list. List all the pieces of information that you'd like to include in the article. Then, go over that list and assign numbers to each item based on its importance or priority. For example, if you're writing a piece on ways to improve communication between spouses, jot down a list of all the suggestions you want to cover. Which tips are most important? Which are less important? Which could be omitted without any real harm to your article? You may find, when you're done, that you have a selection of key points, and perhaps a few "leftovers" that aren't as useful. In some cases, your list may become the actual structure of your finished article ("Five ways to improve communication with your spouse"); in others, it may become the "hidden" structure that underlies your piece, even though you aren't numbering the points in the final article.

Once you've mastered a few alternatives to the classic, hated approach to outlines, you'll find that organizing your material -- and your article -- is even easier than A,B,C!

Copyright © 2003 Moira Allen.
Excerpted from Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer.
Moira Allen is the editor of ( and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a a Freelance Writer and The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals.


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Do You Need a Squeeze Page as a Writer?

Why You May Need a Squeeze Page to Make the Most of Your Article Marketing Campaigns

Guest Post By Suzanne Lieurance

Article marketing is a great way to generate traffic to your website or blog. And, if that's ALL you're after, then all you need to do is write quality articles that will appeal to a specific (niche) market. Then, in the resource box at the end of each article, include some compelling reason for readers to click on a link that will take them directly to your website.

However, if you're like most people who are using article marketing as a way to generate new customers or clients - and not JUST more traffic - you might be better off leading readers back to a squeeze page (a separate landing page) instead of your website or blog.

I know what you're wondering - Why is that?

Well, the reason is this. Generally, people don't buy from a website or blog on the first visit. They must get to know, like, and trust the business person who owns that site before they feel comfortable and confident enough to purchase products and/or services from him online. This comfort and confidence doesn't usually happen instantly. It takes time.

The way most people get to know, like, and trust someone who is doing business on the internet is by signing up for this person's mailing list.

Okay, so now you're thinking - But I have an opt-in box on my website or blog. People can sign up for my mailing list right there.

But here's the problem with that. There are probably OTHER things visitors can get distracted by at your website or blog. You might have interesting and informative articles for them to read, an engaging video for them to watch, or even a short audio they can listen to. Before they know it, they've finished visiting your site without ever opting in to your list. And they may never return to the site, so you've lost them as a customer or client forever.

But with a squeeze page, your visitors won't get distracted because all a squeeze page is designed to do is get people to sign up for your list.

If article marketing is driving more traffic to your sites, yet you aren't getting more sign ups for your mailing list, consider a squeeze page and see if you don't get better results.

For an example of a squeeze page, go to and don't forget to sign up for my mailing list so you'll start receiving my free newsletter, Build Your Business Write. AFTER you've done that, check out my website at to read more informative articles, watch interesting videos, and get other great resources to help build your business.

Suzanne Lieurance is the author of 22 (at last count) published books, a freelance writer, and the Working Writer's Coach.

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Are FREE Online Information Offers really FREE

Recently, I guess because of how busy I am, I've noticed that sites I already subscribe to start their message (in the subject box) with a statement about a FREE report or e-book, or other tool.

Since I'm always on the outlook for information I can use in my writing and work, I do take the time to click on the links. Well, I'll admit, I am led to a FREE report from the site owner that I subscribe to, or to a probable affiliate of theirs, but it's always at the cost of my name and email address through their opt-in box.

And, they usually lead off by saying because I'm (the subscriber) so important to them they want to share this information.

I've written a bit about this before, as to the value of subscribing to hundreds of different sites for information, but lately it seems sites I value for their information and integrity are doing the same thing. To tell you the truth, I'm getting a little tired of it. Tell me upfront it's a link to subscribing to yet another site - then at least I know what I'm heading to. And, tell me the cost - if it's a product or service for hundreds of dollars, I can't afford it and won't waste my time clicking on the link. But, marketers aren't concerned about wasting the time of those who won't be interested, their aiming at the few who will be.

Granted, some of the information you're led to may be of value and worth giving your email address for, but some is not. And, with the endless subscription information that most of us get daily in our email box, do we want to add any more?

But, this isn't even as bad; the ones that are worse are the emails that give you a page of copy leading you to another site with 5 more pages of "bells and whistles," and testimonials of how great this particular product or service is. You search to somewhere near the end (and really have to search) to find the cost of the product you-absolutely-must have, only to find it's out of your price-range.

I find internet marketers are becoming somewhat like the traditional marketing of -in-your-face and invasive marketing such as telemarketers, television and radio commercials, and infomercials.

How about telling me in a sentence or two, just like a pitch, what your product is and how it might benefit me . . . then tell me the cost. Okay even if it takes two or three short paragraphs to get all the perks mentioned. Do marketers really think 5 pages of fluff will make me pay for their product or service.

And, I do understand that copywriters make a great deal of money on this type of content, but in today's overburdening information stream, and only 24 hours in the day am I the only one who feels this way?

Sorry, I know this isn't of much value to you writers out there, but I just had to vent today.


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Karen Cioffi
Author, Ghostwriter-for-hire, Freelance writer, and Reviewer


Is Your Internet Marketing Paying Off?

Today I have a great guest article by Penny Sansevieri from the "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter."

Ten Ways to Know if Your (Internet) Marketing is Paying Off

Guest Post by Penny Sansevieri

So you're out there marketing. You're doing all the right things (or so you think). You're following the book marketing advice of some leaders in the industry. You've got a checklist and you're methodically checking off your goals. But how do you know you're doing everything right? The fact is, most of us don't. Yet we forge ahead, keeping pace with our marketing plan, without ever knowing if it's paying off. We don't see it in sales.

Does that mean it's not working? Not at all. You could be seeing the effects in other places but just aren't keeping track of it.

I find that especially in social media you need to keep a close eye on what's working and what's not. If you've spent *any* kind of time online you know that you can be in front of your computer for what seems like 20 minutes and yet three hours have gone by. If the three hours of marketing is paying off, then it's fine to spend the time. But you need to know the difference. Here are a few things you can review to measure the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of your marketing.

1. Jumping in without a plan: Set clear, measureable goals because most marketing is invisible. Let's face it, you send an email and wonder half the time if the intended recipient got it or if it ended up in a spam filter, never to be seen again. That's the power behind goals. You need them and you need to run your campaign by them. So what are your goals? And no, you may not say sell books. Yes, that factors in - but there are a million small steps along the way before you even get to sales. Consider these goals and see if any of them fit your book, topic, and future:

a. Establish yourself as an expert or get known in your particular field. Hey, maybe you just want to be known as the go-to person for everything related to paranormal romance. That's great and it's a realistic, attainable goal.

b. Increase the visibility of your brand. OK, sort of the same as the bullet before this one but more geared to the non-fiction author.

c. Increase traffic and incoming links to your website. This is a great goal. Whether you are fiction or non-fiction, it's a great focus.

d. Do what makes sense for your book: If your followers aren't on Twitter then why have you spent the last month or so promoting yourself on there? Mind you, Twitter works for most of the books we manage, but there are a few that don't make sense. Twitter skews older than most people think so don't be surprised if your YA reader isn't on there. Before you launch head first into a campaign, make sure it fits your demographic.

2. Neglecting other marketing: I know it's easy to get all a-twitter about Twitter, but what else are you doing to promote yourself and your book? If you're good at events and speaking, are you still focused on that? Don't get too myopic on doing just one thing for your marketing. The truth is, you need to do a lot of different things, balanced out over a week or a month for your marketing to really make sense.

3. Set goals - be clear on what you hope to achieve in social media: What are your goals for Twitter? If it's just about gathering followers then you are missing a big piece of this social networking tool. For many marketing people it's all about the number, but numbers don't make as much sense unless they are driving interest to you and your book. If the numbers keep growing, along with traffic to your website, then you're on the right track. But if you're just growing numbers for the sake of being able to say that you have 10,000 followers then it makes no sense. That's like buying a fancy car you can't really afford. Eventually the debt of it will drag you down. It's the same with Twitter and Facebook and any other social media site. It's not about the numbers. It's about the activity.

4. Be clear on who you are trying to reach: Many of you say you're trying to reach readers, but is that really true? We all want to sell books, but who are you really going after? In all likelihood you will have a variety of different targets you are going after. Consider these: booksellers, speaking opportunities, interviews, bulk sale targets, reviewers, and readers to name a few.

5. Measure effectively: In order to know if stuff is working you'll need to measure effectively. As I pointed out earlier on in this article you may not want to do that by fans or followers - instead consider these ideas as ways to measure your success:

a. Retweets on Twitter: The best sign of success on Twitter is the amount of retweets. Are you getting them and if so, how often? If your tweets are good and your followers are active, you should see a few a week at least (depending on the amount of followers you have). If you're curious about the amount of Tweets that get RT'd - check out Twitter Analyzer ( is another great tool for determining how far tweets have traveled.

b. Site hits: Are the hits to your site increasing? Are you watching your analytics to be sure? If you're not, you should be. Watch your site stats closely and monitor the increase in traffic and where it's coming from.

c. Inbound links: How many new ones are you getting? Did you do a vanity search before you started this campaign? If not, do that now. Make sure you know how many new incoming links you're getting as a result of your efforts.

d. Sign-ups to your mailing list: Are they increasing? If you're doing the right stuff in your social media they should be increasing weekly.

6. Increasing the contacts in your industry: Remember that social media marketing is just like going to a networking meeting. You want to expand your reach and get to know others in your industry. If you're not increasing your reach and contact base, then you need to be. This is another great way to gauge how effective your marketing is.

We always want to make progress in our marketing but we're not always sure how to do it or if what we're doing is making a difference. Follow these steps and see if it doesn't help your marketing momentum. If it's paying off, you'll know sooner rather than later and you can keep doing the good stuff, and punt the bad.

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.


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