Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Writing an Outline

I encourage writers to get their foot into the door via the query letter. Some publishers require you submit an outline with it and I often get requests to see how I write them. So I'm going to post one I wrote for Lady Mary. A little history: I wrote this originally for Odyssey but was paid a kill-fee because they didn't have space to publish the short piece (~ 400 words). A few years later, I submitted this same query to Uncle John's Bathroom Readers for Kids--I'd met the editor at the Sharing our Hope Highlights Workshop. She was a hoot to work with. My short article turned into a lengthier piece with room to add interesting facts and figures. And it made the back cover of the book! Note that my bibliography is solid. I know some editors look at it first to see if the sources the writer plans to consult are good.  

Outlining works for me because the jumbled images that come to my mind can be organized where I can see them. They often suggests a story and now I can see if all the elements are in a logical order. 


1.      Introduction

·         Go to a party to catch a disease

·         Lady Mary promotes smallpox parties

·         People never get smallpox twice

2.      Two types of smallpox

·         Minor – kills a tenth, less severe

·         Major – kills a third

·         Eastern cultures – breathe in dried scabs or injected them

3.      Inoculation

·         Lady Mary in Turkey in the early 1700s

·         Details of inoculation

·         Inoculated person is now armed

·         Lady Mary has her children inoculated

·         She promotes the practice upon returning to England

·         Royal family gets inoculated – gives the seal of approval

4.      Complications

·         Other infections/death

·         Risks 1/7 die (caught naturally) or 1/200 (inoculated)

5.      Edward Jenner

·         Inoculated as a little boy – almost died

·         Vaccination – different because injected material is cowpox

·         Inoculation outlawed 


1.      Helena Curtis. 1983. Biology (Fourth Edition). Worth Publishers.

2.      Bernard D. Davis et. al. 1980. Microbiology (Third Edition). Harper & Row Publishers.

3.      Edward Jenner. 1938. Scientific papers: physiology, medicine, surgery and geology. Harvard Classics Vol. 38.  P. F. Collier & Son, edited by Charles W. Eliot.

4.      Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 1971. The Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. St. Martins Press.

5.      Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 1988. Embassy to Constantinople: the travels of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.  New Amsterdam.

6.      Tom Ridgeway. 2001. Smallpox. The Rosen Publishing Group.

7.      Sarah R. Riedman. 1960. Shots without Guns. Rand McNally & Co. 


Mirka Breen said...

Great example of a proposal done professionally and succinctly. Lady Mary lives!

Katie L. Carroll said...

Very interesting look into your process. I'm glad your story got a second chance at reaching readers.

Vijaya said...

Thanks Mirka. I've sold so much just from the outline alone, I think it's a good skill to practice.

Katie, Lady Mary is so fascinating, I was glad that kids would get to know her even if it was on the throne!

Jenni said...

Really interesting! I haven't done nonfiction in awhile, but I did something similar for Calliope. This sounds like a fun read!

Vijaya said...

I love nonfiction even as a kid. I was always reading biographies. And I'd sit and read the encyclopedia on our monthly visits to the British Council Library. Choosing only 4 books to check out was HARD.