Where/how do you track ideas?

We come up with plenty of great ideas, but when it comes time to pitch to an editor, those fragments seem to vanish into thin air.

Or, if you’re like me, you hit on an idea and say “I should pitch this to Slate.com,” but the core of the idea is lost before you have time to develop it.

ideasThe solution?

Write them down, no matter how small the idea seems, and when you get time, start to query the markets where you think you could sell a piece on the topic. As you formulate the query, your idea will take shape if there is any substance to it. If not, the process of starting the query may help you find another idea.

Whether you write ideas on paper, or do a voice reminder in your phone, you could be putting those ideas to work. You can use a small notebook, an online tool like the popular rememberthemilk.comtodoist.com, or a sticky-note on your dashboard.

In querying editors at magazines,

1. Start by reading their submission guidelines, often listed under the “About” or “Contact” tab of their site.

2. Read through their features and articles online to see if your idea has been covered recently

3. Note their preferred formatting for headlines, bullet points, graphics, links, and style.

I often find better response to a query if I write more than just a brief pitch. If I include enough material to get the editor to keep reading, chances are good that I’ll either get a reason for the rejection, or “Please send the article.” That’s the part I like best about querying!

If it gets rejected, choose a market on your second tier list, tweak the query a bit further, and try again. The #1 reason for rejection is pitching an idea to the wrong market.  You can save yourself lots of wasted time by making sure you follow the three steps above, so your queries look as close as possible to what the editor wants to see.

Besides going through this exercise and spending quality time with your work, you’ve now saved your original idea, and can add some research or rewrite to turn it into a profitable essay or guest blog post, and make some money on it.

So, don’t sweat the query process, but do sweat the details. Get everything right, from the editor’s name, to the focused, tight pitch, and you might make a sale or two off of your idea. So track those fragments, stay curious, and use your imagination. It may lead to a quick sale.

How do you track and manage your ideas? Leave a comment with your best strategy.

Good writing!

BIO: Helen Gallagher shares her advice and ideas on small business and technology at Freelance-Zone.com. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. She is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.