Let’s talk queries…
I’ve discussed reworking your resume and went over some basic application do’s and don’t’s, but now it’s time to go over how to craft the perfect query. Online you’ll find a myriad of how to materials aimed at freelance writers. But this is going to really simplify the process. Believe it or not, it’s as easy as one, two, three.
1. Wind Up the Pitch
That first query can seem hugely daunting. It can be as mortifying as scaling Mount Doom because you are sending an email to an editor presumably you’ve never met, who gets hundreds of queries a week, and who might not even give your pitch the time of day.
It doesn’t have to be such a trial. Sure, it’s a little scary sending the first pitch, but you can present yourself like a pro with a few easy guidelines:
- Make sure you’ve got a fleshed-out plan. It might even help to write a rough draft of your article. You might think you have a killer article about Trump’s rhetoric and you want to send it to The Huffington Post, but unless you have a thorough idea of the meat of your article, your query is going to be pretty lightweight.
- Try and cover something you are without a doubt an expert in. This might seem a little contradictory. If you want to monetize your freelance writing, your going to need to be versatile and pretend to be an expert in whatever your client wants. But for those first pitches, it’s you against the music. Better to pitch what you know and you’ll have a much greater chance of getting clients and clips later in the game. I was a barista for many years and my first pitch to a national coffee magazine was accepted right away.
- Have your clips, portfolio and experience easily summed up and accessible. It helps to have an online portfolio, even if you have no clips. It sets you apart as more than amateur.
2. Set the Pitch
You have a few articles fleshed out and you’d like to start writing the queries. Where do you submit? Do you pitch to magazines, do you go to websites, do you scour writing websites with listicles for where to submit? Do you submit to multiple places at once?
- Use the subject of your article to find it’s home. This will be crucial and it seems like a no-brainer. But sometimes you have to dig a little deep to really find the best place to submit. For instance, I’m a travel writer but I don’t just submit to National Geographic and Lonely Planet. I do some digging. Are there any local magazines published in the city or state I’m talking about? If I’m going to write about parenting, I would look beyond Family Circle. Try and find at least 3-5 places to send your article.
- Face your fears and go big. I mean really big. The very first pitch I wrote, I sent to Cosmopolitan. Was I assured of its publishing success, no, but I did get over my fear of sending emails to editors in a big way.
- Decide how many articles you could comfortably write in a week and use that to determine the pitches you send. It’s tempting to send your pitches to everyone at once. But then, even if you don’t think so, you’ll probably have to deal with some sticky issues like two competitive markets wanting the same article or taking on more than you can handle.
3. Deliver the Pitch
- You’ve got the markets, you’ve got the article, and now you’re ready to send. It’s ok if you strike out your first couple times, but keep it up. Getting your article together is really a third of the work, and you have to present it in an attractive enough package that will make the editor say yes.
- The three-paragraph setup. I use the three-paragraph set up for most of my pitches. It’s a flexible set of guidelines but for the most part, it goes like this:
1. First Paragraph: Intro, hello, who I am I writing to, what’s the magazine or website’s specialty?
2. Second Paragraph: What am I writing about? The meat of the article, what the angle is, sources I’ll cover and why it would make a good addition to the publication.
3. Third Paragraph: Me, my clips, my history.
- Proofread! Well duh. But seriously, step away from that computer. I know you have the editor’s email address locked and loaded, you’ve written the best query you could and your finger is hovering over that send button, but step away. Do anything else and come back. You’ll probably be surprised to see those little mishaps you missed. And be sure to read about my recipe for editing magic.
- Don’t stress. I know you want to make money, you want to get writing, and your engines are revved. But chances are you won’t hear back for at least a week if not more so. Many submission guidelines will include a caveat along the lines of, “If you haven’t heard from us in a —-amount of time, send elsewhere.” I usually follow up after two weeks and if you see my weekly recaps, you’ll see how many pitches I send per week compared to pitch acceptance rate. It’s a waiting game. And it’s ok
There you have it, three easy steps to write and send that query. It might take a little time, but with these three tips, those first pitches will help you come across as a pro.