Want to get hired to write? You can’t wait for people to approach you if you want to be busy and have a profitable writing career. You need to be proactive, and query. The more you query, the more writing gigs you’ll get.
Basically, a query is what it seems to be: a question to an editor, or to anyone else who can buy your writing.
Queries can be short, if you’re known to the person you’re querying and write for the publication regularly: you can shoot your editor a quick email, or even a tweet.
Most queries are a little longer. That said, ideally, keep queries to 250 words or less, otherwise you end up with the “tl;dnr” (too long, didn’t read) effect. Your editor looks at a long screed in his email client, sighs, and closes the message. Even if he knows you, and decides to contact you later, he won’t. Everyone is busy, so make your queries as short as possible, while still getting your brilliant idea across.
1. Query, query, query! (And then query some more.)
Tip: query daily. As we’ve said:
The more you query, the more writing gigs you’ll get.
Back in the day, when I wrote primarily for magazines, I’d send out five query letters a day until I was overloaded with assignments.
Even if I was busy, I’d send out at least three or four queries a week. My goal was to send out at least ONE query, every day, even if I was booked solid. Here’s why. Any form of writing you do has a mindset. Querying is a mindset. When you stop doing whatever it is, you lose the mindset.
In 2013 and beyond, querying is MORE important than it’s ever been.
Writing for the Web? Query websites.
Writing for clients? Query prospects.
Writing for magazines? Query them.
The more people who see your name, and the ideas you’re offering, the more inclined they are to trust you with an assignment. You can query a publication for months, without a nibble or even a response. Then one day, the editor calls you.
2. Make sure any query you send out is the best you can offer: think it through.
Although queries are short, they need to be as powerful as you can make them, so make sure you do a little prep work.
When you get an idea, think it through. What slant will you put on the topic? Can you get sources? Who? Write a short outline of the material – just a few sentences.
Reread the publication or website, then jot down a few titles – in their style and voice. If you can mimic their style, the editor will trust you, because he knows you read his publication.
I like to think about an idea, do the prep, and then leave it for a day or two before I write the query. You’ll do a stronger job if you give an idea time to gestate.
3. Get the editor’s/ editorial content manager’s/ feature editor’s name right.
Target a specific person at the publication or website. Then get his or her name right. If you get it wrong, it’s embarrassing.
Years ago, you sent queries by fax. An article hadn’t sold, so I customized it for the next publication on my list of homes for this particular story, and faxed it.
The editor called me within the hour. “Did you mean to send this to me?” She asked. It turns out that I’d changed the magazine’s name on the fax, but hadn’t changed the editor’s name. Wince. She laughed, and bought the story anyway. Not my finest moment.
4. Avoid sending out simultaneous queries.
Each query you send out needs to be customized to suit its market.
Let’s say you want to write an article about the latest beauty treatment. You’ve just received a press release about it. You know you can get a couple of sources, and you know that this will be big news in the beauty industry.
You’re tempted to query a couple of trade magazines and three websites simultaneously. The first person to respond, gets the story.
Don’t do it. Every publication has its own style. When you take a shotgun approach, it shows. Remember tip #2. How would you title a story to suit five different markets? It’s impossible.
5. Remember to include your credentials.
The final paragraph in your query should be the “why me” paragraph, in which you show that you’re the perfect writer for this story.
Your “why me” can be anything. Maybe:
- You’re an expert on the topic; you’ve covered this topic before. You blog about it.
- Maybe you have sources no one else can get.
- Maybe you’re hugely enthusiastic about the story, and want to write it because ___ (the reason can be anything you like.)
Tip: keep your “why me” positive. Never, ever say anything like: “I’ve never written a magazine article before. ”
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