Sunday, January 2, 2011

Query Phobia

Want to write for magazines or websites? Learn to write kick-ass query letters. A query letter (which is now usually done by email) is like a sales pitch to the editor. It outlines your story idea, why it would be a great fit for the magazine, what angle you'll take and who you'll interview. End with a bio.

Easy enough, right?


I'm just wrapping up a class on how to write better query letters. One thing's for sure -- when it comes to querying, I'm not alone in my absolute dread of hitting the send button. I think every freelancer dreams of the day when magazines are chasing her down with lucrative work. The sad truth is, most of us newbies spend a large percentage of our time querying -- and getting ignored or rejected. A decent acceptance to rejection ratio for a novice freelancer is, oh, 1-25.

I have several non-ingenious strategies for delaying the inevitable cold shoulder or rejection each query may bring:

* Spend hours perfecting each query. Rework it to death. Decide to send it tomorrow so you can review it with fresh eyes beforehand. Repeat this cycle for several weeks until the story's out of season or someone else gets the same idea published.

* Scan trade pubs and message boards, subconsciously praying that the market you're about to query has folded or the editor you're about to query has left. It happens all the time in this economy -- and it will buy you at least a week of guiltless procrastination.

* Send it to nine or ten writer friends to get their feedback. Give them at least three weeks to respond. Don't give them a deadline and for god's sakes, don't remind them.

* Work on everything else you can think of besides queries. Billing. Updating your website. Record keeping. Defragging your hard drive.

* Instead of querying, read a lot of message boards about how to write better queries.

Follow all of the above and you will find yourself in the same position I am today: completely out of paying work with nothing on the horizon. Since I started freelancing full-time in July, I've written exactly 13 queries. That's an average of one every 2 weeks. And seriously, this is something that takes maybe half a day to research and write well.

No more! If you'll glance to the right at the newly installed "Productivity Meter" you'll see that I'm planning to send out 31 new queries in the month of January -- one a day. If I can pull it off, I will have increased my productivity by, oh, 1400 percent. If I sell any of them, I'll put up another ticker to show that.

So now I have to figure out what to write about. My idea list is not terribly rich at the moment. But these are REAL IDEAS so please promise you won't steal them:

* Why smart women fall for scams
* Why smart men fall for scams
* Why smart retirees fall for scams
* Pink guns for girls
* Durians (you knew it)
* How to survive a tsunami
* How to survive a riot
* How to hike without getting a scabby nose (Does anyone else have this problem?)
* How drinking LESS water can make you healthier (Ha!)
* Profiles of people who have been hit by lightning
* Adventures in pet sitting (can interview roommate)
* Adventures in painting outdoors in the dark (friend who was attacked by elk and fire ants)
* Adventures in glass blowing (with sidebar on how to superglue your wounds shut)
* 27 ways to poop in the woods (remember the digger is not a putter)
* Should you let your daughter play Roller Derby? (YES!)
* Is your cat the damaged product of a dysfunctional family?
* Profile of a woman who tried to do the Eat, Pray, Love thing and it went terribly wrong (know one?)
* How to race an endurance event with a partner and NOT end up in a pool of blood

That's only 18 -- insufficient. Anyone else have an idea? Or an 8-12 year-old kid I can feed a durian to?


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