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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hate Query Letters? Five Reaons to Write Them

Novice freelancers often despair over queries, and I understand why. It can take a lot of time and work to pitch an idea that may ultimately be rejected, but a well-crafted query increases your odds of getting an assignment, especially with a market that’s new to you. But there are other advantages to querying as well:

• It focuses your idea as you come up with the appropriate angle for the story. As you flesh out your query, you may come up with other approaches you hadn’t considered—which can lead to reslanting possibilities where you query other markets with different approaches to the subject, maximizing your time.

• It forces you to do background research—unless you’re pitching a subject you’re already well-versed in. What's that? You’re not thrilled about the idea of having to do research before you even sell the idea? Well, consider that that research lets write a better query—and talk intelligently about the topic when an editor calls you. And once again, thorough research is also likely to lead to other possible story ideas.

• It gets some of the writing out of the way. Often, the lead to your query winds up as the lead to your story. As you work on the query, you’re envisioning the piece in your mind—including what structure it will take and who you plan to interview. When you get the assignment, you’re not starting from scratch. A lot of the work is already in the bag.

• It improves your writing. Most freelancers start out with vague, poorly focused queries. As you write more queries, though, your skills improve, and that bleeds over into the articles you write as well.

After 14+ years of fulltime freelancing, I no longer dread queries. Instead, I look at each one as an opportunity to focus my idea and clarify my approach to the topic. If the editor wants something different, I’m happy to comply, but if she assigns the piece, I’ve already accomplished much of the background work for the story. And most of the time, one of the trickiest parts of the article—the lead—is already written!

Approach each query not just as a sales opportunity, but a way to maximize your time, clarify your approach, and improve your writing skills. Over time, pitching ideas can do all of those things and more. And remember I have dozens of query samples in each of my books on successful freelancing, Ready, Aim, Specialize! and Six-Figure Freelancing.