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Monday, September 20, 2010

The 10-Question Query Checklist

When I first started freelancing, I wrote about anything and everything. I came up with ideas, scouted for potential markets, wrote queries, and got a few assignments here and there. I pitched as many ideas to as many markets as I could, but this "saturation bombing technique" wasn't very effective. At one point, I had 54 queries circulating...yet few sold.

Here's the thing: yes, marketing is a numbers game, and you need to pitch yourself and your work to get assignments. But your queries have to be compelling, well-written, and well-researched. Otherwise you're wasting your time--and the editor's as well.

Before you hit "send" to email your query, ask yourself these ten questions:

* Have you spelled the editor's name correctly?
* Are you pitching the correct editor at the market--the one who should receive this query?
* Is your lead (the first paragraph or two of your query) an attention-getter? In other words, will it inspire the editor to keep reading?
* Have you included enough information about the article idea to convince the editor that it will interest her readers? (In other words, have you answered the question, "why will readers care?")
* Have you given the editor a road map of how you'll proceed with the piece, such as including the names of potential sources, the format of the story, and word count?
* Have you demonstrated your knowledge of the market (such as by suggesting the appropriate section of the magazine for the story)?
* Have you demonstrated that you're qualified to write the piece, by highlighting your experience with or knowledge of the subject matter?
* Have you included a brief description of your writing experience to date?
* Is your query free of spelling and grammatical errors?
* Have you included your contact information with the query?

After you've answered "yes" to these questions, then hit send. This ten-part query checklist will help ensure that every query you send has a better chance of turning into an assignment--which is what a query's purpose is, after all.

Want to see more sample queries that worked? Check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, second edition, or Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money; each is loaded with queries that sold.