Occasionally I consult with freelance writers who want to take their career to the next level or would-be authors who need help moving from idea to published book. With the former, I always emphasize the importance of a compelling ISG, or I'm-So-Great, paragraph in their queries. Yet many writers overlook this essential query element or fail to write the best ISG they can.
A strong query includes the following four parts:
• The lead. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote. Its purpose is to capture the editor's attention and make her want to keep reading.
• The "why-write-it" paragraph. This paragraph (or two, if you have a particularly detailed query) fleshes out the idea, demonstrating why the readers of the magazine will be interested in the topic.
• The "nuts-and-bolts" paragraph. This is where you describe the finished piece. How long will it be? What type of sources (i.e., experts or "real people") do you plan to interview? What section of the publication will the story fit in? What's the working title?
• And finally, the ISG. In your ISG, you highlight your relevant qualifications, including your writing experience and background with the subject matter. If you already have a slew of clips, your ISG will probably focus on your list of credentials. If you're a new writer, though, you want to focus on you do have to offer--your connection with the topic you want to write about.
So, one of my current consulting clients is a freelancer who also happens to be a military spouse and mom. She used that unique background to pitch a story on how people can support the families of military personnel during the holidays to a market that's new to her.
Her query sold, and now she has an "in" with a new market. As she gains experience, she won't have to pitch stories she has experience with--she'll have proven that she can research and write about anything. Starting out, however, she should focus on what she has to offer to get her foot in the door.
Get the idea? When you lack clips, play up what you do have--namely, some kind of personal experience with or knowledge of the topic you're pitching. If you're pitching a major market where competition is fierce, I suggest you use the same strategy. The more you can set yourself apart from other writers--and have the editor ID you as the writer for the assignment.
**New to the freelance biz? Pitch, sell, research and write your first article by following the simple 10-step process in my popular e-book, Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article. For a broader, comprehensive look at successful freelancing, check out Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writer's Digest, 2012).