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Friday, March 22, 2013

The Sell-your-First-Article Series: Steps 2 Through 5

Last post, I introduced the 14-step process to pitching, selling, researching, and writing an article--whether it's your first or your fortieth. Step 1 is coming up with an idea for an article--and if you read this blog, you already know that I always suggest you pitch something you're uniquely qualified to write. 

What comes after the idea? Finding an appropriate market for it. So let's move on to step 2: 

Step 2: Choose the market.
Idea in hand, I had to figure out where I could sell the story. In this case, I decided Fitness, a market aimed at fitness-conscious women in their 20s and 30s, would be a perfect fit, so I pitched it there first. In chapter 2, you learned about the different types of markets and how to locate potential ones.

I like to start with my “first choice” market (usually the market that pays the most, or that I’ve written for before), but I keep a list of other possible markets in the event my first choice says no. If that happens, I move on and resub the query to another market.

It’s easier than ever before to analyze a potential market; most print and online magazines now have their writers’ guidelines posted online. This is no substitute for actually reading the publication you hope to write for, however.

Review your target market with a critical eye. What subjects does it cover? What types of articles (i.e., features, profiles, service, and short pieces) does it include? How long are the articles? How many articles does a typical issue feature? Do the pieces rely on a lot of expert voices, “real” people (think anecdotal sources), or a combination of both? What kind of “tone,” or voice, does the market have?

Look at the ads, too; they will tell you more about the readers of both print and online publications. The more you know about the market, the more likely you are to pitch an idea that an editor will want to assign.

Step 3: Write a query.
Next up, the query letter. We talked about query letters in chapter 3. Remember that you want to capture the editor’s attention; explain why her readers will be interested; describe how you plan to approach the story; and demonstrate that you’re “uniquely qualified” (yup, there’s that phrase again!) to write the piece.

Here’s the query I wrote. It’s relatively short and simple; my comments appear in brackets:

Dear Heather [I’d written for her before; otherwise I’d refer to her as Ms. or Mr. Last Name]:

You say your best friend can eat anything without gaining weight? Maybe it’s because she can’t sit still. [Brief but attention-getting lead.]

A recently published study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that fidgeting may not just get your through a boring meeting—it may help you maintain a whittled waist, too. Sixteen volunteers were fed an extra 1,000 calories a day for eight weeks. While all of the volunteers gained weight, participants burned off about half of those calories each day due to increased non-exercise activity thermogenesis (“NEAT”)—things like fidgeting and changing position. Yet some participants burned a lot more calories through NEAT than others, which means that fidgeting may actually help you lose weight. [Because I’m pitching such a short piece, I’m keeping the query itself short as well.]

Interested in a short piece about this new research for “Fit Buzz?” I’ll interview one of the study researchers for this informative piece, which will be about 200 words. [I’ve suggested the section of the magazine I think this story will fit in. This also lets the editor know I’m familiar with her publication. And I suggested a length of 200 words because the guidelines said the section uses pieces up to 200 words. I suggest you always include possible word count as another way of demonstrating market familiarity.]

As you know, I’m a freelance writer who’s written for Fitness before, and believe your readers will enjoy this piece. Please let me know if you have any questions about the story. [I had a relationship with this editor already so my ISG doesn’t have to be that strong. If not, I would have written the best ISG I could, mentioning my long-time interest in fitness and nutrition, for example. The very fact that I came up with this idea on my own makes me somewhat uniquely qualified, too. At least I think so!]

Thank you very much for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Very truly yours,
Kelly James-Enger

If I hadn’t worked with Heather before, I would have confirmed the name of the editor who was in charge of the “Fit Buzz” section by calling Fitness and asking for her name and email address. (Today, you may be able to find this information from the publication’s Website. Otherwise, call or email to make sure that you’re contacting the appropriate person.) Then I proofread the query, and emailed it.

Step 4: Get the assignment.
In this case, I didn’t need to send a follow-up email. Just two weeks later, the editor called to assign the piece. She asked me to keep it to 150 words, and we agreed on a rate of $1.50/word for the story. I’d written for Fitness before, so I was familiar with the magazine’s multi-page contract. Otherwise, I would have wanted to read the contract and make sure I was comfortable with its terms before proceeding. 

**In the next post, we'll talk about how to start researching this short piece. In the meantime, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, from which this post is drawn, in now in print. (Prefer the Kindle edition?)

If you're interested in writing articles, be sure to sign up for next week's Write Now! Mastermind class. Rochelle Melander will be  interviewing me for How To Pitch And Sell Articles To A Variety Of Freelance Markets. The call is free, but you need to sign up at I hope to "see" you on the call! :)