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Monday, May 24, 2010

Market like a Maven (or, How to Succeed in your Freelance Biz)

Hopefully my post from earlier today (see below) didn’t scare you. The message? Marketing is critical to any freelancer’s business but it doesn’t pay off until you get paying work. So how exactly do you do that? By marketing efficiently, effectively, and consistently.

If you freelance for magazines, websites, and/or newspapers, the query letter is the most important weapon in your freelancer’s marketing arsenal. Use these 6 techniques to make your queries stand out from the pack:

Capture the editor’s attention. Let me tell you about my first few queries. They sucked! I started most of them with language like, “I am a freelance writer who is interested in writing for your magazine...” Snooze alert! Now I start my queries with a lead—almost always the lead I use for the article itself. You want to intrigue your editor just as your story will intrigue readers.

• Pick up the phone…or at least send an email. Magazine editors come, go, change positions, titles, and responsibilities with alarming speed. Don’t rely on outdated writers' guidelines to tell you who the appropriate editor is—pick up the phone and ask the receptionist for the name (and correct spelling) of the editor you’re looking for. Got “phone phobia?” Then send out an email…but I find calling gets me the info a lot quicker.

• Demonstrate familiarity. Let the editor know you’ve read her publication by saying something like, “Interested in this idea for your ‘Latest News’ [or whatever section/department is appropriate] section?” You’re not just another writer trolling through Writer’s Market for a quick sale—you’ve done your homework, so let him know.

Make it easy for him to say yes. When I pitch a story, I suggest a working title, word count, possible sidebars, and list the types of sources I plan to interview. If he likes my idea, and my angle, all he has to do is pick up the phone and assign the piece. Think like your editor, and offer him a package, not just an idea.

• Strut your stuff. Highlight your relevant writing experience and demonstrate to the editor that you are “uniquely qualified” (keep reading this blog and you'll hear me use that phrase again and again!) to write this article. If you’re pitching a gardening piece and grow award-winning cucumbers, mention that. If you’re writing on social media and have 10,000 followers on Twitter, include that. If your profile subject has agreed to be interviewed for the piece, let the editor know. You want him to read your query and think, “Wow—this writer is the perfect person to do this story!”

• Don’t give up. When you get a rejection (what I call a “bong”) from an editor, follow up immediately (with a day or two) with a new query. Start off saying something like, “thank you for your response (not rejection!) to my query about [fill-in-the-blank.] While I’m sorry you can’t use it at this time, I have another idea for you to consider.” Then include your new query. By doing this, you’ll start developing a relationship with the editor…eventually nail an assignment. Case in point: it took me multiple queries to crack big markets like Woman’s Day, Redbook, Health, and Fitness, so don’t give up. The next query you send may be the one that nets you your first assignment from that magazine...and turns your marketing into actual money.


  1. Thank you for this info...especially the follow-up!

  2. Hi Kelly,
    Your e-mail about your new writing blog couldn't have come to me at a better time. I left freelancing for a "regular" job 5 years ago and now that job will be practically non-existent due to a buy out and restructuring. I've struggled with the idea of returning to freelancing full time but the downturn in the magazine industry has me concerned. Now that I see you're still in the game, I have hope! Thanks for your blog. I will use it as inspiration to keep doing what I love.

  3. I pretty much quit trying to write for magazines years ago because of all the "doom 'n gloom" I was hearing about how many of them had folded, and to be honest, all the free information online made me wonder why I should bother. Now I'm finding that I miss the work, and with a newly retired Husband, would like to get back into it.

    Curious, have the numbers of markets dried up? Are there actually paying markets online?

    Glad to see you back! The blog is great.


  4. Hi, Heidi--I think you're right to be concerned about the downturn in the magazine industry, and that's why I'm continuing to diversify my business. I'm doing a lot more ghostwriting and collaborating on book-length projects now in addition to writing for magazines. Early on (say, first five years) of my career, the majority of my income came from it's a much smaller percentage. And Bobbi, I think there are just as many markets out there as before. They may not be assigning as much as before, but they are there...I'm doing less work for national magazines and more work for custom magazines and regionals in addition to a little bit for trades. Online, I think the money is in blogging. Bloggers like Jane Boursaw have figured out how to make a fulltime living blogging; like anything else, there's a learning curve, but there is money to be made online even now. My $0.02 anyway.