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Monday, December 20, 2010

The ISG: The New Freelancer's Secret Weapon

I've posted before about the benefits of specializing. I want to highlight a topic I've written about before because new freelancers often overlook the importance of the ISG, or what I call the "I'm-so-great" paragraph.

As a freelancer, you're competing against a slew of other writers, both new and experienced. If you're short on clips, I suggest you set yourself apart by pitching stories you're "uniquely qualified" to write. (This strategy works for experienced writers who are pitching hard-to-crack markets, too.) Then highlight your unique qualifications with a query that includes these four parts:

• The lead. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote--but regardless of what it is, it should catch the editor's attention.

• 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. If the readers will care, your editor will care, too.

• The "nuts-and-bolts" paragraph. Here you provide details about how you'll approach the story. How long will the piece be? What types of sources will you contact? Will it have sidebars, and if so, how many? What section of the magazine 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.

ISGs work, even for new writers. Here are a few examples of how I used ISGs early in my freelance career; each one led to my first assignment with that market:

• When I pitched a story on a hidden dating treasure (also known as "shy guys"), I made sure to mention that I'm an extrovert who fell in love with and married a shy guy. ("10 Reasons to Date a Shy Guy," Complete Woman, October/November, 1997.)

• I pitched a true-life feature about a young woman's struggle with a serious, debilitating yet undiagnosed medical problem to a number of women's magazines. In my ISG, I confirmed that I'd spoken with the woman and had her permission to write her story. ("An Answer at Last," Woman's World, April 7, 1998.)

• When I queried a bridal magazine with a story idea on the importance of communicating about money, I included an anecdotal lead about a money argument between newlyweds. In my ISG, I revealed that the couple was me and my newlywed husband. ("A Match Made in Financial Heaven," Bridal Guide, March/April, 1998.)

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. Write an ISG to convince the editor that you're the perfect fit for the assignment and you're halfway to getting it.


  1. I'll definitely be sending my students to this post -- they often ask about what to put in their creds paragraph if they have no clips, and I always tell them about your ISG concept (giving you credit, of course!). I also tell them to let the editor know what they CAN do, not what they CAN'T -- in other words, don't apologize for a lack of experience or clips, but instead tell the editor what you bring to the table (and there's always something!).

  2. Thanks, Linda! I think the ISG is definitely something new freelancers overlook, so thanks for spreading the word! :)

  3. Great tip, Kelly. I'm always hesitant to include personal information, but often times, it's the personal stuff that makes you the most qualified. Thanks for sharing!