October 20, 2014

The Freelance Writer’s Ultimate Guide to Queries

Freelance Writer

Welcome to the new and improved Urban Muse! I recently switched to WordPress with the help of Joseph at Blog Tweaks and Martyn at Two Hour Blogger. Mr. Muse proposed that very same day (cue the sappy music), so I’m still working out a few bugs and getting caught up after being swept off my feet. In the meantime, I’ve gotten a few questions about querying, so I put together this list of resources.

In all honesty, I haven’t been as aggressive with querying as I used to be. That’s because I have so many reoccurring projects that I don’t need to constantly hunt down new ones. Yes, it’s exciting when you land a new assignment or score a gig with a new client, but reaching that point where you have several steady gigs, editors you work with on a regular business, yes, even clients who come to you with assignments means less hustling and more actual writing.

That said, if you want to write articles for magazines or websites, you’ll generally need a solid idea and a well-crafted query to get your first break. Here are some tips to help you hone your querying skills.

Your turn! What do you think? Are there additional resources you’d add to this list? Do you love or hate querying?

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Craft a Killer Query, Boost Your Income & More

Mr. Muse and I moved this weekend, so things are a little chaotic here on the home front. I have a long list of things to do today (both domestically and professionally), so I’ll leave you with some extra credit reading in my absence:

Dust Off Those Story Ideas

Whether you write short stories, poems or feature articles, you probably have a few ideas that never quite made it into print (or pixels, if you write for the web). Below are some ideas on dusting them off and breathing new life into old ideas.

Change the point of view. Say you pitched an article on vegetarian teens, but none of the teen magazines you could find were interested. Try querying parenting magazines on a similar topic and include tips for parents whose kids want to try vegetarianism. This strategy could also apply to writing fiction: if your story isn’t working, then try changing from the first to the third person (or vice versa).

Change the gender. Maybe your original idea was an article about long-distance relationships for a women’s magazine. Of course, men’s magazines also cover dating and relationships (albeit with a different tone) so that gives you a slew of other potential markets. You could even query them simultaneously with a slightly different slant since they would be non-competing markets.

Change the setting. So your profile about that new solar-powered restaurant (I’m making this up, not sure if that’s even possible yet) didn’t fly with your local newspaper. Consider pitching a longer feature to a national magazine about how small businesses across the country are using solar power. Or maybe target a restaurant trade magazine. Or an environmental magazine.

Your turn! How have you tweaked a query to land a sale? Any other strategies you would add?

Flickr photo courtesy of Here’s Kate

5 Qs with Jeannette Moninger

Today’s interview proves that collaboration and entrepreneurship are still flourishing in the freelance community, despite the recession. Veteran freelancers Jeanette Moninger, Kris Bordessa, and Teri Cettina teamed up to pool their knowledge of parenting pubs and create an ebook showing other writers how to tap into this market.

In my opinion, Cash in on Your Kids: Parenting Queries That Worked is a smart idea for an ebook, because its authors have a wealth of knowledge on the topic and it has a well-defined audience that is hungry for this kind of information. Even though I’m not an aspiring parenting writer, I learned a lot from reading the sample queries. Jeannette was kind enough to share her thoughts on query letters, ebooks, and more…

Urban Muse: Tell us how the three of you came up with the idea for this ebook.
Jeannette:
We interview a lot of moms for the stories we write, and inevitably (maybe 6 times out of 10) moms tell us how they’d like to do what we do. They have great story ideas, but they don’t know much about the magazine or writing business. We’re all about paying it forward and helping out aspiring writers, but it can be time-consuming and repetitive. It was Teri’s idea to capture the advice we’ve been shelling out here and there over the years into a guidebook for people interested in learning more about working as freelance parenting writers. The three of us met in person at a Freelance Success writers’ conference in October 2008, and we hit it off. After that, Teri mentioned the book idea to Kris and me, and it was a definite “Yes! Let’s do this!” A few months later, our e-book, Cash in on Your Kids: Parenting Queries that Worked, was born.

UM: Was it a challenge to collaborate remotely with two other writers on this ebook? How did you divvy up responsibilities?
J:
At first, we hashed out our vision for the book in numerous phone calls. Email just isn’t a good way to bounce ideas back and forth and get feedback. During each call, we came up with an action plan and each of us had our own ‘to-do’ list. Kris and Teri both live on the west coast, but I was in the midwest and on eastern time when the process started, so finding an agreeable time to talk was sometimes a challenge. We gave ourselves deadlines and checked in with one another to see how the work was going. It was motivating to have Kris or Teri send an email saying, “I’m almost done with my section. You’ll have it by the end of the day.” It was the kick in the pants I needed if I’d been putting off doing my part. We agreed it was important to treat the book like any writing assignment. We wouldn’t miss a deadline for an editor, so we did our best not to miss a deadline with one another.

Cash in on Your Kids is truly a collaborative effort with each of us having a say as to what we’d like to see in the book and how we wanted to structure it. Once we had an outline for the book, we each took the sections that interested us the most, making sure the work was evenly divided. And honestly, this isn’t a lengthy book. The main portion of it is our own queries. But even if the book had been 300 pages, we would have used the same process of divvying up the sections and having each of us review them. It just would have taken a little longer to complete.

UM: Your ebook mentions some areas where the queries could have been even stronger (and I give the three of you props for being so honest!). What are some of those points that readers might benefit from?
J:
Study the magazine! If a magazine doesn’t run first-person stories, then don’t use a personal example in your pitch. If stories lead with mom anecdotes, include one in your pitch. If the magazine runs a sidebar or two with its stories, suggest an idea for one. You need to convey that you not only have a clear understanding of the topic you want to write about, but also that you really know the magazine and its readers. With that said, when we were starting out, we sometimes forgot to follow this rule; yet, we still got the assignments. Why? Because our ideas and writing were strong.

UM: For those of us who don’t have kids, is it still worth querying a parenting publication? And if so, are there any strategies we should use to land an assignment?
J:
Absolutely! We know many successful freelance writers who aren’t parents who write for parenting magazines. Editors don’t care if you’ve never changed a diaper. They want to know that you have strong research, interview and writing skills. If you can show them these three things, the assignments will be yours.

UM: Any tips for other writers who are trying to put together and then promote their own ebook?
J:
I think it’s important to treat a project like this as professionally as possible. You don’t want to put out all of the effort to write a book only to have your readers find that it’s peppered with errors. We hired a professional editor to triple-check our final draft to make sure the three of us hadn’t missed anything. We also hired a graphic designer to create a nicer cover image than we could have come up with on our own.

As far as pulling together the details, we’re writers, not lawyers. But when you’re doing a collaborative project like this, someone needs to take charge of the legal and financial aspects like getting a partnership agreement and processing revenues. It’s best to consult your accountant and a lawyer for advice on how to proceed.

Promoting the book is a little easier for us. We’ve relied a lot on social media and viral marketing—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—to promote the book. Our marketing method is definitely a do-it-yourself plan. You have to get creative when you don’t have a marketing budget.

You can also look into online advertising like Google Adwords, but don’t throw a lot of cash into this kind of advertising, especially at first. One of the perks of learning about online campaigns is that you can use them to judge how viable your online market may be. You can evaluate various online “keywords” (search terms people might use to find your book) and find out how often Google estimates someone will click on them—in other words, how large your market might be. AdWords for Dummies is a book Teri likes for learning about this stuff.

Thanks, Jeannette! For more on this ebook, check out the Cash in on Your Kids website.