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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

An Alternative to Query Letters

Freelance writers need to be businesspeople. No one will look out for you but you. And part of that includes marketing yourself. And part of the marketing process includes query letters -- or in my case, the lack thereof. A common obstacle freelancers face, and one I struggle with, is those dang query letters.

What if I have a dynamite idea for an article or feature and I know in which publications it would fit perfectly, but I'm not sure how to convince an editor to buy it? The answer? A query letter, of course. When I first started pursuing writing as a career, I was convinced that the only way to publication glory was to craft perfectly compelling and convincing query letters that sell my ideas. You know ... magic. Sort of like the brisk flourish of a pixie dust-laced scepter. For whatever reason, query letters don't flow from my keyboard like some writers who seem to get the highest paying assignments from the coolest publications by the simple fact that they can easily and quickly compose these publication magnets. For me, it’s usually about as effortless (and fun) as finding a marshmallow on Mt. Everest.

The problem? Publications or Web sites that I absolutely knew I could write for. The style, the tone, the length, everything was up my alley. But if I didn’t have a specific topic to pitch I was out of luck. It was frustrating to say the least. That is until one day I read an article telling me to break those chains of query letters -- I didn’t need them. Instead, the article suggested using an introduction, or marketing, letter or e-mail. It’s a short two- or three-paragraph letter that basically asks if they use freelancers and offers a snapshot of who I am and where I've published. That’s it. Simple brilliance that set me free! Article after article that I read previously repeated the mantra: the one and only way to get your piece published was the (cue the music) query letters. It’s one of those "rules" that I ended up breaking, and I continue to break.

I would venture to say that at least three-quarters of the paying assignments I’ve received over the past couple of years are a direct or indirect result of the intro letters I’ve sent out. I haven’t completely abandoned query letters yet; I do have some article ideas that I’m confident I can sell. I’m just trying to perfect those query letter-writing skills -- while still sending out those intro letters.

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