Freelance Writing Advice

How-to Write A Query For Contributing To Online Publications

Why Write a Query? 

Queries ease the job of editors and writers alike. It takes much less time to read a short query than it would to thoroughly read a 2-3 page article. This makes it easier for the editor to quantify your skills and get back to you promptly. Waiting can be a pain, especially when you have dozens of open pitches out there. Waiting is even worse when you find that after 2 weeks, a publication has decided not to accept your pitch and now you must rewrite the entire thing and submit it elsewhere. Queries expedite this process for both the writer and the editor.

The goal of your query is to persuade the writer into believing that you are capable of writing coherently while effectively telling a story or speaking on a topic. Of course, they are also looking for signs of poor grammar and spelling, as these signs scream don’t hire this guy. They are also looking at professionalism and whether you have the right credentials to produce content for their pub.

Writing a query can also have surprising other surprising results. If your query is compelling and your credentials are impressive, editors may even offer you unexpected assignments. Also, if they don’t accept your article they may be inclined to give you valuable feedback and advice on why they chose not to. Learning from editors and colleagues is a key component in growing your career as a writer for hire

Ideal Components of Your Query

There are several key components to writing the perfect pitch/query.

  1. Hook
  2. Pitch
  3. Body
  4. Credentials
  5. Close

The Hook

The hook, like in any offer, is the attention grabber. Proof that you understand the market and have the ability to produce effective content will go a long way.

There are several valid hooks that you can implement in your queries, including:

  • The problem/solution hook – Using this hook, the writer should aim to define a real solution to a common issue that the publication’s audience is likely to face. The goal of your article will be to solve that problem, make this clear in your proposal.
  • The informative hook – Obtain and explain a few lines of useful information that ties into the pubs general audience.
  • The question – Draw the editor in by posing an enticing question. The question should essentially be an informative statement reconstructed in question form. (Did you know…?)
  • Personal experience/anecdote – In instances where the market you are approaching uses personal articles, it may be helpful to take a personal approach. First-person accounts may work well to establish your credential or experience, depending on the context.
  • The real attention grabber – The objective, as the title states—is to get the reader’s attention. You shouldn’t resort to full caps or abusing bold font, but an interesting snippet or unexpected statement can easily win over editors who were excited by them.

There are also some hooks that should be avoided at all costs:

  • Personal introductions – Hi, I’m Steven. Blah blah blah, the editor already deleted this email.
  • The brown nose – Show that you enjoy their content, but don’t overdo it.
  • The crybaby – Editors might care for a second that you can’t afford to eat if you don’t get this gig, but as they motion to delete your email the pain will quickly fade. Don’t attempt to employ pity as a means of securing work.
  • I’m the best – Actions speak louder than words. Don’t tell the editor you are great, show them you are great through a compelling query.
  • I’m actually not worth your money – By mentioning that you have never been published before, you are shooting yourself right in the foot. Don’t announce that you aren’t experienced. Act like a professional and BE confident.

The Pitch

If the hook did its job right, you should have the editor’s attention. From here you move forward to the pitch. This step is intended to clearly state your offer. This should include a tentative title and limited summary of the article you intend to write.

The Body

The body is the portion of your query where you must switch hats, transitioning from writer to salesperson. Editors expect to have a specific idea of what your article will cover once they have finished reading your query. The objective here is to provide a general overview of what the finished product will look like.

To do so, you can list some examples of subtopics and headers. Utilize bullet points and white space to keep your query looking attractive and readable.

The Credentials

Earlier I mentioned not clearly stating that you are the best. This is a job best delegated to your credentials, as they clearly define what you are capable of as a writer. Credentials aren’t limited to previously published clips, editors also like to see:

  • Previous professional experience
  • Degrees or other certifications
  • Experience teaching a relevant subject
  • Relevant personal experiences
  • Overall writing experience
  • Interviews you have conducted in the past. This is important, because editors would like to know if you will be able to fill your gap of knowledge with the knowledge of 3rd parties.

The Close

Your final paragraph should briefly thank the editor for even reviewing your query. Not all writers are lucky enough to have actual eyes on their query, therefore this part is important. Offering an expected turnaround time for the article can go a long way in convincing the editor to respond to you.

Follow-up

From my past business experiences, I’ve learned that consistent follow-up is key in getting most clients to move forward. After the time period listed in the guidelines has passed, give a grace period of 1-2 weeks then hit them with a feeler question. Attach your original query and be polite. If you still hear nothing back, consider a phone call or withdraw your query.
Submitting a query can be nerve wracking. Staying patient when editors take weeks to respond (and they will) will make all of the difference between an overtly stressful freelance writing experience or one that is satisfying.

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