Here’s my emergency system for sending 25 queries a week when work has dried up, freelancing has lost its sparkle, and I need assignments NOW.
A couple of years ago, I told my newsletter readers how I’d sent 25 queries in a week and received half a dozen assignments as a result of that. This is something I do occasionally when I’m low on work and high on motivation, and it helps me bring in work that might keep me busy and happy for weeks, sometimes months.
The response I received to that blog post was amazing. Many of you wrote to me to say that you thought sending 25 queries a week was incredible and wanted to know how I did it. And of course, you know me, I have a system.
So, in this post, I’ll share with you my system for writing and sending 25 queries a week. But first, a few caveats:
- Writing 25 queries (for 25 separate ideas) in a week is hard! Please don’t think I do this every week because I don’t and I can’t. I don’t pitch nearly as much as I did in my first five years as a freelancer.
- I know I’ve said it’s a numbers game, but please know that I’m working on the assumption that you’re writing good, solid, saleable pitches. If you’re working with stale ideas and cliché sentences, then sending them to the wrong editors at the wrong publications, 25 queries a week means diddly squat. I’m not saying my pitches are all great—of course they’re not—but I do try to make sure I’m reaching the right editors and sending them ideas that actually fit their requirements.
- Don’t take shortcuts. Quantity is important, but without quality, it’s all moot. Sending out 5 incredible query letters is a better choice than sending out 20 below-average ones.
Okay, so how do you actually reach these numbers without going insane?
I work in phases, doing all the grunt work up front, which then leaves me with the time and space for the creativity to flow and be fast in the actual writing. I like to work in batches, but you might find that doing them one at a time works better for your personality and goals.
Step 1: Find the markets
This, for me, is an ongoing task. I have a folder in my email program called “Markets.” Every time I hear of a new market from a friend or read about one in a writing newsletter, I make a note of it and chuck it into this folder. Then, a day, a week, a year from now when I’m looking for new markets to pitch, I have at least some info to go on. I currently have 300 markets sitting in that folder.
Sending 25 queries a week is entirely possible, but not if you’re starting from scratch. Consistent pitching requires constantly making note of new potential markets.
Step 2: Find the ideas
Again, this is something that’s ongoing. Also in my email program, I have a folder called “Ideas” and as I find stories, hear about them, read about them in the newspaper, etc, I’ll make a note of them and chuck them in that folder. Sometimes I might think that idea works for a particular magazine or style of publication (parenting mags/websites) and I’ll jot that down as well so that I don’t forget. These ideas take seconds to make a note of, and can save hours of research.
Step 3: Mix and match
I open up a Word document and start working publication by publication. Let’s say I want to pitch a story to my editor at Elle magazine. I’ll look through my ideas file and see if there’s anything there that might interest her. If so, I’ll write “Elle–fabulous idea” in my newly opened word file.
Because I already have a relationship with this magazine, I don’t need to hunt down the name of the editor or look through archives to see if my idea fits. If I’m not familiar with a publication, this step can take a while. I’ll read through back issues if I have them, read through the publication’s website, look through our How to Pitch page, find out who is editing what section and basically do all the grunt work to make sure this idea is a perfect fit for this magazine. Since I might have made a note of this market months ago, I check that my contact information is current.
If I don’t have an idea at the ready, this is the point at which I’ll brainstorm. This is obviously the most time-consuming process, but it’s also pretty fun. One by one, I’ll match the publication to the idea. I came up with about 40 the last time around. A single brainstorming session can set you up for 25 queries a week.
Step 4: Write the pitches
Since I have researched the ideas and am now familiar with each publication’s style, the pitches themselves don’t take too long to write. This is also the creative part of the work and, for me, it makes sense to do it all together while I’m in a creative headspace. I’ve done all the research and data collection already, so now it’s simply about putting it together in an email that sings. I’ll sometimes spend more time on this step than I strictly need to because I know that by making my pitch sing, not only will it have a better chance of selling, but that it will make it easier for me to write the article as well.
Step 5: Hit send
And again. And again. 25 times.
I know this sounds simple, and it is. What it’s not is fast. Writing 25 pitches will take time, no matter how fast a writer you are, and I would certainly not recommend rushing through the process in order to hit a pitching target. Coming up with ideas and brainstorming angles is typically the most time-consuming part of the process for me. The good news, however, is that the longer you’ve been freelancing, the easier all of this will get.
As I mentioned, I don’t do this every week, or even every month. I’ll go for the 25 queries in a week strategy when I’m low on work and need to bring in assignments quickly. By spending an entire week doing nothing but pitching, I raise the odds of bringing in new work substantially. And when I’ve used this strategy in the past, I’ve ended up with assignments that have kept me busy for months at a time.
Of course, for any of this to work, your queries have to be stellar. And teaching writers how to make them so is something I’m exceptional at. Read about my process of writing query letters that sell and how I’ve helped almost 1,000 writers break into top publications, including The New York Times, TIME, National Geographic, Wired, Smithsonian, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and more.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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