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 wrote a blog post talking about how I’d sent 25 queries in a week and received half a dozen assignments as a result of that. This is something that 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.
I’m going to share with you my barebones system for writing and sending 25 queries a week. 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 query letters. If you’re working with stale ideas and cliché sentences, and sending them to the wrong editors at the wrong publications, 25 queries a week means diddly squat. I’m not saying my queries 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 so that I then have time and space to get creative in the actual writing of the query. Think of it as a factory line. You do tasks in batches.
Step 1: Find the markets
This, for me, is an ongoing thing. I have a folder in the Mail program on my Mac called “Markets” and every time I hear of a new market from a friend or read about it in a writing newsletter, I make a note of it and chuck it into this folder. Then, a day, a week, a year from then 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 querying requires constantly making note of new potential markets.
Step 2: Find the ideas
Again, this is something that’s ongoing. Also in my Mail 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 jot down 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 idea file and see if there’s anything there that might interest her. If so, I’ll write down “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 or a publication’s website, look through MediaBistro’s How to Pitch guide if there is one, 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 make sure to check that my contact information, etc, is all 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 publication to idea. I came up with about 40 the last time around. A single really good brainstorming session can set you up for 25 queries a week.
Step 4: Write the pitches
Since I have the ideas researched and am familiar with a publication’s style, the queries 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, not having to worry about whether the idea is right or the editor open to pitches, etc. I’ve done all that, now it’s just playing with words.
Step 5: Hit send
And again. And again. 25 times.
That’s my system of sending out queries by the dozen.
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, 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 publisher 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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