An award-winning journalist for The New York Times and TIME on the lessons she learned from 30 days of querying top publications.
Today, I’m releasing my new book The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Query Letters That Sell. It’s designed to help you send effective query letters and win top-paying assignments. My students over the years have sold work to publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire (US), National Geographic Traveler, Discover, Afar, GlobalPost, Vice.com, xoJane, and CNN Travel.
What have I been teaching them? Here are my 30 top tips from my own 30 days of querying.
1. Don’t waste the subject line. “Query: Catchy Article Title” is the best way to do it.
2. If you’re unsure of the editor’s gender or the pronoun they prefer to use, address your query to “Dear [FirstName Lastname]”. Else Mr. or Ms. is fine.
3. The idea is the most important part of a query letter. A bad idea, no matter how brilliant the writing, just won’t sell.
4. The first sentence of your pitch or query letter is crucial. Take the time to make it sing.
5. Humor is good when querying. Humor makes you stand out and gets their attention immediately, especially for service pieces. Make ‘em laugh.
6. For finding names of editors at publications to pitch, run a search on Twitter or LinkedIn.
7. When you begin to lose confidence in querying, give yourself some “easy wins,” that is, pitch to editors you know will buy from you.
8. For anyone who says quality is more important than quantity, well, DUH. You think?
9. To write successful queries, read successful queries. Here are 9 of mine.
10. Find stories that are under-reported and that a publication’s own writers may not have access to.
11. Don’t save or hang on to your best ideas. Send them out today.
12. An editor is not your boss. Think of them as a client or colleague. They just do a different job. Querying is a negotiation between equals.
13. Don’t email editors trying to convince them they’re wrong to reject your ideas.
14. Simultaneous submissions are fine if you don’t have relationships with editors.
15. Follow up on queries after a week or two. If you still don’t hear back, send your idea elsewhere.
16.Match your story ideas to current events. Timely ideas will always sell quicker than evergreen ones.
17. It’s the age of emails and short attention spans. Don’t write 1,000-word letters. Get to the point.
18. It’s not about getting assignments, it’s about building relationships.
19. Is there an issue, a topic, a concept that you’re passionate about? Talk to a friend about it. Record and transcribe the conversation. That’s the beginning of a pitch.
20. The more obscure crap you read, the more likely you are to come across story ideas no one else has thought of or knows about.
21. They haven’t rejected you as a person. They just didn’t like the idea or execution. Find a new idea, practice your execution. Get better at querying and try again.
22. For every rejected query, do two things: (a) Send out the idea someplace else. (b) Send the rejecting editor another fantastic story idea.
23. Hitting the “New Mail” button repeatedly isn’t going to make that acceptance come any faster. Just saying.
24. Why should an editor hire you over that freelancer with more experience? It’s a difficult question, but you need an answer.
25. Unless you know an editor, it’s a good idea to keep it to one idea per pitch.
26. The correct response to a rejection is “Thank you. I appreciate the time you took to consider my work.” Don’t argue.
27. Don’t be quick to declare a specialty. Try writing different things. Find what you like. Find what you’re good at.
28. Show some personality in your querying. If you like using the word “fuck,” by all means use it.
29. Lion, not sheep. You’re a freelancer. You’re independent. You work for yourself. Stop waiting for permission and find ways to get your work out there.
30. The world does not owe you anything. It is on you to write awesome things that people will love. So go, be awesome.
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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