Every time I’ve had a row of bad months, they’ve followed a busy period in which I’ve neglected my marketing.
Let’s talk about why pitching matters and how to not give up, even when things get rough, in this excerpt from 30 Days, 30 Queries.
Why Not Giving Up Matters
1. Pitching is a numbers game
The more you do it, the more you will reap the rewards of it. Every time I’ve had a row of two or three difficult months, I’ve realized they’ve followed a busy period in which I’ve neglected my marketing. And each time I’ve realized that, I’ve committed myself to 40+ hours a week of it.
Do you want to know how not to give up? Be consistent.
When writers say freelancing is a numbers game, we’re not saying send three pitches and go relax. Those are not the numbers that will get you results, not anymore. But pitch every single day and the results are almost guaranteed.
Your pitches have to be fantastic and your letters of introduction head and shoulders above the rest of your competition, but once you’ve got those sorted, the only way to grow your freelance business is to put your work out there in front of as many people as you can. And not give up.
2. The only way to do something is to do it
Researching story ideas is not pitching. Finding out who edits what section of a magazine is not pitching. Adding two dozen people on LinkedIn and wading through their list of contacts? Not pitching.
You know what counts as pitching? Hitting send on a pitch.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You need to do all those things. You need to know who to query, what the magazine publishes, and how Richard Branson stays so productive. But many freelancers fall into the trap of constantly researching, constantly interacting with editors on Twitter, constantly reading magazines for story ideas, but never actually sending a pitch.
Don’t be the writer who squirrels away information for later. When you come across a market you find interesting, send them a pitch or letter of introduction. Immediately.
Forcing yourself into action is one of the best ways to not give up.
3. Sending 30 pitches in 30 days gives you consistency
Freelancing is a numbers game, and in order to hit those numbers, you need to be consistent. Sending a query a day is a fantastic way to take deliberate action to build that habit and that consistency.
Without it, you’ll learn the hard way what I have in over a decade of trial and error: Every time you neglect your marketing, you’ll notice a dip in your business.
Do it every day consistently for a year and I can promise you, you’ll have shaved years off your learning curve just like that. As a bonus, it gives you confidence. You stop fearing the process and just get down and do it.
(I’ve taught thousands of writers how to send 30 queries in 30 days and land assignments with top publications, including The New York Times, TIME, National Geographic, Wired, and many more. Get more details here.)
4. It builds the foundation for the rest of your career
When you send out 30 queries in a single month and get over the fear, this sets you up for the future because now you’re operating on an entirely different level. You have a system and you have clarity. Instead of obsessing about what to do, you come to your computer at a designated time of day or week and just get to work. You identify your weak points strategically and you figure out the ways to overcome them.
Once you’ve mastered the actual process of sending the queries, you move up to the next level, which is to optimize the results you get from them. But you can’t get there until you’ve first learned to be comfortable with sending.
What To Do When You Feel Like Giving Up
1. Getting started is more important than getting it right
We’re writers, so there’s no point talking to us about abandoning perfectionism. We’ll just ignore you. I say get it perfect. Send the best damn query letter you can to whoever will read it. But you can’t do that if you don’t take the first step of writing that first word and that first sentence.
Getting started is important because to work with the kinds of numbers that actually get results, you can’t afford to procrastinate on every word, worry about every single step of the process. Don’t want to give up during the difficult middle? Start. And finish.
2. Know that you can restart any time
One of the most inspiring things I heard was from a former Yo-Yo dieter who had lost 20 lbs. and kept it off. His advice was simple: You are going to binge, so accept that. But also know that you must recover immediately. Don’t wait until next Monday. Start again now.
You won’t always hit your goals in marketing. Once the work comes in and you get busy, finding new clients takes a backseat, as it should. But most of us don’t just chuck our marketing in the backseat, we throw the damn thing out of the car altogether.
If you have done this, try not to in the future. You’ll lose sight of the marketing every now and again, but you’ll be okay if you can recover quickly.
3. Keep it simple
The one thing that continues to trip writers up repeatedly is that they overcomplicate things.
The questions I receive in my Inbox regularly from readers of The Wordling include versions of “Does an LOI count as a pitch?” “Should I address the editor by full name or first name?” “Is it Ms or Ms.?”
My answer: It doesn’t matter! And it’s not important.
If an editor falls in love with your idea, she’ll buy it regardless of whether you addressed her by her full name or her first name. If she doesn’t like your idea, it doesn’t matter that you deliberated over how to address her, she won’t give you an assignment.
I understand the need to ask these questions. Human beings, when faced with big, fearsome tasks, focus on the tiny aspects we feel we can control. And therefore, instead of spending time on crafting our pitches, we find it easier to worry about the correct way in which to address an editor. This, unfortunately, is one reason writers end up overwhelmed and feel like giving up. If you feel you have no answers, it’s hard to move forward. My advice? Keep it simple. Trust your gut. And don’t obsess over minor details.
4. Watch someone do something impossible
Inspiration is a funny thing and you never know where you’ll find it. I restarted my novel after watching bikers fly their motorcycles through rings of fire. No similarity, but there you go.
When I feel like quitting, I often read a memoir or something that gives me renewed hope. I also try to find stories of people who have done what I’m aiming to do.
In order to learn how not to give up, how about simply reading biographies of people who learnt how not to give up?
5. Focus on the action, not the results
The reason most people feel like quitting midway on anything is because they don’t see results quickly enough. But the results will never be completely in your control. All you can do is concentrate on action and do enough of it to make a difference.
When I was a new writer, I didn’t have a lot of (okay, any) work, so I sent out five query letters a day. That’s right, five a day. They didn’t have to be perfect, they didn’t have to get results, but they needed to go out. Five times a day, five days a week. By the time I got to the point in my career where I needed to feed my family or focus on the results of those queries, I was already a pro at sending them out quickly and efficiently and by the dozens. It no longer fazed me.
Because I conquered volume of pitching as the first step in my career, I could focus on other things as I moved forward. This was only possible because I had first conquered the base of the mountain and made myself comfortable with the first step. In my initial years, I felt a lot of overwhelm and general suckitude that comes with querying, as well as massive feelings of worthlessness every time I received a rejection (or even a critique of my idea from fellow writers). But I focused on getting the pitches out every single day. That’s what you need to be doing. Look at the results of your efforts, of course, but as a separate issue. Don’t combine them with the action of sending out (at least) a pitch a day.
6. Make sure that quitting is not an option
I became the sole wage earner of my family a couple of years ago. Suddenly, it was obvious that if I wanted to keep our bills paid, I needed to bring in a certain amount of money each month.
Earlier this year, I started my very own six-figure challenge, which means that in order to meet my target at the end of the year, I need to bring in $2,000 worth of work or assignments every week. To do this, not only do I need to market, but I need to market efficiently and strategically in ways I’ve never thought of before. And this is because, as far as I’m concerned, quitting is simply not an option.
Whenever I feel like quitting or I tell all this hard work is simply not worth it, I remember my core motivations and remember that quitting would come with a bigger price than I’m wiling to pay, and just doing the work seems so much easier in comparison.
What is your story? Do you need to quit your job and replace it with freelancing income? Do you need to earn more so you can buy a house or save for your wedding? Do you need your freelancing career to take off simply so you can feel pride in what you do? What is it that makes quitting not an option for you?
Remember that and keep moving forward.
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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