The Query Process: How to Sell Your Story Ideas to Editors

Photo: Jeroen van Oostrom, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Jeroen van Oostrom, freedigitalphotos.net

In my former life as a city / regional magazine editor, I’d get phone calls at least once a week from eager freelance writers looking to get published.

Most would ask if we were accepting new writers and a few would send links to their online portfolios and writing samples. But that’s about as far as the conversation went.

We almost never accepted newbies into our fold.

This was partly because we were publishing at the beginning of the 2008 recession and our freelance budget was comparatively small. But it also had to do with our interest in taking on new writers during a stressed, busy time. With all we had to do to keep the magazine afloat, my publisher and I were concerned about the time that might need to be spent educating a writer on our editorial voice, the kinds of stories we accepted and the caliber of writing we expected. In short, we just didn’t have a ton of money or time to spend bringing in someone new.

Freelancers face an uphill battle. As independent contractors, we are unknowns.

New prospects are unfamiliar with our work, our processes and our editability. Editors may not need our services or be willing to shell out good money to find out how valuable we could end up being in the long run. They have no idea how we compare to the rest of our market (the quality of freelance writing, like every other consumer good or service out there, varies widely).

That’s why it’s important for us to fill in the gaps.

Shopping story ideas to media outlets is a sales process. And most of us are writers, not salespeople. This was one of the most important facts I learned as a new freelancer. And while I had plenty of ideas and writing chops, I had to educate myself on how to pursue, network with, and eventually acquire new clients in order to get those ideas published.

I found some great resources along the way that helped me piece together my current query plan, and I’d like to share that plan, and those resources, with you in the next few posts.

Here are the topics I’m going to cover:

1. Identifying your prospects.

2. How to approach a new editor.

2. Deciding on appropriate (and exciting!) story ideas.

3. Writing a great query letter (and where to find examples of query letters that resulted in jobs).

4. How to follow up with a perspective client without putting her off.

5. What to do when you land the gig.

6. Common pitfalls and challenges.

I’ll tackle one of these topics per week for the next six weeks. In the meantime, I want to share one of the most valuable books on freelancing I’ve ever read: The Wealthy Freelancer, by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia. This book absolutely changed the way I view freelancing (it’s a business!) and I modeled my sales process after the one the authors of this book suggest. It was truly a game-changing read. Check out some previous coverage I’ve given to the book here, and please take out a copy today.

How did you develop your querying process? What advice could you offer budding freelance writers? What do you want to know about querying? Drop me a comment!

Crushing On: Herban Essentials Towlettes

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

I haven’t posted much in Work Healthy lately.

It’s not because I haven’t been prioritizing my work and health (I’ve been trying to do both.) Rather, it’s because I’m in transition and I don’t really have a healthy home, let alone office space, to call my own just yet, so the ideas haven’t been flowing as freely as usual.

Right now, my office is wherever I can find some quiet time; usually the local public library. I happen to love the local library. It’s newly renovated, light-filled and gorgeous.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it, like most public work spaces, can get well … germy.

That’s why I’m crushing on Herban Essentials towlettes.

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

They’re made with pure essential oil and therefore smell amazing, and also have antibacterial and antiseptic properties. For wiping down my work space pre- and post-session, my favorites are lemon and orange. They smell fresh and juicy without even a hint of sweetness, so they’re not perfume-y, just clean. And I love the lavender-scented and mint-scented towlettes for a post-lunch pick-me-up (mint) or stress reliever (lavender). I get mine at Whole Foods, but they’re available at a bunch of other locations, too. Locate your nearest retailer here.

Now, they’re pricier than non-natural versions, I’m not gonna lie. But I assure you, they’re so much better smelling and feeling than those strong, medicinal-smelling antibacterial hand wipes and sanitizers.

If the benefits don’t outweigh the cost for you, I get it. Check out this awesome recipe for homemade hand sanitizer at one of my favorite blog spots, DIY Natural. This one uses essential oils as well.

How do you “Work Healthy” away from home? Drop me a comment!

Hey, just a reminder: I don’t do paid endorsements on this blog. If I recommend something, it’s because I’ve used it and I love it. Simple as that.

 

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Get Out of a Writing Rut

Photo: Ponsulak, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Ponsulak, freedigitalphotos.net

Today’s guest post is from Hawaii-based freelance writer Brandi-Ann Uyemura. She specializes in self-help, spirituality, writing and small-business topics. Check out her bio at the end of this post. Thanks so much for contributing, Brandi!

In a writing slump? Go from rut to groove with a few unexpected ways to stir up excitement, enthusiasm and inspiration.

  1. Increase your vocabulary.

    Writing can become mundane even for the writing enthusiast. And when you’re bored, your readers are bored. Mix it up by expanding your vocab list. Check out This site, which teaches words like, “argute,” and “snudge.” You might not use every word you learn in your next manuscript, but the exercise will force you to spend time outside the box.

  2. Read voraciously.

    I’m reading a dozen different things right now, from a fiction book to a decorating magazine. Varying my reading list helps me grow as a writer. The more you read, the more inspired you’ll be to write uniquely.

  3. Return to children’s books.

    I am a children’s-book lover at heart. I still remember grabbing a chocolate bar when devouring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and how my heart leapt from my chest as I read A Wrinkle in Time. Wonder and magic resides in all children’s books. When I’m feeling jaded, I return back to my first love.

  4. Make time to play.

    There’s nothing like overworking to kill the creative muse. I sometimes forget this when I have multiple deadlines vying for my attention. But eventually I’ll burn out. That doesn’t make for a very happy me. I need time for doing the fun stuff. Painting, playing with my son and biking are vital for my writing as well as my health and wellbeing.

  5. Write for fun.

    Sure writing is serious stuff! Clients are relying on you. Your editor is depending on you to produce consistently accurate and entertaining articles. There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions riding on your ability to create and produce. With that being said, if you only write for others, you’ll start to resent putting fingers to your keyboard or pen to paper. Spend a few days a week carving out time to write something just for you; a poem, a handwritten letter, an entry in a journal. Use writing as a healing tool, a chance to reconnect with your deepest desire, a way to write freely without a critic or editor. Do it and your writing as a whole will blossom as a result.

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Brandi-Ann Uyemura has been a columnist for The Writer magazine and Beliefnet. You can find her writing about psychology on Psych Central and her tips for small businesses on Intuit’s Web site. Visit her writing blog at brandi-annuyemura.com.

 

Not sure where to begin? Just get something down.

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Photo: Hyena Realty, freedigitalphotos.net

There’s a magic moment when good lede almost writes itself.

During the course of a great interview, a source will say something amazing, totally quotable and emotionally evocative and … ping! The story begins to unfold. Perhaps the lede comes during a telling exchange between the source and someone he is interacting with. Perhaps that opening sentence comes when you notice something the source does that aligns perfectly with the theme or message of the piece. These moments are amazing for writers because they make starting the story easy. And often, starting the story is the hardest part of writing the whole darn thing.

But what if that moment doesn’t happen?

What if you sit down to write and the beginning of the story just isn’t revealing itself? I’ve been there, and I can tell you there’s no real magic way out of this situation.

 In my experience, the only thing to do is to just sit down and start typing.

Even if it’s gibberish, begin somewhere. Start, maybe, by writing as if you were talking to a friend, and he or she has asked you, “What is this story about?” Stay informal and simply answer the question. Write as if you were chatting, not as if you were beginning a formulaic story. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself this question: “What’s the most interesting thing that occurred in the interview?” Or, “How does the source feel about his or her situation (in life, in work, at home … whatever the story touches on) right now?” Even if you have to turn the main events of your story into choppy sentences stating just the facts to begin, do that.

Do whatever it takes to get something, anything, down.

The idea is to start your fingers moving while, at the same time, wrestling with your story mentally in new ways, until something substantial, rhythmic and, well … right for the piece comes out. Doing this exercise helps you clear the clutter in your brain, gradually whittling the words down until you’re left with what matters most.

Writing is often like exercising: Our minds will try to override our bodies with all kinds of noisy messages about why we can’t do the thing. And the only way to break through the noise is to get up (in the case of exercising) or sit down (in the case of writing) and start something. View writing as an imperfect process and remember: We rarely end up with what we begin with. The point is to start, gather momentum, push through and then keep going.

 

 

Growing Season

Photo: Amenic181, freeditigalphotos.net

Photo: Amenic181, freeditigalphotos.net

We’re back from our South American adventure and man, was it amazing.

I won’t be able to distill my observations on the beauty of each country we visited or the people we met until far in the future. But I’m happy to report that our trip has yielded some great story ideas and this traveler is far from weary. In fact, I’m invigorated.

But as you may be able to tell from the lack of posts since our return, my priorities have been split.

In the last few weeks, my husband has accepted a great job which will move us from the East Coast and Northern Virginia to the West Coast and sunny SoCal. He has criscrossed the country to tie up loose ends and has already made the big drive out West. The dogs and I will stay behind until he can find us a permanent home to move into. Meanwhile, I’ve been dividing my time between catching up on work and working on the transition. Last week alone, I signed and scanned so much moving, storage, mortgage and rent paperwork, the guy at FedEx Office and I have become best buds.

As I write this from Indiana, where friends and family have made gracious homes away from home for us, I can’t help but reflect a bit on the rapid changes that have occurred and what it means for my, and my family’s, pasts and futures. For the last seven years, (the entirety of our marriage thus far), Jason and I have moved from Indiana to Hawaii to Washington, D.C. to Virginia, and finally (or so we think) California. The moves are what changed my career. (I wrote a guest post on how that happened recently.)

The move to Southern California is the first move we’ve made completely by choice.

We contemplated an exhaustive pro and con list before doing so and finally and confidently settled on it. I can continue to pursue this freelance gig from there, and I plan to. So there’s that lucky thing.

A few other things are in the works, too.

I’ve decided to take the writing thing a bit further by applying to doctorate programs in Communications and Journalism. If you read this blog often, you might have caught on to the fact that I’m preoccupied with how our industry is changing and how, in the face of that change, new forms of communication and dwindling sales numbers, we can keep it all moving along. I’d also love to teach a group of new, excited journalists what I’ve learned about how to put a magazine together. Until I put ten years in to actual industry work (and I’m creeping up on that now) I didn’t think I was quite qualified to give back. But now I think I am.

Will California be home forever? Who knows. That’s our intention.

Right now, and for the next three weeks, the dogs and I will continue to enjoy an Indiana summer. And I’ll be off visiting tractor pulls and horse barns for Farm Life magazine right here in my home state.

If there’s one thing travel teaches you, it’s how to, ahem … grow where you’re planted. I’d argue that freelancing teaches the same skill set.

Happy July, everybody. Enjoy the growing season.

 

 

 

Chau, For Now

Photo: Simon Howden, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Simon Howden, freedigitalphotos.net

Hello, friends:

Just a quick post  to let you know that I’ll be stepping away from this blogging business for a few weeks in order to take the trip of a lifetime. That’s a good reason, right?

My husband, Jason, and I are headed to South America tomorrow to do some serious hiking, sightseeing and photographing and I can hardly wait.

The packs have been weighed (multiple times, actually), the pups have been entrusted to our parents, the passports are in order and we’re off!

My head is spinning with last-minute trip details now, but I’m sure that when the mental clutter clears and the vacation mindset truly takes hold, the writing ideas and inspiration will flow in, resulting in tons of new thoughts to share with you upon my return in late May.

So, chau, for now. See you on the other side!