Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Query or Not to Query?

Recently a fellow freelancer asked me about my querying process, or in non-freelancing terms, how many times I'd pitched article ideas to various publications and what the responses had been. I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't give him a straight answer. The truth is, the very idea of querying freaks me out. A lot. So much that I've avoided the process entirely until now. 

You see, even though I've had dozens of clips published in local newspapers and magazines over the years, I've never actually tried to query an editor before. I was fortunate in that all of those gigs came to me through networking of some kind. However, since we are still very much in a recession, I can't afford to overlook any sources of potential income, especially ones as well-paying as magazines can be. Therefore, off to the Google search box I went, where phrases like "how to write article query" and "how to pitch article ideas" became my new BFFs.

My research revealed a couple of interesting gems I'd like to share. First, there seems to be substantial debate in the freelance community as to the value of submitting queries in general. Some argue that pitching article ideas is an essential and potentially highly profitable aspect of building and maintaining your business. Others, including some very well-known freelancers, suggest that you can develop a lucrative career without ever having to query at all. At the end of the day, when you're presented with such strong arguments on both sides, what's a newly-minted freelancer to do?

For me, the answer came from a third freelancer's post that I stumbled upon yesterday morning. I'd heard about the value of submitting to trade publications before, but never in such clear detail. Reading about this largely untapped market gave me the extra dose of courage I needed. It was as if a missing puzzle piece finally clicked into place inside of my brain. 

I realized that the marketing experience I had obtained from working in a real estate office for two years translated perfectly to pitching magazines in that industry. Of course I could leverage my expertise there! I already knew the audience, understood their wants and needs and motivations. I already knew what my potential editors would want. Half of the work of my queries was practically done for me! Why hadn't I seen it before?

In the end, my little dilemma taught me two important lessons about freelance writing. First, every writer must forge his or her own path; no two are the same, and what works for one person may prove utterly torturous for another. And second, sometimes the simplest solution to a problem is the best, and is often the one staring you in the face the entire time.

Q&A for the Day: When it comes to article writing, are you a query warrior, or a query-free freelancer? How did you decide whether or not to pitch your favorite publications, and what were the results of your choice?


  1. hmmm... I'm tempted to act like mom and say something like every writer needs to learn to query... but the truth is I no longer do it much. Clients come to me through the web, etc.

    But I would suggest when the fear hits it might be worth it to try and push through. After all, they aren't going to shoot you.

  2. Hi, Anne! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. I've learned so much from you about this business.

    And you're so right about the need to push through fear. It's not the rejection that scares me so much as the potential for wasted effort. I'd hate to spend multiple days composing and sending out queries only to have nothing come of them.

    Still, you never know what's possible unless you try, right? I'll give it a shot and see what happens. Wish me luck! Thanks again for commenting :)