You have a great idea for an article. Now what?
In freelance writing, a successful query letter starts with a great idea. Fortunately, if you followed the advice of my last article, you’ve got a list of potential article ideas to choose from. So what do you do with that list?
To start, look over the list and choose one idea to develop. I suggest going with the one that pulls at you the most, or that gets you the most excited.
Next, open up your favorite search engine and do a search on your idea. See if it’s already been covered, and if so, by whom. Ask yourself these questions as you search:
- What angles/perspectives have already been written on this topic?
- What fresh angle or perspective can I add to the conversation?
- What knowledge do I have on this subject that hasn’t already been covered?
Use the answers to those questions to craft your hook and write your pitch.
Here’s a quick example: last week, I spent time working up several pitches for one of my existing clients. Among them was a pitch for an article on hydrotherapy for dogs. I’d written on this topic before for another client, but that article was more general. For this pitch, I knew that this client wanted more articles targeting the Sports Enthusiast segment of their audience — that is, dog owners whose dogs are involved in dog shows, agility competitions, and other canine sports. So in my hook, I focused on how hydrotherapy could benefit this group of dogs, who are more prone to injuries and joint issues than less athletic dogs.
Out of the four or five pitches I submitted, that’s the one that landed me an assignment.
Now that you’ve turned your idea into a pitch with a strong hook, the next step is to decide where to send it. Again, open your search engine and do a search to see who’s covered similar topics, but who hasn’t covered that exact topic within the last few years. Make a list of those publications, and then choose two or three to research.
Spend time reading articles in those publications to get a feel for their tone and voice. Look for their submission guidelines, which might be under a link titled Masthead, or under a Contact or About page. If you run into trouble figuring out who to address a query to, try searching for that publication on LinkedIn or Twitter and see who comes up who appears to be the most appropriate contact.
Out of those publications, decide which you want to query first, and draft your query letter accordingly. Let it sit for a bit before re-reading and giving it a polish. If you can, have another set of eyes look over it for mistakes, or run it through a free editing and proofreading AI program like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. Aim for professionalism, but don’t get hung up on perfection. Once you’re satisfied, send your query.
Then choose another idea and start the process over again.
How to Find Writing Work: Pitching and Querying 101
Pitching is not my favorite. I don’t know any writers who love the pitching process. Pitching is a lot of work — in…
Should You Aim High or Low?
There’s a lot of advice out there that says to aim high, even as a beginner — to shoot for the big leagues and the highest paying markets, and work your way down the list from there.
While that can be a good strategy if your writing and pitching skills are strong and you’ve really got a fantastic idea for an article that nobody but you is well-qualified to write, it also has the potential to backfire. If your writing isn’t up to the standard of a major publication, or you lack confidence, or your idea is fine for a hobby blog or trade magazine but not stellar enough for a national publication, you don’t want to risk leaving a bad first impression with those upper-league editors.
Keep in mind that editors move around a lot, too. This industry has high turnover. If you pitch Forbes this month, and then pitch Business Insider next month, you could end up pitching to the same editor.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that querying is not just about landing a writing gig or a client. It’s about introducing yourself and building relationships. This is why it’s important to be persistent in the face of rejection. If your pitches come across an editor’s inbox often enough, they might eventually decide to give you an assignment based on name recognition alone.
(Which is also why it’s a good idea to follow editors on social media. Just, you know, don’t be creepy about it. They want writers, not stalkers.)
Another pro in the column of going for the low-hanging fruit is that this can provide quick wins that can build up both your portfolio and your confidence simultaneously. This will also let you gain experience and knowledge that will be invaluable when you’re ready to pitch the major leagues. Lesser-known blogs or publications are used to dealing with newer writers and are more willing to be patient and train you in things like invoicing procedures, providing photos or images, photo releases and other legal documents, proper formatting and other minutiae that often goes along with submitting a finished assignment. By working your way up, by the time you get to the majors you’ll look like a real pro who knows what they’re doing — which is exactly what you’ll be.
Ultimately, go with your gut and approach the publication you think is the best fit for your article.
Idea to Query in Six Steps
So to recap, here’s a quick summary of the idea-to-query process, and how to approach it without getting overwhelmed:
- Read widely and browse headlines in blogs and publications relevant to the areas you want to write in.
- Keep a list of ideas that come to you as you read and browse.
- Pick ONE idea to develop and pitch.
- Pick up to three potential publications to research.
- Choose the publication you want to pitch and craft and send your query letter.
- While waiting, go back to step three and repeat.
Note that steps one and two are an ongoing process. Try to set aside time for these steps regularly, putting them on your schedule like any other appointment if necessary.
A modified version of this article originally appeared in The Working Writer on Substack.
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance content marketing writer and indie author as well as an avid pet blogger. In addition to a number of both traditionally published and self-published novels and short stories, she’s also the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. Learn more about her books and writing at JeanMarieBauhaus.com, where she’s on a Quixotic quest to bring back the personal blog.