A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post talking about how I’d sent 25 queries in a week and received half a dozen assignments as a result of that. This is something that I do occasionally when I’m low on work and high on motivation and it helps me bring in work that might keep me busy and happy for weeks, sometimes months.
The response I received to that blog post was amazing. Many of you wrote to me to say that you thought sending 25 queries in a week was incredible and wanted to know how I did it. And of course, you know me, I have a system.
I wrote about that system on the blog, too (and we’ll talk about that more in a minute), and again, that got a huge response. But even though I tried, I simply couldn’t share everything on this one single blog post (which I’ll share below) and so, I started the 30 Days, 30 Queries e-course, which has become more popular than I’d ever anticipated (200+ students so far).
In this post, I’m going to share with you my barebones system for writing and sending 25 queries in the span of a week. It’s my system, I’ve used it several times, but there is a lot more detail to it than can be fit into a blog post. If you’re interested in that detail, check out the 30 Days, 30 Queries e-course to see if it’s something that could work for you.
Before I share my system, a few caveats:
* Writing 25 queries (for 25 separate ideas) in a week is hard! Please don’t think I do this every week because I don’t and I can’t. I don’t pitch nearly as much as I did in the first five years as a freelancer but I’m trying to break into a different style of publications now, so I want to give myself the numbers to work with.
* I know I’ve said it’s a numbers game, but please know that I’m working on the assumption that you’re writing good, solid, salable query letters. If you’re working with stale ideas and cliché sentences, and sending them to the wrong editors at the wrong publications, it doesn’t matter how many of those babies you send out, you’re not going to see the assignments come in. I’m not saying my queries are all great– of course they’re not– but I do try to make sure I’m reaching the right editors and sending them ideas that actually fit their requirements.
* Don’t take shortcuts. Quantity is important, but without quality, it’s all moot. Sending out 5 incredible query letters is any day a better choice than sending out 20 below-average ones.
Okay, so how do you actually reach these numbers without going insane? I work in phases, doing all the grunt work up front so that I then have time and space to get creative in the actual writing of the query. Think of it as a factory line. You do tasks in batches.
Step 1: Find the markets
This, for me, is an ongoing thing. I have a folder in the Mail program on my Mac called “Markets” and every time I hear of a new market from a friend or read about it in a writing newsletter, I make a note of it and chuck it into this folder. Then, a day, a week, a year from then when I’m looking for new markets to pitch, I have at least some info to go on. I currently have 300 markets sitting in that folder that I could potentially pitch so that saves me a lot of time. I use the Mail program because it’s always open on my computer and so I don’t have to keep opening up and closing additional applications.
Step 2: Find the ideas
Again, this is something that’s ongoing. Also in my Mail program, I have a folder called “Ideas” and as I find stories, hear about them, read about them in the newspaper, etc, I’ll make a note of them and chuck them in that folder. Sometimes I might think that idea works for a particular magazine or style of publication (parenting mags/websites) and I’ll jot that down as well so that I don’t forget.
Step 3: Mix and match
I open up a Word document and start working publication by publication. Let’s say I want to pitch a story to my editor at Elle magazine. I’ll look through my idea file and see if there’s anything there that might interest her. If so, I’ll write down “Elle– fabulous idea” in my newly-opened word file.
Because I already have a relationship with this magazine, I don’t need to hunt down the name of the editor or look through archives to see if my idea fits. If I’m not familiar with a publication, this step can take a while. I’ll read through back issues if I have them or a publication’s website, look through MediaBistro’s How to Pitch guide if there is one, find out who is editing what section and basically do all the grunt work to make sure this idea is a perfect fit for this magazine. Since I might have made a note of this market months ago, I make sure to check that my contact information, etc, is all current.
If I don’t have an idea at the ready, this is the point at which I’ll brainstorm. This is obviously the most time-consuming process, but it’s also pretty fun. One by one, I’ll match publication to idea. I came up with about 40 the last time around.
Step 4: Write the queries
Since I have the ideas researched and am familiar with a publication’s style, the queries themselves don’t take too long to write. This is also the creative part of the work and for me, it makes sense to do it all together while I’m in a creative headspace, not having to worry about whether the idea is right or the editor open to pitches, etc. I’ve done all that, now it’s just playing with words.
Step 5: Hit send
And again. And again. 25 times.
So that’s my system of sending out queries by the dozens. If you’re interested in learning more about the process and working with a group of students just like you to send out 30 queries to 30 publications in 30 days, check out the e-course here.