Monday, June 14, 2010

A two-word freelance mantra: Why not?

In case you haven't noticed, freelance writing is capricious.

You come up with an idea you think is perfect for Magazine A, which pays enough to hold your mortage at bay for months. A search tells you they have never published an article on that subject, but have accepted quite a few along the same lines. Chuckling to yourself with anticipation, you fire off a confident query. A few weeks later, the response comes back: "Dear Writer: Thank you for thinking of us, but this is not what we need at this particular time."

Resisting the strong impulse to reply: "Are you people morons, or what?" you settle for simply sulking.

Conversely, you send out a random query to a random market on a subject that has only a peripheral connection to what they do. A few weeks later the response comes back: They're interested.

Just as it sometimes rains on picnics and outdoor weddings, or 70-degree days appear in January in Maine, nothing in this business is certain.

As I've mentioned before, and will continue to repeat ad nauseum, it's important to keep freelancing in perspective. We sometimes weigh the decision of who and how to query as if we were preparing a death penalty appeal or a wedding proposal.

Sure, give it your best shot. Make sure the query is relevant, coherent and free from any grammatical mistakes or typos. But also remember: The worst they can do is say no -- or, in some cases, say nothing. If that happens, no one will know about it except you and them. It won't be posted on some gigantic wide-screen scoreboard for all the writing world to see. Moreover, if your contact with that editor is efficient and professional, he or she will probably remember you the next time you query.

In other words, you have nothing to lose by sending out a query.

I'd suggest keeping a small notebook in your pocket and jotting down ideas when they come to you. Then, when you get home that night, send a query to somebody on that idea. They might say yes.

Many of us obsess about queries because we're thinking about it from our perspective. Rather, imagine yourself as an editor.

If that were the case, chances are you would want the queries you read to be short and to the point. You don't really care about the entire work history of the freelancer. You don't care where they went to high school, or how many cats they have. You don't care that it's really, really important to them to get published. You care about:

1. Whether the article suggested would fit into your magazine or onto your Website.
2. If this seems like a good person to write that article.
3. If this seems like someone who would actually finish the article and send it in.

One suggestion I would make would be to briefly qualify any idea that may not obviously fit a magazine's format. It's OK to say something like: "This might seem like a stretch for you, but here's why I think it would work." Otherwise, you run the risk of being exiled to the ranks of the clueless who send the same query to every editor on the planet, regardless of relevance.

Another suggestion is to write down those two words and post them somewhere in your writing space: Why not?

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