How Writers Can Send Query Letters Without Facing Rejection - Make a Living Writing

How Writers Can Send Query Letters Without Facing Rejection

Carol Tice | 20 Comments

The Face of a Rejected WriterOne of the biggest hurdles many writers face is sending query letters. They don’t want to take the time to research, write and send them because of the seemingly low odds that a particular query letter will result in an assignment.

In summary, they can’t take the rejection!

In an age of social-media connecting and online blogging, some see querying publications as hopelessly old-fashioned. But sending a well-crafted query letter is still one of the most powerful methods available to freelance writers who want to make great new connections with editors at publications where they are currently unknown.

Like a ninja throwing star, your query can slice through all the barriers to seeing your byline in great publications and vault you straight to an assignment. You don’t need to know anybody — the power of your story can take you there. Isn’t that awesome?

Also, despite the complaints you see on many writer forums, crafting query letters doesn’t have to be an all-day project. If you know how to re-slant and re-pitch similar topics to different publications, you can have plenty of queries out without doing a ton of work.

This year, I had a goal of adding to my client list at least one or two more national publications that pay $1 a word or more. I sent many query letters in pursuit of this goal. Most of them were rejected.

This did not bother me in the slightest.

After nine months of making time to send a few queries each month, I finally connected with two new publications — one online, one off. Both pay at or above my target.

How did I keep from getting discouraged? Why didn’t I give up?

The many queries I sent that flopped didn’t bother me because I never experience rejection.

How do I avoid feeling rejected? I follow these four simple rules for querying:

1) Maintain an unshakable belief in your abilities. Many writers seem to take the echoing silence that greets their query as a personal condemnation. They suck as a writer!

Instead, consider the likely reality — the editor never had time to read the query, they already had a story on that topic planned, they’re ceasing publication, remaking the pub and not needing that type of topic anymore, just hired a staffer to  handle those type of stories, etc. There are a million possible reasons you didn’t hear back from the editor, or got a polite “pass” email. Often, it’s not about you.

Resolve not to take a “no” personally. Believe in your talent, and press on.

2) Don’t get emotionally attached to any one query. This is a big problem for many writers. They spend way too long crafting one, single query. It’s for a big, national magazine. They’re so sure this idea is perfect for this magazine — it’s definitely their ticket to the big time!

So the writer waits anxiously for a response. They’re paralyzed into inaction on their other query ideas. When they never hear back, or get a “no,” they’re crushed!

This is like the person who decides they’ve met their future spouse on their first date. You’re getting too committed too soon.

I’ve had really awesome ideas that I thought were perfect for Parade and other major mags, that never went anywhere. Such is life. Happens to all of us.

The antidote to falling in love with your query is to have lots of great ideas and send many queries. Make querying a routine part of your monthly marketing plan. Then you won’t stake too much emotional capital on any single query.

3) Seek a match, rather than an acceptance. Rather than thinking of querying as a one-sided activity — “I need an assignment! Please give me one!” — I think of it more like the old Match Game TV show. I have ideas, and I know editors have needs for interesting articles. I play the querying game until I find a match. You really want it to be a fit from both sides.

If a publication passes on my query, I’m not bothered, because I know editor relationships are a two-way street. And there’s lots I don’t know about this publication and editor.

Maybe the editor is a raving lunatic. Maybe the publication is about to go under. Maybe they’re the type who’d edit my piece into an unrecognizable mass of goo. Or the kind that would have me gang-edited by three different people.

So if it’s a ‘no,’ I assume I’ve just been saved a ton of heartache with a situation that would have turned out to be a terrible fit. It wasn’t a match! So what — no biggie. Move right along and send more queries.

4) Be unstoppable. Back when I covered home-improvement retailing as a staff writer, I once went to a great trade-show seminar on how to break prospective customers’ existing relationships with their current lumberyard and get them to buy from you instead. The speaker advocated staying in touch with prospects even if they seemed very happy where they were.

How long did he advise continuing to try to sell the prospective customer?

“Until they buy…or they die,” he said simply. If they die, the company will name a new person to that buyer’s job — and you can start right in trying to sell the new guy.

I think of querying the same way. Keep going until you get the acceptance you need. (Like Dory in Finding Nemo says, “Just keep swimming…”) Keep learning and sharpening your skills.

One day, a new editor may come on at that publication you’ve always wanted to bag. Then, query them. Never stop trying. Those who take this attitude usually get where they want to go eventually, while those who’re easily discouraged give up.

How do you cope with query-letter rejection? Leave a comment and tell us your strategy.

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Photo via Flickr user Orin Zebest

20 comments on “How Writers Can Send Query Letters Without Facing Rejection

  1. Shae on

    Thanks for the post. I only just started querying in December and while I REFUSE to give up, I can’t lie and say rejection hurts more than I thought it would. I mean, I knew it would happen but I didn’t expect it to bug me much because I did know. But I really didn’t. It crushes you.

    But I will never give up and I intend to query constantly because this is my dream. Your post was helpful. I know I am really late reading it but you lifted my spirits! We writers are in this together.

    • Carol Tice on

      Glad this helped you, Shae! I recommend writing a new self-talk tape and replace “this is crushing me” with “every ‘no’ gets me closer to a ‘yes'” or something else more positive.

  2. Tamara Gilford on

    Hi Carol;
    I’ve been following you and writers den and for awhile and never really could bring myself to contact you (shy?lol)
    I’m just curious as to your opinion about my personal situation. I have been freelance writing for more than a decade and for the past 5 years, I have been living in SE Asia with my Pakistani husband (travel visa long wait!) Anyway- I have worked for a number of years on elance and other freelancing websites, somewhat successfully, on and off to basically fill in my down time, keep writing and earn a little (very little!) The problem now is, I think I’m having a hard time convincing people that I AM a natural born white American and nearly EVERY south Asian works on those websites! This means, I compete with every one of them for $1 for 500 words- it’s disgusting! lol
    I have tried everything possibly imagined to put myself out there and prove that indeed I AM a native English writer/speaker! It seems as though people are hesitant to hire writers who are living in 3rd world- maybe I’m completely off…maybe they just really genuinely want to hire someone else! It just seems odd to me. I have good ratings on those sites… a good portfolio… client testimonials are good. My bids on those sites express what I can do differently and why I would be best for their project. I have confidence and everything! 🙂 When I was back home in Pittsburgh, PA- I was getting work like no ones’ business! Now…nothing…
    I KNOW I should stop working for those sites, the work is extremely low pay and every client always wants to be so strict about their terms for work (must be 100% original, pass Copyscape, blah blah blah) I don’t do this for a full time job. I do it to keep work coming in, money flowing and my skills updated.
    Any advice?
    Thanks! Keep up the great work over there at the Den. I look forward to learning more, everyday!

    • Carol Tice on

      I think you answered your own question, Tamara — time to get off Elance and prospect among US companies to find your own clients. Present yourself as a Pittsburgh native, and I think you’d find many won’t care where you physically are right now.

      You might check out my Freelance Writers Den community — we actually have a “Non-US writers forum” where you could probably get some great input on that question of being based elsewhere. We’ll be open to new members again in the Fall (and also are open right now, if you register for our Self-Publishing 101 bootcamp).

      In the meanwhile, you might check out either my Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, or How to Get Great Clients, depending on the state of your portfolio and your experience in proactively marketing.

  3. Geraldine Nesbitt on

    I don’t just earn a living writing copy and translating content, I am also a novelist (struggling)
    Believe me, over the years I have (even in the days before digital and social media) received about a hundred rejection letters for proposed novels. It has never deterred me from continuing to write.
    It’s the same for shorter pieces of work or pitches to magazines, you will be turned down, repeatedly. Don’t take it personally, and never ever let it stop you writing.
    In marketing of any kind, rejection is part of the deal. It happens all the time.
    Sometimes it’s just not the right match.

  4. Pinar Tarhan on

    I relaxed after getting a couple of queries accepted and seeing those articles published.
    Then rejection became easier, because I knew for sure that if I did my research well, and the timing was right, my ideas and writing are good enough to get the job. This realization encouraged me to pitch more ideas to that publication and pitch new ones to others.:)

  5. Marina DelVecchio on

    This was a great post, especially since I belong in your #2 category. Is there a specific source that you can recommend that lists consumer magazine and online mags to query? How does one go about finding these sources.

    Carol, I am overwhelmed with the internet online mags and other internet sources out there. I write articles and submit them to Harper's, Ms., Brain-Child, and such, but with no luck. I have about seven articles that I have written on motherhood and women's empowerment, but have no idea how to begin to find sources interested enough to query them. I just got an agent for my book, but this is a venue I am really interested in breaking into, but don't know how. It was easier, I think, when it was just print mags and newspapers. Now there are too many for me to count…

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Marina —

      Thanks for commenting. I love your question! With your permission I will answer it on the blog next week. I think many writers are facing similar issues in being overwhelmed with all the possible markets.

      Stay tuned for tips on this issue!

  6. Brown Eyed Mystic on

    Wow. Thanks for the upbeat dose of a information, Carol.

    I've been a lurker at yours, rather a subscriber, and must say you have been doing it soo well! Thanks on behalf of all freelance writers out there, like me, who have started recently.

    Bless ya!


  7. Julie Shannon on

    One thing I have noted is that being in communication with publications/editors over time has numerous benefits:

    If an editor IS reading your queries and your ideas are good — even if they are not picked up for whatever reason — over time, you will get the reputation of having good ideas and one might stick.

    In short, persistence counts.

    Another benefit is that getting in the habit of being in touch and generating lots of ideas makes for a more creative, fluent, and flexible writer. Getting overly attached to any one thing makes for a rigid writer who is not concentrating on the WRITING, which is very, very important. It is the generating of ideas, letters, and ultimately articles that keeps us writing and in the money — so writing many queries is a good thing! Getting stuck on one or the rejection of any can really slow down the writing process, so learn to shed them like a duck sheds water. They come with the territory!

    Another thing is that writing many queries helps us to see the pattern/flow of our ideas and passions… and aids us in targeting publications or places where our words would have the most effect. This can shape our strategic writing plan, and gain us insights into niche markets and areas where we might make inroads.

    Thanks for all the great tips, Carol. I love your blog!

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Julie! Great to hear from you.

      Developing the skill of having many story ideas and writing many queries is super-valuable. It really ups your odds of success, and helps you not get bogged down by the fate of any particular query. There are a million stories in the naked city, people! If we work on developing list and lists of ideas, we've always got queries to send. And the more lines in the water, the more likely we are to get a bite.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Julie, and welcome aboard!

  8. Carol Tice on

    Hi Sean —

    Welcome to the blog! Thought your post was interesting…my sense is nobody wants to be a "traditional" writer anymore, though. I've had that used against me as a sort of slur!

    Of course, traditional writing for publications is still alive and well…but I try to steer clear of that term. Even though I write for several print publications at any given time, I also have a mix of blogging and Web content work.

    Guess I think of myself as open to all the possibilities of our new-media age, rather than one of those writers who's wishing the Internet would go back where it came from, and who only want to write for print…which seems to be what some people mean when they use that word.

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