One 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