It’s been nearly 6 years since this post was originally published — and it’s been one of my most popular ever. The need to write strong query letters has only grown in the years since, so I thought it would be a good time to put it out there again. Enjoy!–Carol
I often have freelance writers tell me they don’t think writing a query letter is worth the effort. They get a lot of rejections, and feel it’s basically a crapshoot…and so much easier to sign on to a content-mill dashboard for a guaranteed few bucks’ worth of work.
It’s true that querying isn’t a sure thing. But if you take the time to learn this skill, it can really help you move up and earn big.
I regularly get lucrative assignments off of query letters and guest post pitches, and I continue to believe querying is a vital skill for successful freelancers.
With so many writers turned off of queries, taking the time to learn how to write a compelling query letter is well worth the effort, as it makes you stand out in today’s marketplace. Querying can open doors when you don’t know anyone at a publication or company, and make a connection that could turn into an ongoing relationship.
For instance: I recently sent one query letter that got me $6,000 of assignments. And I’m reproducing it in full below.
The magic of multipitch
This query used one of my favorite strategies: Multipitch, or the technique of sending two or three story ideas in a single, one-page query letter.
Multipitch sort of reminds me of the multiball feature on old pinball machines. If you’re old enough to remember these, you’d load more than one ball onto the board, and then if you could hit it right, you’d get them all to activate and start scoring you points at once, multiplying your score.
In queries, multipitch multiplies the impact of your query letter — and also multiplies your possible earnings. Submitting more than one story idea shows:
- You know how to be brief. In multipitch, each idea only gets one short paragraph. This impresses editors that you understand how to write short, which in this era of shrinking wordcounts is a valuable skill.
- You have a lot of story ideas, not just one. This communicates instantly to the editor that you could join their list of go-to freelancers who can be relied upon to have a steady stream of quality story ideas. This is how you want to be viewed by editors.
- You’re confident. You don’t feel a need to blather on and on about your ideas — you can sum up each one in a couple-three sentences. The format also requires a very short personal bio, which you feel OK about, too.
- You could handle multiple assignments. Presenting several ideas at once telegraphs that you have the capability of taking on more than one assignment at a time from this publication — another key skill editors often seek.
There was one other factor that made this particular pitch even crazier…
Taking up the challenge
Here’s the part about this query win that really had me elated: When I sent in my pitch, I was told this outlet had never accepted an outside query before. All the story angles had up to that point been developed by the editor.
Instead of discouraging me, that news only made me more motivated to deliver strong pitches. I was hoping maybe one of my three ideas would make the grade.
I about fell over when the editor let me know all three pitches had been accepted, for a total of $6,000 in assignments.
Since this was my most lucrative single query letter ever, I decided it would be useful for readers to see exactly what this query letter looked like.
This pitch went to a major financial-services company that operates several business-information websites. The site I targeted publishes well-researched, 1,000-word articles. Pay is $2,000 per article. I initially reached out to the editor on Twitter and asked if it would be OK to pitch her.
My 3-idea pitch
To avoid having my editor inundated with queries, I’ve omitted some identifying details about this market and the sources I proposed.
This is what I sent the editor:
Dear [editor’s name]:
As I mentioned on Twitter, I am a longtime business writer with expertise in finance. Here are three ideas I think might be a fit for your site:
1)Why Now’s the Time for a Sale/Leaseback Deal – Conditions are ripe for companies to liberate cash by selling property and leasing it back. Known as “net leasing,” these deals can fund growth without a company having to seek bank or investor funding. Whether a company owns an office building, warehouse, or retail stores, net leasing allows it to operate in the same facility with a long-term lease and assurance there’ll be no disruption to operations. Another plus: sale/leasebacks get companies out of the property-ownership game and back to focusing on their core business. Net-lease is booming this year as companies are strapped for cash and investors like the guaranteed tenant that comes with the deal. For this story, I would interview several company finance managers who have recently done sale/leasebacks, as well as commercial-realtor experts and [source name], an online exchange for commercial property that company owners are looking to sell and lease back.
2) To Save More, Send Your Workers Home – A recent study from [well-known research house] shows mid-sized companies can save $11,000 per worker by letting them work from home just half-time. Telecommuting has other benefits as well, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity on work-from-home days, according to the report. That’s $1.1 million in savings for a company that puts 100 workers on part-time telecommuting schedules. With Congress passing legislation requiring more home-based work by government-agency employees, it’s a great time to examine how telecommuting can help businesses save money. For this story, I would talk to experts and business owners who’ve implement telework programs to glean best practices for making it work.
3) Starting a Joint Venture? Plan for Its End – Joint ventures often start with the best intentions, but a few years down the road, one or both parties may determine the partnership isn’t working. That’s when things can get sticky — unless the original agreement included careful planning for how the joint venture would be dissolved. For this story on how to structure a prudent joint venture agreement, I would speak with company finance executives who’ve been involved in recent JV partnerships that needed to be unwound, including one where planning was good and the process was fairly straightforward — and one where the agreement didn’t contemplate the breakup and problems were encountered. I’d also get recommendations from well-known business attorney [source name] on how to structure these deals. Readers would come away with concrete information on how to structure partnerships to protect their interests and prevent costly litigation or loss of vital assets created in the partnership.
My work has appeared in Entrepreneur magazine, Washington CEO, The Seattle Times and many other publications. You can view recent clips and my list of awards won at http://www.caroltice.com.
Thanks in advance for considering my query.
I’d say one key element that helped this query succeed — which I often don’t see present in many queries I’ve reviewed for writers in my mentoring program and in our Freelance Writers Den query-review forum — is the research into the topic and citing of possible experts.
Editors tell me many queries seem lazy — they propose a vague idea without laying out a clear road map of who would be quoted and what information the story would contain. Including those specifics made this query stand out for my editor.
Final note: You’ll notice I have an unusual signoff. I believe developing a creative conclusion for your queries can help you stand out and get noticed. It’s worked well for me.
Had success lately with query letters? Leave a comment and tell us about your approach.