Freelance Writing Week: How to Find Freelance Writing Jobs: Query Letters

Welcome to Day 4 of Freelance Writing Week! So far we’ve covered:

Write by the trial on FlickrFinally we’re at the point where you’ve all wanted to be since Day One. It’s time to go job hunting!

As I prepared this post, I realized it became too long for just one day, so I’m splitting it up into two posts, which means we’re simply going to have to Freelance Writing Week II—all about money.

I already have five post ideas about freelance writing pay to fill up the week, but if you have specific questions, please include them in the comments so I can address them as well.

Now, back to:

How to Find Freelance Writing Jobs

First of all, please note that a lot of your time as a freelance writer will be spent finding work, at least when you’re starting out. This is just something you *have* to make time for, plain and simple. Until you get your name out there and established, the work isn’t going to find you.

There are essentially three ways that you can find work as a freelance writer:

1.    Query letters
2.    Job advertisements
3.    Cold calls

Today we’re talking queries.

Also, note that for our purposes, we’ll be discussing finding work writing articles and/or blog posts. If you’re pitching a novel or nonfiction book, the process is very different; perhaps we’ll get to that someday, but for now, let’s get started with:

* Query Letters *

Promise Of The Blank Page by Jim Blob Blann on FlickrWhat are query letters?

Queries are letters that you send to publications to pitch ideas for articles and/or blog posts.

How do you write query letters?

Confession: I don’t really do query letters (more on this in a bit).

But since that doesn’t help you at all, I will tell you that generally a query letter should have six parts, according to Jenna Glatzer’s Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer:

1. Salutation. That is, “Dear Ms Editor’s Last Name:” Try to avoid the general “Dear Editor” if possible, and also be sure to use a colon as that is proper formal letter punctuation.
2. Hook. Lead with a punch, something snappy and interesting that will catch the editor’s eye and make her curious to read more.
3. Synopsis. Concise summary of what you plan to write about in the article.
4. Offering. What you can give the editor, e.g., an 800-word article plus photos.
5. Qualifications. Whatever writing and/or life experiences you’ve had that make you qualified and the best person to write this article. Note: if you’re not published yet, don’t call attention to it/
6. Call to action. Something like “Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to your response.”

Can you share sample query letters?

Again, since I don’t really do them, I don’t have any personal examples to share, but I will send you to Appendix A of Jenna Glatzer’s Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer where she generously includes letters that landed her assignments. By the way, are you convinced yet that you should find a copy of this book?

Also check out:

the writer by sleepydisco on FlickrAre query letters really important?

Query letters are generally *the* way to break into print publications.

Some of you have asked about the differences between writing for online and print publications, and while one big difference used to be that print publications pay more, times they are a-changing (look how many print publications are folding or going online these days!), so even that isn’t necessarily true anymore.

The two biggest differences, I’d say, are:

(1) turnaround is much quicker online (tighter deadlines but faster pay and publication); and

(2) formalities (online publications are generally less fussy with formalities; some print pubs *still* don’t accept e-mail queries).

Do you do query letters?

As I’ve stated above, I really don’t do query letters; just about all of my work has either come from answering job advertisements, by the work finding me, or through continued relationships with editors where I write “query” e-mails like “How about topic xx? I’d include a, b, c, etc.”

Why don’t I bother with queries? Writing query letters takes quite a bit of time and research at the front end, and I just haven’t had much luck with the few I’ve done. For me the process was too time-consuming for very little (no) reward, but if the right idea came to mind, I’d certainly query it up.

Final Note on Pitching Articles

For the record, generally you should avoid preparing an article first and then trying to pitch it; you might very well be wasting valuable time working on something that will never get published (unless you want to use it on your blog or as a guest post somewhere, of course).

Now be sure to come back tomorrow when we’ll talk about finding freelance writing jobs by answering job advertisements and making cold calls.

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe through an RSS feed so you don’t miss a single Freelance Writing Week post.

Also free free to bookmark, Stumble, and share these posts with friends via email, your blog, and Twitter. The more people we have reading them, the more ideas and suggestions we can come up with in the comments. We freelance writers have to stick together!

Have you ever written a query letter? What’s your technique?

8 Beans of Wisdom to “Freelance Writing Week: How to Find Freelance Writing Jobs: Query Letters”
  1. 03.26.2009

    I find the idea of sending out queries a bit nerve-wracking so breaking it down into six parts is helpful. And I guess I also should brace myself for rejection at first and not let that get me down. The more I try, the better my chances are at getting work, right? Another question, there are some newspapers that want you to send the finished work in the initial query. If you’re hawking the same article to more than one publication, how do you protect your work?

    milanese masala’s last blog post..Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries, Icy Coke, Milkshakes, Sundaes and Apple Pie!

    Generally you don’t have to worry about your work or ideas being stolen *so long as you’re dealing with professionals on the other side*. Newspapers are great ways to get some clips, but they are at the *very* low end of the pay scale, so try to move on quickly if possible (if you’re looking to earn cash, of course) 😉

  2. 03.26.2009

    I have a problem with synthesis. In everything I write (even comments to posts, sometimes). So I fear my query letters end in the trash bin before the reader even gets to the “hook.” They’re too damn long!
    Can’t wait until tomorrow, and thanks again for doing this.

    Lola’s last blog post..E’s flowers

    Practice makes perfect, Lola…and so does editing. Just keep trimming your letters until you *really* get to the point in just a few sentences. It takes work, but you’ll get there 🙂

  3. I had to write many queries for my manuscript. I still have nightmares. ha

    I’m really enjoying this series and it’s beyond helpful. Thanks Michelle.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..A great new blog for food lovers living or visiting Rome

    Glad you’re enjoying it…and I hear you on the query! Yikes!

  4. 03.26.2009

    Michelle these articles are so timely!
    The discouragement I have with online writing jobs is that I get paid per page view.
    Are all online publications the same in that respect? I feel like most of my time is spent trying to promote myself and then my energy is zapped when it comes time to put great efforts into a great article.

    Laurie’s last blog post..Egg Burrito’s & Coffee with Celine

    Goodness no! I don’t do anything where I get paid only by page view (only, sometimes, in addition to what I’m already paid as a kind of bonus). Make sure you’re not selling yourself short!

  5. Thanks for indulgin all our questions. Ed and I are headed to Barnes and Noble today, so I will definitely be looking for and if they have it, purchasing that book!!

    Thanks again!

    Salena of The Daily Rant’s last blog post..When You Need Your Hump Fixed, This Is The Place

    I do plan on going through your questions more fully to make sure I’ve answered them, so there will definitely be more writing posts 🙂

  6. 03.30.2009

    I needed one more confirmation to end the misery, I think I have it now. 🙂
    Thanks Michelle! Hugs and Ciao!
    PS.. I’m baking for a good cause.. check it out!

    Laurie’s last blog post..Lemon Pound Cake with aLemon Glaze and aLemon Rum Zabaione

    Glad to be of help, Laurie, and…yum!!!!!

  7. 04.06.2009

    Hey! Thanks for the link to 🙂

    Allena Tapia’s last blog post..No Contract, “Default” Rights?

    My pleasure 🙂

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Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake