Tag Archives: query letters

What Freelancers Can Learn From a Severed Pinky

t1larg.pinky.regrowth Photo courtesy CNN.com

There’s a fascinating story at CNN.com about a women who lost the tip of her finger in an accident at home. She went to the hospital and asked them to reattach the severed portion. All the doctors told her she was crazy, but she didn’t give up.

She told the ER doctor to get stuffed, in so many words, when she was told it would be impossible to do. Likewise for the orthopedic specialist that was brought in for a second opinion.

Deepa Kulkarni spent the day after her accident trying to get somebody to listen to her when she ran across Dr. Stephen Badylak at the University of Pittsburgh, who was working a new tissue regeneration technique. Five weeks or so later and Kularni had herself a new, restored finger.


Freelancers, don’t always take the advice of the first professional you see who tells you your ideas won’t work. I’m of course talking about freelance business ideas, book concepts, article queries, designs, etc.

The lesson of this story is mostly about persistence. Freelancers should know that even the experts called in to give you a second opinion can be wrong. After all, wasn’t it Rudyard Kipling who got that famous rejection letter telling the author that one magazine wasn’t the place for Kipling to “practice his writing”?

Continue reading What Freelancers Can Learn From a Severed Pinky

How To Query Magazine Editors


When I started as a freelancer, I studied query letters to see if I could learn “the secret” to getting an editor’s attention when pitching a freelance article. I figured there must be some kind of industry standard to formatting the query letter to let the editor know I’m capable, hard working, knowledgeable, and full-time freelance.

Turns out I was doing it all wrong. But only because there IS no standard query letter. They’re as individual and varied as the editors you send ’em to.

If you really want to know how to write a good query letter, try these on for size:

1. Learn the editor’s name. If you can’t get it, leave out the salutation altogether. It’s more professional.

2. Be direct and to the point, but don’t leave out crucial details. If you’re an expert in the topic you’re querying, be sure to mention it. If you aren’t, let the editor know what expert you might have lined up to supply quotes for the piece.

3. Give an approximate length but let the editor know you’re flexible. “I can give you 1200-2000 words on topic XZY.”

4. Try to pitch to a specific part of the magazine. “I’d be happy to submit this for consideration in your Grumpy Traveler section.” This tells the editor you’re familiar with the publication.

5. Don’t write about any shortcomings, weaknesses, or non-article related issues. “I’m a young writer but eager to learn” is a bad thing to include in your letter. So is “While I don’t have any personal experience in this area, my subject matter expert says…” Just tell the editor what your subject matter expert says.

6. Don’t over use adjectives, but remember that you are SELLING your article to this editor. Make a sales pitch. “Doctor Jerry Casale has invented a device he says can prevent traumatic flashbacks in war veterans.” The word “traumatic” isn’t strictly necessary, but it does make a stronger presentation.

7. Be personable, but not over-familiar. Be friendly but respectful. Confidence without arrogance is a good sign in a query letter.

8. Always include an e-mail addy and phone number even if you’re writing an e-mail query.

Freelance Writing: Anatomy of a Bad Query Letter

WARNING: The following contains EVIL HUMOR and is not for the easily alarmed. It’s Friday, I’ve had too much caffeine, and in my current state of mind I think things have been far too serious round here as of late–not that there’s anything WRONG with that, but it’s time to lighten up a bit. So without any additional fanfare, read and learn.

What follows is a fictitious example of a bad query letter taken from the thousands of real e-mails I’ve gotten in the last few years…the EVIL HUMOR comes in because what I put in italics are the ACTUAL THOUGHTS of editors who read this crap. Not all editors are as EVIL as I am, but many share my penchant for EVIL HUMOR and feel the same way I do when they read the following: Continue reading Freelance Writing: Anatomy of a Bad Query Letter

Top Five Freelance Writing Noob Mistakes To Avoid

What’s a noob? A Noob is a newbie. A newcomer. Someone who hasn’t quite learned the basics yet. What’s wrong with being a noob? Nothing. What’s wrong with letting an editor THINK you’re a noob? EVERYTHING. You may be new, but you don’t have to make the mistakes your fellow newcomers will.

Be more competitive and edge out those other so-and-sos but taking heed to these five freelance writing noob mistakes. Some are so common you’ll want to bite your thumbs off in embarrassment for even coming CLOSE to making them. Only one directly pertains to dealing with editors, but at least one other one will give you a serious competitive edge in your writing. Many noobs fail to heed this advice to their peril. Don’t be one of them;

5. Admitting up front “I have no experience.” Never lead off a query letter by saying you have no publication experience. If you don’t have any experience, just DON’T MENTION IT. If the editor ASKS you for clips, THEN address the issue. If your query letter has caught someone’s eye, you have a much better chance if you let them ask rather than wave a big, red flag.

4. Spending a lot of money on writer’s market books. Books that have market information can be a GREAT help, and don’t think I am saying NOT to buy them. I am saying that you should make your purchases carefully and try to save your money. Use the library, do your research online and spend wisely. You will learn many things from all kinds of books. Don’t invest in resources to find markets until you know the game well enough to understand what size markets are right for you at this point in your career. Here’s THE SECRET about writer’s markets: If everybody knows about a particular market and it’s well represented in the writer’s market guides online and in print, how many thousands of queries do you think those poor editors get in a single day? That’s right, enough to paper the San Fernando Valley.

3. NOT buying a copy of the AP Style Guide and The Elements of Style. I have been writing since 1987, I am very nearly to the point of bringing in six figures a year from my writing and editing work and I train and mentor new/intermediate writers. And I still use these two books regularly. They are THE resources you need to improve your work no matter how long you’ve been playing the game. These two books are cheap and short, full of the best knowledge you can get about the actual mechanics of good writing. Continue reading Top Five Freelance Writing Noob Mistakes To Avoid

Confessions of an Editor, Part Four

It’s called Karma. For me, it usually comes about a day after my cockiness factor has gone through the roof, my editorial hubris running amok. Every time I start getting the big ego, the over-inflated sense of self-importance, that feeling I can do no wrong, Karma comes in to give me a nice reboot. Then I am nice again. For a while.

A few weeks or months go by, and the idiotic practices I see in our beloved writing industry start irritating me. I begin complaining about stupid queries, brain-dead replies to job offers, idiotic and clueless dorks polluting an industry I depend on to pay my bills. Once I get to the top of fever, I start pushing near-rabid diatribes about the worst parts of being a freelancer.

Then, it happens. Continue reading Confessions of an Editor, Part Four