In the second part of our series, our guests shared with you the type of writing they most often do for clients and how they personally get most of their freelance writing jobs. I hope you'll notice the recurring mentions of things like repeat work and referrals. No matter how you choose to start out, these are the kinds of things you should always strive for--having work come to you, so you aren't forced to continually look for new clients (or at least not as often).
In this part of our interview series, you'll find out how important each of our guests consider the querying process. Keep in mind that I asked them to share their thoughts on queries' role based on the particular type of writing they most often do (which we introduced in our last post). Enjoy.
No matter what type of freelance writing projects you are concentrating on, it is very important to be open to sending query letters/emails on a regular basis. This is particularly true for newcomers who have yet to build a platform or a large network which can send work their way. Until clients are finding you, make sure you are finding them!
It’s essential, simply because of what it teaches you.
Querying teaches you:
- How to think like a writer. How to come up with many, many ideas which are suitable for a particular market, and how to present those ideas well. Emotionally it teaches you how to be pragmatic, and to realize that there’s no such thing as rejection (yes, really).
- How to form relationships with buyers of your writing. You discover that they have challenges, and how you can help them with those challenges. You stop being so self-conscious and focused on yourself
- That the only mistake you can make as a writer is not to trust yourself, and your writing. It also teaches you that your writing counts, even if no one buys it, because you’ve learned something about yourself.
Ultimately, querying teaches you how to be professional.
Look on querying as auditioning.
When you’re a new writer, no one knows you. (You don’t know yourself as a writer, and what you can do either, so that’s no surprise.)
The queries and proposals you write are introductions. They show that you can write for a particular market you’re targeting, and if you keep targeting a market, people do respond.
I can remember targeting one particular market, a magazine. I sent many queries over several months, and finally the editor called me and commissioned me to write an article he wanted for an upcoming issue. This wasn’t an idea I presented, by the way. He knew I could write the feature because of my “auditions”. From then on, he kept sending me commissions, and when the magazine got a new editor, she started sending me commissions too. (This is rare, usually new editors like to find their own writers, so he must have said nice things about me.)
Querying is essential for books, too. I got my first multi-book contract by sending book proposals. I sent nine complete novel proposals (three chapters and an outline) to an editor over nine months. Finally I got a multi-book contract when the editor sent my proposals to another publishing house (MacDonald Futura), and one of their editors asked me to develop a series.
That’s the primary benefit of queries and proposals: people get to know you, and you get to know yourself. The self-knowledge is the most important. Once you KNOW that you can write on demand, you KNOW, and you stop worrying about it.
I think it's extremely important in the early stages.
When it comes to proposal writing, for instance, a letter of introduction or referral from a fellow writer or previous client is far more relevant than a query simply because of the nature of the work. For resume writing, I partner with a resume service (to whom a fellow freelancer referred me), and secured the contract job after sending a letter of introduction and some writing samples. In terms of the magazine writing I do, it's primarily for trade publications with very structured editorial calendars; although my input is welcomed, I typically write to assigned topics as opposed to pitching all of my own story ideas.
How important querying is really just depends on the type of writing you want to do -- and exactly what you classify as a query letter. I've sent probably hundreds of letters of introduction over the last 5 years, but maybe one or two dozen query letters in which I pitched a specific idea to a specific publication.
Honestly, I didn’t query a lot at all. While I don’t think it’s UN-important, I’ve certainly done well without it.
If I wanted to write articles for magazines, online or off, I'd have to query. Ghostwriting books doesn't build contacts for articles, although I do get asked to do guest posts on blogs, but that's a mutual promo thing.
As you can see, there are differing opinions out there on how important queries really are. Some writers consider them essential. Others (like myself) do not, and manage to build successful careers without them. As you can also see from our guests' responses, queries can have a different place depending on the type of writing involved (such as higher importance for those who work in magazine writing).
One of the things I found most interesting between the previous part of this series and their responses in this one (and why I broke it up the way I did) was the fact that some of the same people who noted their platforms and visibility (the query-free freelancing way of doing things: read good old PR) as the primary ways they get their own gigs also spoke in strong support of querying. It seems that for many a transition occurred--queries early on as a way of making connections, which eventually led to visibility and relationships which allowed future gigs to find the writers rather than vice versa.
Obviously I disagree with some here about the importance of querying, and that's okay. Like I've said before, I want you to know you have options. Querying is one option. Query-free tactics are another. Some people are more comfortable with pitching. Some can't afford to wait months to start landing regular gigs through the sometimes long querying process (and due to tech advances in just the last couple of years, many writers don't have to anymore). That said, not all freelancers are going to feel inclined to build a platform and reputation publicly for exposure's sake, just as all writer's aren't interested in the traditional query process. You can absolutely be successful and land fantastic clients and high-paying writing jobs as either a querying or query-free freelancer. That's a choice only you can make when it comes to your own career.
We have three more parts left in our series. Tomorrow come back and find out what you might want to know most: how our guests personally found gigs early in their careers (we were all new at some point after all).