To Query or Not to Query: Part Two

In part two of our interview series with successful freelancers, we'll take a look at the different types of writing they do and how they personally land most of their writing gigs. Why is this important? As I mentioned previously, query-free freelancing isn't the only option available to you as a freelance writer. While the Web 2.0 world makes it much easier for new writers to build a platform and their visibility early on, other tactics still have a place. You'll get a glimpse of what other pros are doing, and how some things changed over the years for a few of them.

It's also important that you understand queries or query-free approaches to freelancing can vary depending on the type of writer you are. For example, query letters will have a larger role in freelance magazine writing than they would on the Web. On the other hand cold call pitching might work in commercial writing, but it might annoy editors with national publications.

I'm regularly asked how writers earning decent rates find their gigs (or where they find their gigs). For me it's the query-free approach where my clients most often find me. I understand that alone isn't very helpful for a new writer. Our guests come from a mix of backgrounds, from ghostwriting books to writing for corporate clients, and here they share how they find new work.

Let's get to it. I asked our guests what types of projects they most often take on for clients and how they land most of their freelance writing jobs. Here's what they had to say:

Chris Bibey

The majority of my projects consist of commercial and Web writing. In the past, magazine writing was a large portion of my workload, but over the past year this has died down a bit. Many of my Web writing clients have asked me to work for them in a more traditional sense, such as on marketing material, and vice versa.

I land new clients in a number of different ways. At this time, networking and client referrals seem to be in the lead. That being said, I am always sending queries when I have the time to do so.

Angela Booth

I’ve contributed to several magazines every month for the past 15 years, and have many copywriting clients who’ve been with me for years too. New clients usually present some form of commercial writing, whether for Web or print, although I do take on (book) ghostwriting clients too.

[Most jobs come] either via word of mouth / personal recommendation, or via visibility.

Jenna Glatzer

I mostly write books now, but I also write for magazines. Every now and then, I also do every other type of writing you can imagine, but those are the main two. At this point, most of my jobs come to me through editors who've either worked with me in the past, or who work with other editors who've worked with me.

Kristen King

The two types of work I'm doing the most right now are marketing content (including executive-level resumes) and proposal writing. I also accept smaller projects such as book editing or magazine feature articles, but they tend to be a much smaller proportion of my workload and are rather sporadic these days, whereas in the past they were a much bigger chunk.

My freelance work comes to me from four sources: word of mouth and referrals, repeat business, clients coming to me (eg, finding my website, etc.), and actively seeking out work. My actively seeking work is definitely the smallest proportion of that at this point -- 3+ years into full-time freelancing -- but was pretty much my sole source of work when I was freelancing part time from 2004 to 2006.

Allena Tapia

I am completely a combination. My regular work at is writing for the web, but I want more magazine pieces, and the past couple months I’ve been doing a huge content project for Cengage. Then, I add in my local clients- editorial director at a local magazine, some non-profit marketing pieces and !!! you’ve got the weirdest mix possible!

Recently, I’ve found more and more people find me through word of mouth—editors talk! Also, I have a lot of repeat work from past clients. For example, I responded to an ad for freelance writers for a specific magazine about a year and a half ago. I turned around my first assignment early, making sure it was polished to near perfection. The editor then began to think of me when she needed something in a hurry, or another writer left her in a lurch. I’ve now appeared in nearly every issue. Last week, she received a piece from a writer that she didn’t like—and it was the lead piece on the Sotomayor nomination! She needed it reworked entirely over the weekend, and she thought of me! So now I have the cover of a major nomination in my field (Latino issues), of a major current event--- in a magazine that is nationally distributed!

Anne Wayman

Most of my clients hire me to ghostwrite books for them. My clients come from two sources - return clients and through my websites which I guess is my strong visibility. I worked with a ghostwriting broker for awhile, but I do way better on my own.

Anyone seeing some common themes in there? Like referrals? Keeping clients happy so they keep coming back and referring you to others is a big part of query-free freelancing, and as you can see here it's equally true when you land your initial gigs through queries. Speaking of queries, come back tomorrow and you'll find out exactly how important querying was (or is) in the careers of each of our guests, and how important they feel querying is for new writers too.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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4 thoughts on “To Query or Not to Query: Part Two”

  1. Jenn,
    This is a very helpful post. It brings me back to my original belief about writing: it is a business like any other business and needs the same nurturing (via marketing and good performance) just like any other business.
    It isn’t surprising to me that top freelance writers treat their performance and their websites as top priority.
    I look forward to reading more at QFF.
    Have a great day,

  2. So what I’m basically understanding here is that most of these writers got started by actively making queries and hunting for work, and after a few years of doing this and building a network, these initial contacts continue to bring them referral work. That fills me with some hope-I’m still pretty anxious about the whole quest to fetch referrals, so I’m glad to know that I can do that by building up strong relationships during my active hunt for work.

  3. It sounds like you have the right idea Jessie. While freelancing can certainly be different than running a more formal business, when it comes to marketing there’s just no escaping it. You have to do it.

    I’ve said this elsewhere (as I’m sure many others have before me): It doesn’t matter if you’re the best writer in the world if you can’t sell anyone on your writing. The world is full of “starving writers” who are fantastic at their craft, and likely even more highly successful writers (financially) who are mediocre writers who happen to have excellent marketing skills. The better marketer will generally end up with the better career.

    You’ve also got it right Matt. That’s precisely the cycle we’re seeing repeated here. I think it’s important to mention though that things have changed quite a lot in our Web 2.0 world, even in just the last 1 – 3 years. Prior to those changes, querying was much more a “requirement” than it is now (speaking specifically about new writers). By all means, you should keep building relationships (that’s what the networking side of query-free freelancing is all about). Just don’t forget that there are many ways to do that beyond querying alone.

  4. To Matt: exactly. I did do a lot of pitching, applying for freelance writing jobs, etc in the beginning. I’ve had a lot of times where I’ve thought “Hmm, the pipeline is looking low, I’ll have to get back on the job boards next week” and then VOILA! that week comes and something pops into my inbox.

    In fact, I’m heading on vacation for quite a while soonish, and I cleaned out ALL my pipelines:} so who knows? I might actually have to get back in the jobsearch saddle after my vacay, but we’ll see.


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