Question fo the day: As a procrastinator, I am always looking for ways to actually get stuff done. All the advice I read about researching markets makes me think it should take a week to put together a proper query, which means I don't do it at all. I know you've written about the importance of a great query, but from what you wrote about turning these queries around, though, it seems like you were not doing a ton of research on each market before sending them out. Is that right or did you condense a lot of effort into a little sentence?
Someone recently noted on one of my writer's boards that she thought that one of her strongest assets, in terms of making it as a freelancer, was her ability to work quickly. And I have to say that I agree with her - I do think that the ability to be efficient exponentially ups your odds of success in this industry.
Should you be taking a week to put together a query? Well, I can't speak to every individual. For some people, it might take a week to really craft a fine-tuned one. But part of freelancing is math: most of your queries, at least until you've developed relationships with editors, are going to be turned down. But the more that you have out there, the more likely it is that you'll get a hit. (Assuming, of course, that all of your queries aren't total crap, in which case, it doesn't matter how many you put out - you'll never get a "yes.") So, my instinct is to say, again, without making a blanket statement, that if it's taking you a full week to draft a query, that's just too long.
Part of being able to write a good query comes with time: after a few years of drafting 'em, I had them down to a science: a juicy opening hook, a few sentences jam-packed with research and facts that make the story timely and intriguing, a concluding sentence as to why the editor needs to assign this story now. That's primarily what a query should say. And then have your bio info as well, if this is a new-to-you editor.
As far as the research? Well, I do think it helps if you're not reinventing the wheel, and by that, I mean, I tend not to pitch ideas that I know nothing about. It takes too long for me to grasp what the hell I'm talking about and what the relevant points are for the piece. Ergo, I'm not about to pitch a highly-scientific article on, say, the latest on nanotechnology because I just don't know enough about the subject. But parenting ideas? Heck, sure! I can rattle off five of those, no problem. And because this is one of my areas of expertise, I can also tell you which experts I'll interview, why this is an important topic for our time, and the angle with which I'd approach it. Additionally, I subscribe to a slew of health websites and newsletters, and I scan them every morning, which takes me all of 5-10 minutes. So I have all of this new research streamed directly to me, and I can then pick and choose what might work for my editors or what might spark a pitch idea. From there, I might do a bit of surfing to find some back-up info, but I already have the crux of my idea, and that's half the battle.
Is this making sense? I'm not sure. Tell me if it's not, and I'll clarify. Really.
So how long do you guys spend honing your pitches? How have you become more efficient in doing so over the years?