Wednesday, January 09, 2008

When a Pitch Takes FOREVER!

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?


Anonymous said...

I tend to use a standard format for my query letters - a hook, a brief explanation of the idea and some info about me at the end with links to my website or relevant clips.

I edit/expand this, as required, to suit a particular market, but the format has served me well over the year that I've been 'seriously' writing.

With the skeleton in place, it becomes a lot easier to fill in the blanks with a clever hook (usually the opening line of my article or essay). I tend to make a rough outline of what the article would include (for my own reference)but don't include a lot of details in the pitch. I keep the info handy in case the editor asks for more information and I'm not left scurrying at the last moment.

Editors that I've worked with in the past tend to okay queries and ask for submissions. Only rarely have I been asked for more information - I guess the query by itself is explanatory.


Eileen said...

Also in terms of markets. Go to a magazine store and flip through the magazine bring an index card for each magazine. Look quickly at the types of articles- but also the type of slant. For example do they take a serious look at Global Warming or do an article called "Global Warming Means Swimsuit Season is Year Round!"

Then look at the ads. Advertisers spend zillions to place their ads in places to reach the target audience. Are they selling BMW's or Yugos? Pampers versus all organic cotton diapers hand sewn by Tinkerbell? Is your article slanted to the same audience? If not- choose another mag.

Anonymous said...

Drafting your first query letter is the hard, and time consuming part. But, once you have a basic format, all you have to do is tailor each query to the particular publication. I can usually write a good query letter in a couple of hours. This includes researching information and sources for the pitch.

Freelance Writer's World
Telecommuting Diva

Kristen said...

I tend to think it's not rocket science. Once I have an idea, I can get it together in an afternoon--so long as I am motivated!

It does get easier with time!

Alison Ashley Formento said...

Yes, the crux of the idea is half the battle.
I'm a perfectionist, and spend probably more time than needed getting a query ready to submit. I think I'm effiecient, but am trying to work faster, especially on queries.