Friday, January 11, 2008

Do FOB Pitches Get Fancy Treatment?

Question of the day: I am a freelance writer with a few published clips (including the Christian Science Monitor). I'm working on a few FOB ideas for the glossies and wanted to know how to pitch these. Do you send a 'regular' query letter?

Congrats on your progress! Sounds like you are well on your way.

Wow, it's amazing how many questions I get on FOBs. I have a few in my file that I haven't gotten around to answering yet because I first wanted to note that folks can search the archives of the blog, and I think you'll find a slew of info on FOBs. If you search and still have questions, by all means, fire away!

But to answer this specific question, yes, I pitch FOBs in the same way that I pitch any other query: I send it via email to my editor. The difference with FOBs is that it's much more acceptable to pitch multiple ideas at once. Editors don't find that entirely annoying because they usually have a bunch of FOBs to assign, and in some ways, this allows them to pick and choose which, if any, of your ideas might work for their section.

So yes, just send a regular query, but in this case, you can just say, "I had some ideas that I thought might work for X section and have included them below." Then you can just pitch them in some sort of numerical column.

Does anyone else pitch FOBs differently?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blah, Blah, Blah...Writing Blahs

I'm over at Writer Unboxed today talking all about the writing blahs and what to do about 'em.

Check it out!

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?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Pre-taped vs. Live

As promised, we're doing an all-question week here at Ask Allison. I do have a backlog, but if you guys have lingering questions that I never answer or that you never sent in, now's your chance - send 'em in, and I'll add them to the queue.

I read your travel insurance piece in COOKING LIGHT's FOB. 1.Could you post the query you sent for it? 2.When you have experts such as Jeff Greenberg and Pauline Frommer of the Frommer travel books family, do you ever quote from their books or do you always call or email them for a fresh quote?

Unfortunately, I don't have the query for this because I didn't query it: the editor came to me and asked if I'd be interested. If I were to have queried it, it probably would have read something much along the lines of the actual piece:

A la: During the holiday season, travel increases by X percentage (I'd put the real percentage in, but am too busy to look it up for this blog post), so how does someone know if trip insurance is worth it? For a cheapo fare or only for lavish expenses? For airfare or for the whole she-bang? And if someone does opt for it, how does he go about finding reputable insurance? This FOB would provide the answers to the above questions, explained by top experts in the field, such as Jeff Greenberg and Peggy Frommer.

To answer the second part of your question, in my opinion, it's always better to get fresh quotes from an expert. Some experts are so busy that yes, they'll send you a book and suggest that you paraphrase from it, which, you know, in a jam, will do, but it's not, in my mind, the best journalism or reporting. When possible, try to get the expert on the phone, and if that fails, via email. I think culling quotes from a book should be your last resort. That said, I've had to do it in the past, and I suppose as long as the information is properly interpreted and your editor/audience/expert are happy, no one is really harmed too much in doing so.

But what do you guys think? Feel free to disagree. This is a nebulous area, and I'm all ears!