How One Query Letter Got $6,000 in Assignments

I often have freelance writers tell me they don’t think writing query letters is worth the effort. They get a lot of rejections, and feel it’s basically a crapshoot…and so much easier to sign on to a content-mill dashboard for a guaranteed few bucks’ worth of work.

It’s true that querying isn’t a sure thing. But if you take the time to learn this skill, it can really help you move up and earn big.

I regularly get lucrative assignments off of query letters, and I continue to believe querying is a vital skill for successful freelancers. With so many writers turned off of queries, taking the time to learn how to write a compelling query letter is well worth the effort, as it makes you stand out in today’s marketplace. Querying can open doors when you don’t know anyone at a publication or company, and make a connection that could turn into an ongoing relationship.

For instance: I recently sent one query letter that got me $6,000 of assignments. This query used one of my favorite strategies: Multipitch, or the technique of sending two or three story ideas in a single, one-page query letter.

Multipitch sort of reminds me of the multiball feature on old pinball machines. If you’re old enough to remember these, you’d load more than one ball onto the board, and then if you could hit it right, you’d get them all to activate and start scoring you points at once, multiplying your score.

Multipitch in queries is like that, as it multiplies the impact of your letter — and also multiplies your possible earnings. Submitting more than one story idea shows:

  • You know how to be brief. In multipitch, each idea only gets one short paragraph. This impresses editors that you understand how to write short, which in this era of shrinking wordcounts is a valuable skill.
  • You have a lot of story ideas, not just one. This communicates instantly to the editor that you could join their list of go-to freelancers who can be relied upon to have a steady stream of quality story ideas. This is how you want to be viewed by editors.
  • You are confident. You don’t feel a need to blather on and on about your ideas — you can sum up each one in a couple-three sentences. The format also requires a very short personal bio, which you feel OK about, too.
  • You could handle multiple assignments. Presenting several ideas at once telegraphs that you have the capability of taking on more than one assignment at a time from this publication — another key skill editors often seek.

So here’s the part about this query win that really had me elated: When I sent in my pitch, I was told this outlet had never accepted an outside query before. All the story angles had up to that point been developed by the editor!

Instead of discouraging me, hearing that only made me more motivated to deliver strong pitches. I was hoping maybe one of my three ideas would make the grade.

I about fell over when the editor let me know all three pitches had been accepted, for a total of $6,000 in assignments.

I’ve never done this on the blog before…but since this was my most lucrative single query letter ever, I decided it would be useful for readers to see exactly what this query letter looked like. So I’m reproducing my pitch below.

This pitch went to a major company that operates several business-information websites. The site I targeted publishes well-researched, 1,000-word articles. Pay is $2,000 per article. I initially reached out to the editor on Twitter and asked if it would be OK to pitch her.

To avoid having my editor inundated with queries, I have omitted some identifying details about this market and the sources I proposed.

This is what I sent the editor:

Dear [editor's name]:

As I mentioned on Twitter, I am a longtime business writer with expertise in finance. Here are three ideas I think might be a fit for your site:

1)Why Now’s the Time for a Sale/Leaseback Deal - Conditions are ripe for companies to liberate cash by selling property and leasing it back. Known as “net leasing,” these deals can fund growth without a company having to seek bank or investor funding. Whether a company owns an office building, warehouse, or retail stores, net leasing allows it to operate in the same facility with a long-term lease and assurance there’ll be no disruption to operations. Another plus: sale/leasebacks get companies out of the property-ownership game and back to focusing on their core business. Net-lease is booming this year as companies are strapped for cash and investors like the guaranteed tenant that comes with the deal. For this story, I would interview several company finance managers who have recently done sale/leasebacks, as well as commercial-realtor experts and [source name], an online exchange for commercial property that company owners are looking to sell and lease back.

2) To Save More, Send Your Workers Home - A recent study from [well-known research house] shows mid-sized companies can save $11,000 per worker by letting them work from  home just half-time. Telecommuting has other benefits as well, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity on work-from-home days, according to the report. That’s $1.1 million in savings for a company that puts 100 workers on part-time telecommuting schedules. With Congress passing legislation requiring more home-based work by government-agency employees, it’s a great time to examine how telecommuting can help businesses save money. For this story, I would talk to experts and business owners who’ve implement telework programs to glean best practices for making it work.

3) Starting a Joint Venture? Plan for Its End – Joint ventures often start with the best intentions, but a few years down the road, one or both parties may determine the partnership isn’t working. That’s when things can get sticky — unless the original agreement included careful planning for how the joint venture would be dissolved. For this story on how to structure a prudent joint venture agreement, I would speak with company finance executives who’ve been involved in recent JV partnerships that needed to be unwound, including one where planning was good and the process was fairly straightforward — and one where the agreement didn’t contemplate the breakup and problems were encountered. I’d also get recommendations from well-known business attorney [source name] on how to structure these deals. Readers would come away with concrete information on how to structure partnerships to protect their interests and prevent costly litigation or loss of vital assets created in the partnership.

My work has appeared in Entrepreneur magazine, Washington CEO, The Seattle Times and many other publications. You can view recent clips and my list of awards won at http://www.caroltice.com.

Thanks in advance for considering my query.

Enjoy!

–Carol Tice

I’d say one key element that helped this query succeed — which I often don’t see present in many queries I’ve reviewed for writers in my mentoring program — is the research into the topic and citing of possible experts. Editors tell me many queries seem lazy — they propose a vague idea without laying out a clear road map of who would be quoted and what information the story would contain. Including those specifics made this query stand out for my editor.

Final note: You’ll notice I have an unusual signoff. I believe developing a creative conclusion for your queries can help you stand out and get noticed. It’s worked well for me.

Had success lately with query letters? Leave a comment and tell us about your approach.

Do you have questions about how to earn more from your writing? Learn more in my community Freelance Writers Den — take ecourses, attend live events, ask writing pros your questions in our forums, and use our exclusive Junk-Free Job Board.

Tagged with: ,
43 comments on “How One Query Letter Got $6,000 in Assignments
  1. Debbie Kane says:

    Thanks as always Carol, for your good advice. I have a partially-finished query right now that I’m inspired to complete. Do you typically tweet editors to ask permission to query? Any protocol for that?

    • Carol Tice says:

      It was a situation where I thought I recognized the editor’s name, and that we had both written for a common publication in the past, so I kind of had a talking point to ding her on Twitter. But I see nothing wrong with hitting them there as a first contact, especially if you see they’re very active in social media…or through LinkedIn, for that matter. Can be a nice casual way to introduce yourself — you can go on and just say — are you accepting pitches right now? If so how do you like them — mail, email, etc? I think there’s an unusual level of courtesy to inquiring about process that sets you apart. They may give you some tips on their pitch cycle and when they’ll next be making assignments.

  2. Ahlam Yassin says:

    Carol,

    The first thing that strikes me after reading your query letter is simply, you know what you’re talking about. You have a well-defined niche with a deep understanding of business finance. You’ve also pitched to a company that’s interested in this niche, a combination that increases chances of success. However, for many new writers, still trying to find their niche it’s a lot more muggy. I think it takes a lot practice, and as you said hard work.

    I really like the idea of a multi-pitch query. Again, it’s all about making the time. I’ve decided to cut up my month into different portions, 2-3 weeks getting paid work done to bring in some income and at least a week dedicated to learning new things about the craft.

    Thanks for writing this, and your continued support for new writers like myself. – ahlam
    Ahlam Yassin recently posted..Egypt’s Social Revolution- a Time for Change

  3. Thanks for reproducing your query letter here. I agree with Ahlam that building that kind of expertise takes time, unless you already have a background in the subject you intend to write about.
    Wendy A.M. Prosser recently posted..Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

    • Carol Tice says:

      I agree it takes time, and obviously this is a specialized niche. But you can show this level of homework in any type of query — knowing your topic, looking into what experts you would talk to, finding study data. This approach works well for any kind of topic.

  4. Erika says:

    Carol – thanks so much for posting your whole letter here! It’s so great to read real-world examples. As someone who does a lot of PR pitching, one of the similarities is your offer of resources. We HAVE to do that in PR — no use pitching a great story if the reporter has to do all the work in finding the people he/she can interview. Reporters and editors are so busy – whatever you do in your pitch to show them you can save them time is great.
    Erika recently posted..See Jane blog part II- Business blog basics

  5. Carol Tice says:

    I should add that of course, I continue to write for this outlet…that successful multipitch query set me up for an ongoing relationship with this market.

    One of the big differences that sets higher-earning freelancers apart is they get in a groove of writing for the same outlets on an ongoing, monthly basis. That means less marketing effort needed and less pitching cold, and more reliable income. One of the areas we’ll definitely be discussing at the Webinar.

    • John Soares says:

      Carol, you wrote an excellent query, and most importantly, it has led to continued high-paying assignments. And that’s a crucial key to being a successful freelance writer: landing the great assignments, but then getting those editors to come to you time and again with more of them.
      John Soares recently posted..Why I Won’t Buy Demand Media Stock

      • Carol Tice says:

        Right on, John — I’m trying to encourage my mentees — and every writer I know — to WORK HARDER on their queries. They can be the ticket to thousands and thousands of dollars of work. So much of what I’ve reviewed — and what my editors tell me they see — looks very casually tossed-off. Along the lines of “I’d like to write about ‘natural health.'” Well, sure you would…but what about it, exactly?

        When you learn to develop sharply defined story angles and present the facts of why the story should be written now, you start to get a lot more ‘yes’ es on queries!

  6. Donna Rodgers says:

    Hi Carol,

    My recent approach to sending queries is similar to yours. You’re right: I think most people pitch bits of an idea without providing substance of the article. Your example is awesome, and I applaud the work you’re doing to teach us fearlessness and tools of the trade.

  7. You make a point worth noting: well-polished queries aren’t for periodical writers only! While some successful freelance business writers (Peter Bowerman is noteworthy) got their start through the “blitz” method of phoning every company in their preferred industry and asking “Whom should I talk to about your current and anticipated freelance writing needs?,” those to whom “cold calling” is anathema should appreciate the value of the more targeted approach.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted..Goofs and Gaffes

    • Carol Tice says:

      These days, when you can look at a company’s website and see exactly what’s lame about it, I personally prefer an email pitch, as I like the chance to call out exactly where they’re weak and how my writing a new blog/case study/About page/team bios/etc would improve it. It seems like it’s a great opportunity to position yourself as an expert who’s taken the time to analyze their marketing, as opposed to the generic “Do you need a freelance writer” phone pitch — though I know people that works for, too!

  8. Chrystal says:

    Thank you so much for posting the query letter. You have no idea how helpful that is for me. There have been so many jobs I wanted to try for, but was never confident in writing a query letter. Actually seeing one and not a standard form letter you see on the internet, really gave me some ideas on how to structure one.
    Chrystal recently posted..How to Stop Procrastination – An Easy Three-Step Process For Overcoming Procrastination Fast

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad it’s helpful, Chrystal — and that’s really why I wanted to do it. Writers need a sense of how sophisticated their query should be. It should be fully researched and ready to go. That’s what makes editors say yes — they can see in the query that you know how to execute the story, and how it will turn out. You can see how much more you’d want to greenlight that than you would a vague topic where you’d have to sit with the writer and help them develop the angle.

  9. Jen L says:

    Okay, wow.

    I’m both impressed and intimidated now!

    But also a little inspired. It had never occurred to me to put several story ideas all in one letter. And at first when you wrote that, my reaction was “But how can you show the editor that you have a clearly defined path, with ideas for specific angles, interviews, sources, etc.?” Then I realized, “If I can’t show an editor that in just a couple of paragraphs, maybe I need to spend some more time refining my pitch.”
    Jen L recently posted..Yet another take on the whole Tiger Mom thing

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Jen —

      I’ve only ever run across one editor who said they didn’t like multipitch. And I’ve gotten many assignments with this approach. Often, I’ll send two ideas — the one I love, and then another one I’ve developed as a backup. And inevitably, they like the backup idea!

      Multipitch is a great way to up your odds of getting a ‘yes,’ as you’ve presented more ideas they can choose. Give it a try!

  10. I loved the way you crafted the query, Carol. Precise and brief with ample back-up studies, researches etc. Thank you for sharing it; it’s very helpful.

    However, I have one question: Can we credit the query system entirely? For example, in your case, didn’t your background, your published records, large following, website, experience, recommendations etc ALL work for you, instead of the query alone?

    I think if a newbie wrote this same query (which is as rare as finding a hair on the sand), he or she would not really be considered or paid as competitively unless he or she has the other things like website, experience, etc, right.

    In any case, lovely post. Very helpful too.

    -BrownEyed
    Brown Eyed Mystic recently posted..Seven Things No One Told You About Writing

    • Carol Tice says:

      Certainly, the strength of your track record is a factor. But you really show what you’ve got with the query. I started with nothing, remember — no degree, no credits. So somewhere along the line, pitches got accepted just based on the strength of the pitch.

      I’ve called magazines and had them assign me over the phone without ever asking me for clips!

      My joke is no one really cares if you learned to write under a freeway overpass or at Columbia…if you can write. Your query is your chance to show you can write, wherever you’re at in your career.

  11. Alan Kravitz says:

    Great post, Carol. I have never done a multi-pitch query before, but you’ve got me thinking about doing some now! I also second the idea that LinkedIn is a great start-off point for something like this. I just did my first major outreach effort on LinkedIn and it’s already earned me some new gigs and prospects.
    Alan Kravitz recently posted..A new book to help you discover your nonprofit’s hidden truths

  12. perry rose says:

    Damn, Carol!

    Yet another reason why I tell folks to go to your blog.

    Did you know that if your hours to write these 3 articles, (or whatvever the amount of articles it will actually be) isn’t drawn out, you will be making more than a A-List copywriter for an assignment?

    I’m a copywriter. When I read your blog, every now and then I think about writing articles, maybe be a syndicated writer (I think it is more relaxing and less stressful).

    The $2,000 an article had me leaning forward a bit to read it again, though.

    Did I read that right? Or do I need to buy new glasses?

    That’s $4 a word, if…the article is 500 words.

    Publishers are paying that???!

  13. perry rose says:

    Crap! .. Now I HAVE to get glasses.

  14. One additional issue that occasionally comes up when querying businesses (especially nonprofits), as opposed to periodicals: How to head off the risk that someone might take your query as an offer to provide volunteer, rather than paid, work? And how do you respond if they do?
    Katherine Swarts recently posted..The Middle Line of Readability

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have never in 20+ years of querying had an editor or corporate communications manager become confused that I was volunteering to write for free! I think your professionalism in crafting the query hopefully heads that off.

  15. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this fantastic blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

  16. Pinar Tarhan says:

    Hi Carol,

    I decided a while ago that I want to be published on magazines, whether they are the online or the print versions. So I dug deep, looked for great blog posts on writing the perfect query letters, invested on a couple of great books (writer’s digest and more), and finally, I feel like I am confident that I can write a good query letter.

    But now, I have another problem. It is really hard many magazines that I’m dying to write for. Sure, there are some big names but it is too early for me to start pitching to them. And I keep researching. Any suggestions for great free and paid market listing websites/ebooks/books that cover a wide range of topics?

    Oh, and coming up for great and irresistible story ideas is another thing. In theory, I know I have to find new twists to ideas. In practice, this is much harder to do.
    I’d really appreciate it.

    Thanks,
    Pinar
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..18 Movies with Writer Characters featuring Michelle Pfeiffer- Jennifer Aniston- Anne Hathaway and More

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Pinar –

      I can’t help noticing that you say “published on magazines,” when correct English would be “in magazines.” There are several other grammar errors in your comment, too. I’m going to guess English is not your first language.

      Yes, it’s tough to crack the top consumer magazines…even for those of us with long journalism track records and perfect English. For most writers, it’s more realistic to start with smaller-circulation publications to gather some clips that would help you make the case that you’re the writer for a big national magazine assignment.

      The Writer’s Market has thousands and thousands of publications listed…buy it with online support where you can sort their database.

      Also…if you speak another language fluently, why not consider getting some clips in magazines in your native language? Being bilingual can be an advantage that gets you in the door if the topic relates to your home country.

      Hopefully you’re coming to the free call later tonight on how to write queries, with Renegade Writer Linda Formichelli! Details on my Facebook fan page if you haven’t seen.

      • There’s some great stuff on international writing opportunities at http://www.writing-world.com/international/index.shtml. Though I have to say that blog comments, social networking discussions, and e-mails bring out the careless side in many a writer who has few excuses not to use flawless English. I’ve seen librarians, college professors, editors at major publishing houses, and well-published authors make some pretty glaring elementary errors in such venues!
        Katherine Swarts recently posted..Utter Despair

  17. Ok, I am finally at a place to start in my life and writing and I am going to start querying some smaller publications and local businesses.

    I will report back when I have a success and use my earnings to get your eBook :-)

    For now, you are the first addition to my blogroll.
    April Schroader recently posted..A Schroader Family Blog: A Simple Life

  18. Thanks for the info,

    Usually I don’t do freelance writing or approach clients, although occasionly I have been approached for freelance projects when I was preceived as the ‘Go to Guy’.
    Creating a Query Letter looks like an excellent technique to position yourself as
    a ‘Go to Guy or – Gall’ and I have frequently used somewhat similar techiques
    for successfully approaching and contacting business contacts.

    Query (multiple ideas) indeed also creates lots of opportunities to shows lots of your qualities to an editor and it also helps not to waste his or her time, and also helps not to waste your own time on writing on speculation.
    HP van Duuren recently posted..Your Blog As a – Platform – To Work From

  19. Thanks for this awesome post. I about fell over when I got to the part where you revealed that the publication pays $2000 for a 1000-word article.
    Now, I’ve gotta take action fast and implement all I’ve just learned from this article.

  20. Jermaine Mintuck says:

    Thank you for introducing me RIGHT AT THE MICRO-BUDDING of my writing career. I haven’t even sent a letter of anything to magazine people yet. I was thinking of doing this and your query letter just got me the right way. I see that this does better than the content mill crap people always seem to try. In other words, the long way around.

  21. Carol, this example of your amazingly successful query letter is just what I needed. I’ve been putting off sending any out because I just wasn’t sure what should be included.

    With reference to the bio at the end: To date I’ve only written for the mills or gotten clients thru the bid sites, which were ghostwriting projects; nothing with my byline attached. I do contribute regularly to HubPages and have done so for two years now. Should I include that in my bio? (HubPages, not the mills) What can a new writer include in the bio if they have no accolades to speak of?

    • Carol Tice says:

      The basic rule is: You pitch with what you’ve got. If that’s what you’ve got now, use it. Some clients will know it’s junk and ignore you, but some won’t.

      Meanwhile, work on getting some more legit clips as your top priority so you can improve your bio line.

  22. Vicki Warner says:

    Hi Carol,
    I have fiddled and tweaked. I have blushed and rewritten. I have soaked up information with delight and admiration.

    My website has changed markedly over the short period of time I started on line writing. I have learned so much – one of the most remarkable being the truth of that old saying ‘if you want to find a diamond, you don’t go looking in a pile of manure.’

    Well, this post of yours with your generous demonstration of a super query is a diamond that I really needed to find. I would never have done so without following your posts, and other terrific, admired bloggers. I guess part of the whole scene is you also have to work on being a polished diamond, even when you know right now you are the uncut variety!

    Thank you, Carol. This is most appreciated.

  23. donia moore says:

    Thank you for the full example of your query letter!
    I have begun to use multiple-pitch queries with success. The first national magazine I sent one to accepted them. I contacted the editor first by email to ask if they were accepting pitches. Then, along with my pitch I sent a clip that was related to the stories I was pitching. I got a phone call from the editor right away, asking me when I could have the first article done. After the pitch is accepted, don’t forget to verify how many words are required and if photos are needed, how many. Also, take a little time to find out the name of the editor, as you always suggest, so you can pitch directly to them. Thanks for your suggestions! They DO work!

    • Carol Tice says:

      And there’s nothing like the high of getting that quick response, and knowing…you nailed it! Perfect fit of idea to publication.

      I find when you do that, response is usually swift, despite their “allow 8-12 weeks” disclaimers.

  24. Sabita Saleem says:

    Hi Carol,

    This post is really inspiring and it has given me the starting point. I hope to earn freedom from this content mill I am caught up with.

    Its definitely the best escape plan ever :).

    Many Thanks
    Sabita

  25. This post is really inspiring and it has given me the starting point. I hope to earn freedom from this content mill I am caught up with.

    Its definitely the best escape plan ever :).

8 Pings/Trackbacks for "How One Query Letter Got $6,000 in Assignments"
  1. [...] on the Make a Living Writing blog, I’m letting it all hang out and reprinting my most successful query letter ever. It got me $6,000 in assignments. I used a technique I’ve had a lot of success with in [...]

  2. [...] love this post from Carol Tice. “How One Query Letter Got $6,000 in Assignments.” It’s aspirational to her readers.  It’s real…it’s not a million dollars, [...]

  3. [...] How One Query Letter Got $6,000 in Assignments on Make a Living Writing. I love getting sneak peeks into successful writers’ minds, and Carol Tice doesn’t disappoint with her query letter that sold three ideas at once. It was great to see that she broke the “send one idea per query” rule and profited as a result. [...]

  4. [...] to make connections with companies or magazines that weren’t in your town. Either you wrote awesome query letters and then waited two months or so for a mailed response, or you got on planes and went to trade [...]

  5. [...] good-paying writing jobs are not hiding. You are hiding from the good-paying jobs.I can tell you there is great pay out there, and in the past year, I’ve seen a real boom. Rates are rising at many websites.There is a [...]

  6. [...] How One Query Letter Got $6,000 in Assignments [...]

  7. [...] One of my favorite bloggers and a lady soon to be my freelance writing mentor, Carol Tice of Making a Living Writing, wrote one query letter that resulted in $6000 of work. (Check out her post about it, here.) [...]

  8. [...] Send your query letter to a ‘specific’ editor. It’s important to have the correct spelling of the [...]

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


one × 2 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge