Here's Why Your Article Idea Isn't Getting You $1 a Word - Make a Living Writing

Here’s Why Your Article Idea Isn’t Getting You $1 a Word

Carol Tice | 183 Comments

Hand with Copper Coins IsolatedA well-written query letter can work like a magic wand for freelance writers, opening the door to the great-paying article assignments you desire.

Unfortunately, most query letters don’t get a response, even ones to publications that pay $100 an article, much less the ones that pay $1,000.

And yes, there are still $1-a-word article markets. Loads of ’em.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of comments here on the blog from writers who complain they’ve queried and queried and never had so much as a nibble.

That means something’s going wrong. Fortunately, most query errors are fairly simple to fix.

Here are the most common slip-ups I’ve seen reviewing query letters:

Your query has no headline

You’d think it would be a no-brainer to include a strong proposed headline for your story idea in a query letter, so the editor can quickly scan through and immediately grasp the gist of your story idea. But I’d say the majority of queries I’ve reviewed lack one.

Writing a headline for your story idea is also highly recommended because it will help you focus your idea. If you can’t put it into a concise headline — that’s written in the style of that publication — your idea probably needs more work before it’s ready for a query.

You didn’t study the publication

I see a lot of writers trying to shoehorn a topic they’re dying to write about into a publication that doesn’t accept articles on that topic, or in that format.

For instance, you query that you want to write about a single breakthrough medical procedure you learned about — but for a magazine that only runs medical roundup stories with five or more breakthroughs per story. Or you’re proposing a 3,000-word narrative feature for a publication that mostly runs short, list-driven “listicle” type pieces.

Trying to convince an editor to break the mold of their publication and make an exception because your idea is super-marvelous doesn’t usually work. Instead, analyze the magazine and see what types of articles they run…then, feed them an idea that fits right into one of their regular departments.

Your topic is too broad

Editors fear assigning topics that aren’t well-defined. It’s too risky. You might end up turning in a rambling mess.

Yet many writers feed this fear by pitching topics that are too general. They’re big enough that you could easily write a full-length book on the topic. If your idea could be a book, it’s not niched enough to be a good article pitch.

For instance, I recently heard from one writer who said an editor had liked her ideas enough to start up a conversation on email. But she didn’t assign her any right off — instead, the editor asked her to submit ideas that were “more thinly sliced.”

“What does she mean?” the writer asked me.

Translation: Your article idea needs to be narrow and clear enough that the editor can easily see you’ll be able to address that topic in the (usually short) word length you’re given.

Let’s slice a topic here just for practice. For instance, the writer who got the “thin-sliced” comment from her editor mentioned she had pitched writing an article about “dealing with divorce after 40.”

That, people, is a book topic.

An article topic in this neighborhood might be, “Dealing with divorce after 40 — when you have young kids.” Or you’re disabled. Or you live in a rural area. Or your kids are special needs. Or your ex is a stalker.

See the difference?

Serve up a thin slice of story and your editor sees your topic is doable in a short wordcount.

You don’t show your research

There are two kinds of research that are good to show in a pitch — your research into the publication, and your research into your story idea.

You should do both kinds before you query, especially if you’re a new writer.

Even if you don’t have any clips, if you write a really strong query, you could find yourself with an assignment from a great-paying market. It does happen.

But to make it happen, you have to show your stuff. Say which department your piece is for. Say what’s revealed by the interesting research you’ve about this issue. Throw in a quote from an expert you’ve already interviewed.

Writers hesitate to put this much work in for the query, because they fear it will be a waste of time. Then, you never get the gig because your query doesn’t give the editor confidence you can execute your piece.

It’s all about you

New writers often spend half their query letter talking about themselves. Worse yet, what they have to say is frequently negative. Here are a few gems I’ve seen:

“I just graduated college.”

“I’m a brand-new freelancer.”

“I couldn’t find a job, so I turned to freelancing out of desperation.”

This is not making the sale for you.

Remember, don’t tell an editor what you don’t know or can’t do.

A pro-sounding resume line goes like this:

“I am a Chicago-based writer specializing in healthcare topics. My work has appeared in ___ and ___ magazines.” (And omit that second line if you have no previous credits.)

That’s it. Give them a link to your writer website to solidify the idea that you’re a pro, and you’re done.

You never pitch good-paying publications

Sadly, this is probably the most common reason I see for not earning more.

Writers are trapped in fears they’re not good enough to earn that sort of money, and avoid approaching elite publications altogether…sometimes even if they’ve been getting published in lower-paying publications for years and years.

Remember, nobody will move your career up a notch except you.

The main thing to know is if you don’t pitch up to great publications, those juicy, fat $1,000 or $2,000 article checks are never going to come.

CONTEST: What’s keeping YOU from earning $1 a word? Tell us in the comments for a chance to win a FREE ticket to the 4-Week Journalism School class that’s starting May 8. Most fascinating insight whose author has the most RTs for this post will be declared the winner on Monday’s post, so leave us your Twitter handle with your comment. Good luck all!

 

183 comments on “Here’s Why Your Article Idea Isn’t Getting You $1 a Word

  1. Arabella on

    Really useful tips, especially for me, because I’ve just set up my new online business in the last couple of days, and honestly, I’m not into blogging and online marketing, I haven’t done this before and I have to learn a couple of things in the next weeks to be able to realize my resolutions and reach my grand goals in the near future. Thanks for sharing your useful advices!

    • Rhonda Kronyk on

      Arabella, I have recently done the same thing. Here I am in my mid-40s, starting a new business. It’s scary, it’s exhausting, and it’s exhilarating! There is so much to learn, isn’t there. But, sites like this one help so much. I know it will all work out as long as I keep my head up. I wish you luck in your new endeavor.

  2. Keiti on

    I’m a newbie here (as in I just stumbled across your site today) – I’ve been reading through the comments and I’m both sorry and grateful that other writers feel the same way I do. For me, lack of progress is two-fold: the first is that I’m all over the place – scriptwriting projects here, website projects there, etc. I’m a *great* ideas person, but I find that I get started, end up telling myself that the idea is stupid, and then move on to something else. As a result, nothing ever gets done. The second part is fear that I’m really a crappy writer and one of these days someone’s going to point it out for me.

    The ironic part is that writing and working with words is really the only thing I’m good at.

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Keiti — welcome to the blog!

      If you look near the bottom of the sidebar, you’ll see a topic for ‘overcoming fear’ — lots of posts there that might help you out.

  3. Katherine Swarts on

    All these comments on fear (and attitude in general) remind me of something I’ve been wondering about: When it comes to building confidence through positive thinking, what’s the most effective first step? Just acting confident; saying all the right things; following your gut? Or is this a chicken-and-egg question that should be answered “all of the above”?

    It sounds a bit silly put like that: but “first-move decision paralysis” can strike here as easily as in many more “material” aspects of life.

    • Katherine Swarts on

      I think I found the “official” Writer’s Den answer to my question on the “fear chat” transcript, bottom of p. 8: “You don’t act the way you feel, you feel the way you act…. If you’re sitting around waiting for this divine light to come and make you less afraid… you’re kind of stuck in this morass of feelings and… the more you think about it… the worse it gets.” Twice I went through the audio version and I missed that both times.

  4. Katie Mack on

    For those of us who are brand new to this, it’s daunting to query without any clips to send. It is a very intimidating catch 22 that I struggle with. You can’t get clips without getting a job, and you can’t get a job without having clips.

    I am relieved to see you wrote that it is possible to get a gig with a strongly written query. I would have never thought of trying to query without some experience under my belt!

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, that’s what I did. I was too dumb to know I shouldn’t, so I’d just call up the local alternative paper, ask for the editor, and say, “Hey, you have anybody going to that city council meeting about the controversial new cel tower?” And they’d say, “Hey, no I don’t, write up 400 words on it, would you?”

      Nobody ever even asked me if I had a background in it…guess they thought if I knew enough to pitch them a story I could take notes, talk to a few people, and write something up.

      FYI, inside Freelance Writers Den we have a previous bootcamp, The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, that’s designed exactly for people in your situation — how to start from zero, build an initial small portfolio, and then be able to query and get the assignments you want.

  5. Colin Guest on

    It is good to read all the comments and the answers from Carol.Found them to be very interesting. I can put myself into various peoples shoes who have posted comments. I have had a few articles published online and one in a UK magazine, this being the only one I have been paid for. I have been writing a story re my life working in various countries around the world, including how I came to do so. One of these days I will try and see if anyone is interested in reading my story, which is in 14 chapters, one for each country I have worked in. Any ideas re this would be much appreciated.

    • Carol Tice on

      Colin, why not try selling a chapter as an article excerpt? I’m just in the process of trying to do that now with a print book on business startups I have coming up.

      • Colin Guest on

        Many thanks for your advice, which is much appreciated.
        As some chapters are much longer than others, I guess if an editor is interested, he would advise on the length of the article required. I am planning to start the chapters with a startling incident, which happened in various countries I worked in. This I feel would draw the readers attention. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Susan Hegedus on

    I think the reason I don’t go for the big bucks is because I feel overwhelmed. I have tried a few times, and am lucky if I even get a response. Apart from rejection, there seems to be a deeper reason or symptom why I don’t tackle the biggie. I think if I search my heart, it may be because I am almost frightened I’ll get it (much as I’d love to) because if I do, what then? If my query is accepted will I ever live up to their expectations. So in a nutshell it could be fear of failing, or worst still, fear of failing really badly.

    I did get one real bigggy once and it was fantastic to be paid a large sum of money. But the editor did not let me off lightly. She told me she had to rewrite a couple of the paragraphs and that the only reason she took it on was because it was such a good idea, rather than my writing. This feature was about a Prayer Bus – some of these young people had warrants for their arrest and were really rowdy but had found prayer through a psychadelic prayer bus which was somewhere for them to hang out. So it was a good story and found its way into the centre pages. I like to think I can take criticism but I felt very sensitive and when she spoke very loudly down the phone at me I felt almost like she had found me out, and that I was not all I should have been. I have never tried since for the ‘big one’. However when this did get published and I received a nice big fat cheque in the post, there wasn’t any other feeling quite like it.

    • Carol Tice on

      Here’s the secret perhaps no one shared, Susan — we all get rewritten. It’s fairly normal.

      And some editors are yellers. I wrote full-time for one for 5 years and had to learn how to work with his prickly personality. It didn’t mean I was a bad writer…it meant he was unprofessional.

      Dealing with criticism is something we all need a real thick skin for to make it as freelancers. I was fortunate to have cut my teeth getting my songs ripped apart in workshops for years before I got into writing nonfiction prose. Nothing will ever be worse than singing your song, from your heart, and having someone pipe up, “That first verse just isn’t working…”

  7. Anita on

    Competing interests are holding me back. With two preschoolers at home, I’m doing my best to enjoy these fleeting years, and thus I call myself a mom first and a writer second – though I recently became so preoccupied with a writing task that I didn’t quit when it was time to cook dinner. (So I burned the rice and set off the smoke alarm.)

    I also waver between focusing on magazine writing and copywriting. The variety is nice, but I do think I would probably be better off to focus my limited time on mastering one or the other. I had made up my mind to specialize in copywriting, but then I get a hard copy of a glossy magazine with my byline… and I want to pitch another article or find another possible market for a story idea.

  8. Carolin Grandin on

    You’ve nailed it again, Carol. You’ve pointed out exactly what holds us want-to-be’s back.

    For me, I’ve spent ages writing and rewriting, tweaking and re-tweaking, and uploading every clip I can find for my writer’s site until I am finally happy with it. I’ve joined LinkedIn and joined up with colleagues, acquaintances and friends, and joined groups, commenting where I can. I now tweet, which I thought I would never do. I’ve taken webinar after webinar, class after class.

    I feel I am at the precipice ready to grab the rope and swing over to the high-paying freelance gigs, wearing confidence like a cape.

    Then I look at reputable job postings: “required: English or Journalism degree”, nope; “required: minimum 5 years related experience”, not exactly; “required: SEO expert”, expert?, and my cape drops from my shoulders and I am standing exposed, then retreat to the safety of the trees – revamp my writer’s site again, comment some more on LinkedIn, write a post for my blog.

    When I’m up on the precipice, there is a vast canyon below, clear sky above and beauty in the distance. No-one is standing in my way. I am not afraid of falling; I know the rope is long enough to reach the other side. But it is that first step I am afraid of taking. What if the side I am on now is the better side?

    I am the only one stopping myself from success. I need something that will tie my cape in a double bow so that when I reach the other side, I will still have the confidence to explore the unknown land.

    Thank you for FWD. It is one of the reasons that I am now standing so close to the edge. And J-School may just be that final nudge to make me leap.

  9. Neil on

    Want to know what is keeping me from getting the $1 a word gigs…note the time of this posting a comment. It’s called procrastination. I have the ability and the desire…but sometimes I become my own worst enemy with just doing it. Do I expect to win this? Only if a mad rush of people RT and send me over the top. Do I deserve? I think everyone here wanting to make a difference in their livelihood towards success deserves it…but we have to make it happen individually.

    When we stop looking in the mirror to see the problem…because we each already know what it is…than will the high realm of probability come to roost.

    Thanks Carol for the insightful and hit-on-the-head approach you always take.

    Twitter…@Writefornote

  10. JoAnn Schlicker on

    I think it all boils down is to know what the audience (your writing venue) wants to hear, then focus, focus, and focus.

    My greatest fear is stepping on legal toes and bringing down the wrath of lawyers and other money hungry people looking for a wrong. There is PC, and the chance of some ethnic or religious group feeling that they are offended.

    Copyright is another biggie. The search for non copyrighted images takes more time than the writing.

    Embedded links is a huge issue. After finding credible sources and articles, I find that clicking the link brings me to something else. For example, in an article, I quoted a doctor who wrote an online article. I embedded the link in his name. When I clicked, it took me to another site where there was no mention of the good physician. Argghhh. I want to tear my hair out some days.

    Maybe I am not tech savvy enough to write. I did better in ancient times with a manual typewriter and snail mail. But, that was then and this is now.

      • Carol Tice on

        Remember, you ARE covered under my Universal Comment Typo Forgiveness insurance policy! No need to add comments apologizing for comment errors…we know what you meant to say. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        You know, JoAnn, when we took a poll about the fears writers have about magazine article writing, #1 was fear of being sued. Which is why we spend a whole week in J-School giving you an ethics training that inoculates you against problems — you leave knowing what you can say and not say without exposing yourself to possible legal problems.

        And yeah — it’s good to check those links and make sure they’re going the right place! But you’re not going to get sued over a bad link…just asked if you’d correct it, in my experience.

  11. Rachel Frank on

    I think my pitfall is being to broad in my topic selection. I really need to do more research into the niche of the magazine and topic to help create a more focused topic. By pinpointing a more specific topic I can choose publications to pitch to that my content is a better match for and increase changes of getting a paying gig. Thanks for the insight ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. BJ Patterson on

    I have missed opportunities to register with these ladies due to some serious medical circumstances. Everything I’ve read about them and their courses is encouraging, especially the comments from other fellow writers. I have worked for an online newspaper writing theater reviews and placed in a contest or two for fiction, but I wish to write articles for magazines and newspapers and simply don’t have the nerve to do it.

    From what I’ve read, the confidence level of other writers has gone up tremendously after taking this course. I WANT THAT! I NEED THAT! If I win I promise to apply everything I learn into making the most of every opportunity.

    Here’s to hoping.
    BJ Patterson

  13. Lorraine Marie Reguly on

    I am not being paid $1/word yet simply because I have not applied for any jobs. I am still learning about the world of freelancing, which is why I read your blog posts and Linda Formicelli’s posts.

    I signed up for Writerbay.com and, once approved, realized they were a content mill that offered low pay to basically write students’ essays, which I REFUSE to do. I would rather spend my time writing for FREE than to contribute to cheating! Of course, the fact that I am a certified high school English teacher is a factor in this decision; it goes against my morals.

    I also think that writing is something to be enjoyed. If I had to write for the sake of survival and the sake of survival ONLY, perhaps my views would change. However, I would never want to lose my love for words nor for the intrinsic pleasure I derive from my ability to craft something out of a mere 26 letters and some white space!

  14. Bina Joseph on

    Hi Carol,

    The gems of simple, everyday wisdom that you give out in your posts, webinars, social media entries are what I look forward to with so much anticipation.

    I can’t think of a single area you have left untouched.

    I absorb them all like a sponge, learn invaluable inputs about our industry, and apply them to my daily work.

    Looking forward to more…and thanking you.

    Twitter: @binasol8791

    • Carol Tice on

      Bina, wanted to warn you that when I click your site link, my browser warns me you are a phishing scam. Might want to take a look at that…probably making it hard for people to connect with you.

      • Bina Joseph on

        Hi Carol,

        I clicked on my blog link after I got your message re it being flagged as a phishing scam. It opens up for me without any problems.

        Thanks for letting me know, and I will keep an eye out for it. It doesn’t seem to have a problem right now.

        Appreciate you taking the time to look into my bog and for letting me know.

        Cheers.

  15. Jessica Benavides Canepa on

    Nice post Carol! Definitely food for thought.

    I do get paid $1 per word, just not as often as I’d like. Out of every 10 queries I send , 6 are usually accepted. What’s my problem then?

    For me, its the annoyingly classic fear of success combined with my equally irritating perfectionism.

    The thought of reaching out to new markets that I have not diligently studied or worse being commissioned to write something for a publication I know little about terrifies me.

    It’s often a struggle to let go of this need to control and just press “send”.

    In the end, I hope my love of writing and desire to earn what I deserve will squash this useless fear like a bug.

    My twitter handle: @jbcanepa

  16. Diane Dutchin on

    Hi Carol, as always another engaging topic My issue (prior to coming in touch with you)
    Has been a lack of belief that I can produce quality work. That mentality kept me frozen but I am on my way to thawing off and making progress in the right direction.:-) thanks in part to you.

  17. Marie-Louise on

    Great tips, thank you. One of the big problems I’ve had in the past was that I didn’t study the different markets properly. I always ‘thought’ I understood the different publications, but later realised I had to look at them very closely – basically break them down, look at who is writing for them (freelancers or mostly staff writers?), average word length, style and all the different sections of the publication etc. I’m still learning how to do this properly. I’m sure 4 week J school would help with this, thanks for the opportunity!

  18. Mary Pat Bolton on

    It is such a comfort to read these comments and realize that so many other writers stumble over the same roadblocks as I do. I listened (twice) to the fear-busting chat that Carol Tice and Linda Formichelli offered this week. All of it helped me, but in particular, I appreciated this thought from Carol: No one else on the planet has your life experiences, and no one else can write what you can write. If you keep putting your writing out there, you are going to find people who want exactly what you have to say. You are here to make a difference and to shine a light with your writing creativity.

  19. Laure Cohen on

    Do you think that non native English writers have an additional barrier to overcome? That is one reason I’ve not been actively persuing $1 a word gigs.
    On a recent trip to NY, I found this book: English as a Second F*cking Language by Professor Sterling Johnson. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you don’t know a language until you know when and how to swear in it!
    Carol, you post opens up new ways of looking at writing for a living for me and I thank you so much.
    @laurecoh

    • Carol Tice on

      Certainly, but you know top copywriter Ed Gandia recently revealed that English is HIS second language! So for those willing to work HARD on their English, it can be overcome.

      • Laure Cohen on

        Thank you Carol for sharing this story with me. English is such an ever changing language that it’s fun AND hard work learning to write it well. Ed Gandia is absolutely right – reading lots of books is essential. You’d be surprised at how much I learned about style and vocabulary reading Hunger Games ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Louis on

    Nice checklist, Carol. I have to admit that suggesting possible titles for your proposed article had never occurred to me before. Also, with the point about your research, I guess it’s a fine line not to show too much in the query. Thanks for the pointers.

    • Carol Tice on

      Have to say I’ve been surprised how many commenters today said that, that they never submit proposed headlines!

      So helpful to editors…and really to you too. But maybe we’ve fixed a basic problem for some people that will improve their query response rates — hope so.

  21. Andrea on

    I loved this because it’s a reminder that discipline will pay off: have a compelling story, know your pubs, do your homework, and write a good headline. Oh, and then press send. I actually think the headline, which I use as the subject header of the email, is the hardest part. I’ve been reading on how to write good headlines, both from copyblogger, but also by studying old advertising greats.
    What’s holding me back: 1) being brutal about being organized enough to get story ideas out there at a steady pace–make it routine. Solution: routine and structure. Don’t let the day job take up more time than it has to 2) not pitching high enough. I’ve been working on laddering up my clips to get the bigger assignments. That worked. Now I’ve got to go for the bigger fish. @andrealvolpe.

  22. Debra on

    I enjoyed this post. Starting out as a freelance write scares me. My college professors pushed me to attend graduate school for my MFA, but I thought my BA in English would be enough to begin working as a writer. I was so wrong. I write for very low paying places. I don’t understand the mechanics to article writing or blogging. All of my query letters have ” I recently graduated” in them. Which after this post, removing that statement from my vocabulary is top priority.

    • Carol Tice on

      You could have started WITHOUT the b.a., much less an MFA! Few working freelance writers have that. I think it’s sad that colleges hand out degrees that give people no ability to support themselves and no marketable skills in their field.

      But at least now you’ll stop telling people you recently graduated!

      J-School could definitely help you get the hang of the “mechanics” to article writing.

    • Carol Tice on

      Exactly, Larry — what would the headline for your article be? (Editors don’t call them ‘titles’ — that’s for school papers.)

      If you can’t propose one, it’s probably not ready to pitch.

  23. Claire De Boer on

    Great piece Carol. I’m new to the querying process, having mainly done blogging gigs, and have only been pitching the smaller publications. But maybe I should be hitting the bigger ones too.

  24. Carol on

    that are holding me back..until now, that is. I can’t up. What would my life be if I give up? You replied to a comment saying that we are all afraid but it’s not about being afraid as much as it’s about who takes action in spite of that fear. Last Summer I lost my home and have been living in my car all these months. I have been trying to save money to take your class because I can see that it holds value for my life for the long run(give me a fish/teach me to fish) but I keep having to do all these little things that keep dipping into anything that I could save up. Things like eating and showering get expensive especially when you have to keep doing them over and over again. lol I know I can write but I want to enter deeper into this writing world on a stronger foundation than what I have now. The kind of foundation your class offers. I’m not giving up. If I can’t get into the class next month then there is always next year, right?

    I want to thank you and everyone else who commented because through reading all of these comments my confidence has been lifted again.

    Twitter: @Itsmeigan

    • Carol on

      I suppose technology is holding me back too.lol Of all the things to lose out of my comment technology deleted the one thing you asked for. It is Fear, lack of confidence, life’s lemons…are what’s holding me back.

  25. Jessica Burde on

    All of the above, though fear was definitely the biggest factor. Until a few weeks ago I clung fiercely to the content mills, because I didn’t know how to pitch to magazines or other paying markets, didn’t know how to write a headline, and didn’t think my writing was going to catch an editors eye anyone. The few query letters I did convince myself to send out over the past few years never got a response, probably because one or another of them included all the problems you describe.

    I’m done being afraid. Over the past two weeks I’ve made a huge effort to find resources like this blog so I could learn how to write headlines and queries and this week I sent out two query letters that (I think) managed to avoid all of these problems. I’m moving slowly since I still have a lot to learn, but my goal now is to find at least 10 new markets a week and familiarize myself with their topics, requirements and such, and to pitch at least one query a day. Fingers crossed.

  26. Kit on

    Someone paying me $1 a word for something I’ve written sounds magical, but the question is, “How does one get there?” I’m currently stuck in writing for a content mill and fear going out of my comfort zone to pursue writing an article for an actually magazine. Why? Well two reasons really. The first is I feel unqualified or uneducated due to that lack of a journalism degree or mounting evidence of hours and hours of honing my craft. Secondly, as part of my platform as a writer I wish to educate and entertain the reader, and thinking of a unique idea or telling it in a way that is so engaging often leaves me staring at a blank screen. This writing life is certainly a work in progress, and I’m slowing learning to sit back and enjoy the ride.

    • Carol Tice on

      You know, it really is magical, especially the first time it happens.

      We designed J-School to take away that “I feel unqualified” feeling! You won’t feel like you don’t know how it works after this course.

  27. voula on

    All those tips are spot on!

    What I find challenging is the research part as it usually does take time to find the right source, arrange to interview or read through research to find that nugget that will make the query shine. To counter that feeling of “wasting time when it’s not even sold,” I try to slice my idea into many different angles, so I am researching for more than one query. That way you don’t feel like you’re using all that time for just one idea. Changing your approach to something is key to success.

  28. Nora on

    Thanks for the highly valued information. I am considering freelancing because I enjoy writing, have ideas and a thirst for information. Would this course help a novice get started? I already started an article.

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Nora —

      Absolutely! I work with a lot of writers who have been writing for content mills and that’s their only experience…we have plenty of newbies.

      We also have more experienced writers who’re just not earning what they want — they’re not having success moving up to higher-paying pubs. This info should move you forward from wherever you’re at.

  29. LuAnn on

    How do you get over the “I don’t think my wrting is good enough” hurdle? I KNOW it’s good enough; I’ve won press association awards, but I get that icky sense of dread or ‘they’ll laugh at this’ when I think I have a pitchable topic so I rethink it. I need to stop it!!

  30. Jasmine on

    Great post, Carol!

    What’s holding me back? I think I might be doing something wrong. I’ve been reading your blog and Linda’s for months. I’ve read several books on writing query letters, coming up with ideas, etc. I try not to fall into the common traps of sending queries to the general inbox or not having the right editor’s name. I oftentimes get strange looks from people when I leave the library with my arms full of magazines to study. And yet, I’ve been getting assignments when I send letters of introduction but not when I send query letters.

    Linda said in a blog post awhile back that this business is all about volume. And that makes perfect sense to me, so I’ve been trying to ramp up the number of quality letters I send to editors. But I wonder sometimes if my own self-study approach isn’t working and maybe I need more direction. Or does it just take more time to figure all this out? I’ve been doing this for about 8 months now, and I don’t know if I need to be more patient and just keep doing what I’m doing, or if it’s time to try something very different.

    My Twitter handle: @JasmineKEvans

    • Carol Tice on

      There are $1 a word trade and custom pubs where an LOI might get you in the door…maybe make those a focus?

      Other than that, getting queries critiqued in the Den seems to work wonders for many who are in your boat.

  31. Eva on

    Thank you so much Carol. I just subscribed to your wise words today and you already touched my core weak area. I totally relate to what you said about fear and my fear is rejection which I think this is what most freelance writers fear. Thank you for reminding me that nobody will move my career up a notch except me!

  32. Ronda Swaney on

    For biz and tech writing, I feel I can write like a woman possessed. As for why I don’t make $1/word…well, with queries I seem to just plain old suck. I’m not sure if it’s true suckiness or actually insecurity/lack of confidence/fear. My queries seem to be met with radio silence, so I’ve sort of channeled my efforts elsewhere. I can’t tell if that’s me giving up or me going with my strengths.

  33. David Williams on

    Over here in the UK many people opt to write for nothing as they like to see their name in print. I won’t write for nothing and have found there are meny magazines which will give ยฃ30 for 500 words. That’s not a bad amount for an afternoons work. The best I’ve found though is ยฃ130 for 600 words butthat’s using my specialist area of music. If too many writers are prepared to do it for nothing then the whole profession will suffer at the hands of these hobby writers.

    • Carol Tice on

      I don’t agree David — the type of work most of these low-pay articles are for is very different from the type of work you do for $1-a-word magazines, and I don’t think one is affecting the other much. That’s another reason to target top markets — they have specific things they need written for a specific audience, and a hunger for fresh, well-researched info. Not every writer can deliver that, so they will continue to pay well.

  34. Rhonda Kronyk on

    I love this post. Like many, I have dealt with the fear of putting my work ‘out there.’ For a long time I have loved a quote by Seneca: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” Recently, I decided it was time to start living this: out went some query letters. No responses yet, but I think that is Seneca’s point – until we try, we will not conquer that which is hard.

    Another quick point: it is not always enough to understand the magazine. We also need to determine which sections are written by in-house staff. This can be difficult, but there is little point in pitching for sections that do not accept freelance pieces.

    Thanks for such a good post. As usual, it is filled with useful info that we can all use.
    @Pro-editor

  35. Rachel on

    What’s holding me back? Too MANY ideas for my brain to handle!

    When I start researching one thing, I come across something else I find would be a great story angle, or an article I need to read about how to write better magazine articles, or a blog with one hundred articles I need to read about being a better writer, and before I know it, I have 20+ tabs open on my browser.

    Add to that all the things on my to-do list for the commercial side of my business, and it feels like there are one hundred tabs open in my brain, causing it to short circuit altogether.

    Twitter handle: @oncallcopy

    • Katherine Swarts on

      I have the same problem: so many interesting and useful-sounding things to do that I nearly kill myself trying to do ALL of them, just in case I miss the ONE best option. Ironically enough, planning, scheduling, and prioritizing have become major time sucks in my life, perhaps from fear of moving forward, but also from a woeful lack of ability to discern what needs to go altogether, at least for the time being. You can’t fit 200 megabytes of information into 150 megabytes of available space, but you can waste quite a few hours/days/weeks trying to find some loophole in that law!

  36. Chris on

    Awesome post. Thank you for addressing this topic. I really cannot add any more that others have not already mentioned as many of us are in the same struggle. Just like in sales, fine tuning the pitch will open doors and conversations which will lead to acceptance and work.

    @classychicchris

  37. amanda wynant on

    @adamswifeamanda – Coco Chanel said, “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” I think my fear of rejection is what holds me back.

  38. Nida Sea on

    One of my problems, that I recently found out, was that my topics were too broad. Your short example up there turned on a few lights. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Of course, I only attempted to pitch a couple of “little” publications thinking that I was shooting too high, but that was the response I got. So, I guess that’s two issues: topics were too broad and pitching low-paying pubs.

    The biggest thing that kept me from trying at all was fear. I listened to the recording you and Linda did, Carol. It was awesome to say the least! I liked the way Linda spoke about being afraid and just doing it anyway. There were times in my pharmacy career I did just that, and I thought, why didn’t I ever just apply it to my current venture?

    Fear is just going to be with you, no matter what you do. I understand that portion now. So, I’ll be working toward those bigger publications with thinly-sliced ideas from now on. ๐Ÿ™‚

  39. Sophie Lizard on

    After devouring your post, I’m happy to see I’m not making any of the mistakes you mentioned! I *think* my queries are good enough, and they do get accepted. I don’t have any confidence issues stopping me from sending them, either.

    So what’s keeping me from earning $1 per word? Well, I earn that some of the time. On some simple gigs, I make as little as 25 cents a word, but faster, so my hourly equivalent is roughly the same.

    Here’s my big problem: instead of turning all my best story ideas into queries to $1-a-word markets, I note them down somewhere “to work on later”. Then I tell myself I’ve already got lots of work, and can’t spare time away from getting-paid to work on getting-paid-even-more. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t queried a print market in months!

    One of my overarching goals this year is to become more productive and spend more time on marketing to higher-paying markets, with a good balance of print publications to online ones. I’m going over all the Freelance Writers Den trainings again to remind myself of what I’m doing right and wrong, and I’ve calculated minimum rates that allow me to spend only 10-12 hours per week on client work, with plenty of time left over for marketing and the rest of life.

    Now all I have to do is get on with it. So if you see me lurking on the Den forums making small talk, or dawdling on Twitter, feel free to kick my ass into gear and send me off to query Wired!

    [Almost forgot my Twitter handle: it’s @sophielizard.]

  40. Jennifer Willis on

    Two major obstacles have been plaguing me. The first is lack of consistent confidence, which I’m sure is familiar to journalists at all levels of experience and success. Honestly, the second has been my struggle with chronic illness. Just as my freelance career was getting underway and ramping up nicely, I was hit with a years-long bout of worsening dysautonomia (aka mitral valve prolapse syndrome). I was able to score to some choice assignments from time to time, but they were few and far between.

    That was nearly 7 years ago, and I’m beginning to fare betterโ€”thanks to the assistance of medical specialists in Alabama (I had to travel to them from Oregon). But my personal and professional lives took a major hit during this time, and it will take a good while to climb out of this hole. As I’m slowly regaining my stamina, focus, and maybe even my drive, I’d love something like your j-school to help me get my head back in the game.

  41. Kerri on

    I feel so fortunate to have found this page via Linda Formichelli’s newsletter. I went to J-School over a decade ago when the internet was still “new.” I was disappointed that they didn’t really teach how to apply the skills to get jobs. We weren’t even taught how to write query letters at all. The world has changed a lot since then and there seem to be so many more opportunities to freelance. I want to win the 4 Week J-School course to get the updates that traditional schools are still lacking. It’s time for me to get my writing out there before I implode.

  42. Mary H on

    I need to learn how to contact and interview a source for an article, instead of just relying on interviews I find on the Internet.

    • Carol Tice on

      Great point, Mary — one of the big differences between content-mill articles and good-paying article work is the ability to conduct an interview…which is why we spend a whole week on that in J-School. Good interviewing and source-finding is definitely a skill you can learn!

  43. Amanda on

    Thank you for yet another excellent article. Such common sense and yet when I finally get around to writing query letters I would probably forget it! Needless to say I’ve noted it down for future reference.

    What’s holding me back? Well, apart from the normal lack of confidence, it’s probably that I’m still concentrating on lower paying markets. That’s draining my time and energy and preventing me from setting my sights on the main goal.

    I also feel that the lack of a set of ‘clips’ to offer as a portfolio is a mental stumbling block. I talk myself into believing that without those I cannot possibly apply for a magazine writing gig.

    Idiotically, I saw a magazine writing gig advertise on a job bidding site. I sent in a proposal and a couple of example articles. What I completely forgot to do was ‘pitch’ my talents. I know I could have managed the submission much better especially if I knew, or felt comfortable with, the style of writing that magazines generally require.

    Twitter: SkilfulScribe

    • Carol Tice on

      When you pitch a lot, Amanda, you get better at it!

      But it seems like the normal cycle is “Pitch one or twice, don’t get a response, give up.”

      You have to send a lot of queries both to improve your pitches and so you have more chances to get a ‘yes.’

  44. Tracy on

    I have never written a query letter or tried to write a magazine article. It is a dream at this point that I don’t even know how to work towards. I suspect most people would say “Just do it already.” But, I just don’t tend to jump into something. I like to know something about it first.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well…that’s why we created 4-Week J-School! So you can get the nuts and bolts of knowledge you need all in a quick burst and start moving forward to see your byline in publications.

  45. Barbara on

    You nailed it right on the head – I am afraid that I will be shown up as a fraud. I know in my head that I’m a great writer. My writer’s heart still has to get that and stick with it every day of the week. I see the ads looking for writers who can write on specific topics โ€“ I think about it โ€“ I look through my samples โ€“ then I chicken out and say, “No, they’ll never even look at my pitches.”

    I can write on a range of topics; I’ve taken the time to learn or research the subjects. But fear stops me every blasted time.

    • Carol Tice on

      I think stopping looking at online writer job ads is an important first step to reclaiming confidence and self-esteem. Looking at all the ridiculous scams and lowball offers makes you feel like writing has no value. You have to stop taking in that negative feedback to move forward.

      And…send query letters instead! Call a small business and ask if they need their website copy rewritten. Anything.

  46. Trey on

    I have zero credibility or experience facing the topic about which I dream of writing. I have a love for it without experiencing it. How do I earn the right to be heard? @treyhall

  47. Terri on

    My problem is coming up with too many “green ideas” that lack originality. I find myself sending what I think are unique ideas to editors only to get a a response saying, “Thanks for thinking of us, but we already have a story similar to this in the works.”

    I need to allow myself to “go there” so I can cultivate original ideas that couldn’t possibly be on the editorial calendar already. The question is how… It’s definitely a challenge.

    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/TerrificWords

    • Carol Tice on

      Really common challenge…we work HARD on story ideas in J-School! See incredible results with people who finally “get” how to niche down and create a compelling, fresh idea the editor won’t have heard already.

  48. Heide Brandes on

    The last reason resounds with me. I’m a full-time freelance writer and my bread and butter comes from regional publications and smaller magazines. I get to the point that I’m so busy writing for $100 publications that I rarely pitch the $1,000 publications. After reading this, I think it may be a wise investment on my part to pare down on the smaller assignments to start developing strong pitches for the higher paying magazines.
    BTW, I never include a headline. I’m going to start doing that. Thanks so much.

  49. Coco on

    Not writing and sending queries in the first place is the deal breaker for me.

    There are no doubt plenty of underlying reasons for my inaction, but the bottom line is that I just don’t do it often enough to make a dent in the results I’m (not) getting.

    • Carol Tice on

      I did a survey once of my blog subscribers, and I believe the vast majority have yet to send a single query. It’s amazing to behold what a scary prospect simply hitting ‘send’ on a query letter is for so many writers!

      Yet we do all have time to complain about how we’re so broke and starving…when the answer is write in front of us. More marketing.

  50. Angela Hooks on

    After my three year contract ended, I decided to resurrect my freelance writing. Rejections flooded in. I researched, had interview sources, put titles in email headers, subtitles, even had a friend proof my work. Rejections continued. I ordered copies of back issues from the library— three to four months. I scoured and poured through online articles. And although I followed the rules, not one bite. With my last dime, literally, I drove to AWP conference in Boston. Meet the editors, make contacts. Get in the game. People hire who they know. I met an editor and she remembered my article. Three days later, she accepted the piece as a guest blog, pared down, no pay. I was excited, but I need to pay bulls, the rent and buy groceries. When daughter visits, she says mom what are you a college student. There’s no food in the fridge.
    I cringe–am I a writer or should I drive a taxi.

    • Coco on

      “Mom, what are you, a college student? There’s no food in the fridge.”

      Good line- and a bit of a wake-up call. But girl, I can relate. I’m pulling for you- sending you vibes right this minute.

  51. Janet Hartman on

    Right on, Carol. Thinly sliced is also the key to slant so I can make use of my research in more than one market. One thing I still have a quandary with is whether or not to include a word count in my queries. I know you advise not doing that and letting the editor come back with the desired count, but others advise to include it and that’s what I’ve always done, When targeting a department in a magazine that has a specified word limit, I don’t see how this could hurt. I have been published in three national mags, two of which folded and reincarnated merged into one with a lower pay rate. ๐Ÿ™

    • Carol Tice on

      Hey, if it works for you, do it — and if it is a department where you can see it’s all 400-worders, probably doesn’t hurt.

      I don’t like telling editors their business, and what if that editor thinks it’s a 2000-word feature, but I told her it should only be a 300 word one for front of the book? I just don’t want to limit my options.

      And you’re so right about thin slicing leading to more ideas you can sell and resell off the same lump of research…great way to get more assignments, making them all slightly different. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      We’ve all been through the publication changes…gotta just keep swimming and find the next good market. There are still good-payers, but I know too many writers who’ve floated along with that one good magazine they’ve got, and then if that editor leaves or that pub folds, they just sort of collapse and decide that magazines have all died and freelancing is impossible.

      Can the negativity! And go find your next great market, I say. Change is a constant in our industry, so become accustomed to marketing continuously and you’ll never end up in a panic when one pub vaporizes on you.

      I was actually just at a meet-up last night with another writer who like me, had previously written for a business portal that once paid $100 for articles, then $1 a word, and now two changes of ownership later, they’re “post for free for exposure.” Changes keep on going…and we have to keep moving and prospecting.

  52. Chris Clayton on

    Hi Carol,

    Another great article. This has given the inspiration that I need to start focusing on query letters from now on.

    There has been a number of things holding me back really; fear, laziness, lack of knowledge, and the hope that I will eventually stumble upon a decent opportunity on somewhere like Craigslist.

    I guess I can’t really call myself a freelance writer until I swallow my fear and start getting those query letters out… I just have to figure out which publications to target and where to find them now.

    Thanks for all your work helping us budding freelance writers Carol.

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Chris —

      You might eventually stumble on a decent gig on Craigslist…every once in a while a legit business wanders on there and posts an ad, not knowing it’s a cesspool of scams.

      But in the 100 hours it might take you to find that one needle in the Craigslist haystack, think of all the queries you could have cranked out!

  53. Katherine Swarts on

    I would have to say that my #1 problem is poor focus leading to poor time management. I have a fear of letting go of anything or leaving anything incomplete, which both skews my sense of priority and leads me to overestimate how much I can fit into my schedule–as a result, unimportant things frequently crowd out the important ones, or I get too frazzled from keeping up with the list to have any energy left for the all-important mindset element. I’ve known this for a long time, but it’s near impossible to solve on my own because the problem itself is getting in the way of choosing and taking the first step. (Sort of like not being able to find your glasses because you need glasses to see what you’re looking for.)

    I recall someone saying that if people did the sum of all the daily exercise, relaxation time, career building, relationship building, etc., that’s recommended by experts, days would have to be 40 hours long. Wish I had the link to the specific item they referenced, but I did find one to my favorite “cluttering your desires out of your life” story at http://drandleblog.com/do-your-actions-contradict-your-desires/. (Though the blogger doesn’t mention it, this same story appears in the quintessential law-of-attraction book _The Secret_ by Rhonda Byrne.)

    @katherineswarts

  54. Joan Norton VMD DACVIM on

    My problem is that I have never tried to send a query to an editor. So far all of my assignments have been given to me by the editor who has contacted me for my expertise. I write in a very very small market (equine medicine and health care) and as far as I know there is only one veterinarian out there that bills herself as a full-time freelance writer (though I’d love to be the second one). I’m just not sure if the traditional query and acceptance of a pitch is the way our tiny industry works. It seems all the horse health care articles in all the magazines that are written by vets come from the same 4 or 5 people.
    Thanks for all your useful info, it has been very valuable to a newbie.
    @NortonVCER

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Joan —

      Who says you have to only write about this one niche? I’m sure you have other topics and interests in your life, and your published clips show you can write. Feel free to branch out!

  55. Candace on

    I often default to tried and true (read: low-paying) publications I write for because I know they’ll say yes and $100 is better than zero dollars. I am single and struggling and don’t take the time I should in treating this as a business, and that is what it is.

    I have been writing professionally for 12 years, and am getting the same per-story rate I was in the beginning. I have written two novels, have an agent and am still wondering how I’m going to pay my bills. I am not the best writer in the world, but I’m good, and I know I certainly deserve to earn more.

    I have two Twitter accounts –
    @candacelhammond
    @fixitsisters
    Thank you!!

    • Carol Tice on

      Your really breaking my heart here, Candace. 12 years at the same pay rate? Why?

      The sad thing is how MANY stories like yours I hear.

      The secret no one tells you: If you can successfully pitch $100 pubs, you can successfully pitch bigger ones. I promise. But only you can decide to do it.

  56. Karen on

    What’s stopping me from making $1 a word? Perfection paralysis (What do you mean, that’s not a thing?). I find query letters hard because I feel that they have to be so perfect, relevant, high quality etc. The bigger the market I’m pitching the more my perfectionism gets in the way. Also I worry the editor of the big national glossy will turn up her nose at my clips from smaller markets.

    My Twitter handle is @KarenBanes (and I love connecting with all kinds of writers & authors over there).

    • Carol Tice on

      Oh, it’s a thing all right…see the rest of these comments!

      And good point — I’ve been connecting writers through the monthly link party, but this post is a chance for you to share Twitter handles and connect on there with each other, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  57. Meg Kirsic on

    The one thing holding me back is the comfort of my full-time job. While I have no problem complaining about the mundane life of the nine-to-five, I find comfort in the benefits and the salary that lands in my bank account each month. I pitch one query per month, when I should be doing way more. Landing ONE article a month is never going to allow me to be a full-time freelancer. I would love to spruce up my notebook full of article ideas with more journalism expertise and start querying like it’s my JOB!

    @megkirsic

    • Dawn Witzke on

      I had that same problem! It is much harder to get motivated when you don’t need the money.

      To solve that, I come up with stuff that I want that I refuse to buy with money from my job (or just can’t afford). With one article, I bought a new computer. With others, I’ve fed my book buying habit.

      Make a concrete goal for the money and work towards it.

      • Meg Kirsic on

        That’s a great idea, thank you! I’ve actually been thinking about saving all freelance earnings for new web designโ€”which isn’t cheap!

  58. Kathryn Atkins on

    I’m such a huge fan. All your information is so helpful! I love the thinly sliced comment. I think that we fear the glitzier publications because of lack of confidence… which comes from the fact that, um, some of us don’t know what thinly sliced means, besides salami, that is.
    Thanks so much.

    • Carol Tice on

      That writer didn’t either…she was hoping I could explain.

      You know how I learned what all those kinds of things meant?

      I asked. “Don’t want to sound dumb but…what’s a lede?” Then, you never have to ask again. One moment of embarrassment, and then a lifetime of confidence. It’s worth it!

      There’s a lot of terror of asking editors questions — they’re humans like you and me, folks. You can ask ’em stuff!

      BTW, just saw a tweet from an Australian editor who said this post corrects the exact flaws he generally sees. Glad it hits the highlights for you!

  59. Tori on

    Not trying is my reason. I am just starting out, but my goal is to pepper different paying magazines and build up from there.

  60. Ryan on

    Hi, Carol–Useful tips here. I’ve got my “safe 3” local magazines that are my bread and butter. Now I’m motivated to jump into the deep end of the pool again. These tips will help.

    Thanks!

  61. Kirk on

    Timely post, Carol. I’ve been struggling with putting my foot forward for freelance work and these are some great reminders of how to approach pitching correctly. Thanks!

  62. J'nai Gaither on

    Oops, even though I’ve only tweeted 52 times (that’s probably another problem…) my handle is @cellarprincess.

  63. J'nai Gaither on

    What’s stopping me is the very daunting query letter. It’s amazing that I have a bag full of ideas for elite pubs, and have even fleshed them out on paper in my own hand, and can EASILY write a 500-1500 word article about my proposed topic, but a three graf query letter stops me in my tracks! WTH?! Instead, I think, “how about we just talk about my idea over the phone? Why mess around with that pesky email letter…” ANYTHING to stop me from writing the pitch. It’s been a year, and one of my stories that I proposed for a famous British wine publication at a conference, to the E-I-C, STILL hasn’t been written, even though the idea was accepted by him. In his posh British manner he said, “I’d buy that story…” but he still doesn’t have a pitch from me! I should throw myself into a wall for that…

  64. Kacee on

    Having a journalism degree gives me the confidence of an antiquarian sitting before a laptop for the first time. I may have advanced into the computer age full-throttle; however, the degree arrived in the days of Internet-infancy, leaving me convinced I am not young enough, hip enough, or relevant enough. Courage, I daresay, is required, as well as a strong backbone of current information.

    Thanks for fueling both.
    @KaCeeAngels

    • Carol Tice on

      Kacee, I’m not enough of any of those things either! (DEFINITELY not young enough.) But I just keep slogging along, learning to do stuff.

      It’s amazing what us old bags can pick up…I was just showing another Forbes blogger how I build slideshows for them the other day.

      We are trainable. It’s just technology. We can memorize commands. We can do this.

      Also, in the Den, we have a whole bootcamp on how to get gigs in social media that I know is helping a lot of folks!

      Did I mention if you take J-School you do get a month of free Den access, so you can also check out all our other courseware as well while you’re in there? True. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  65. Kayleen Reusser on

    Great reminders even for those of us who have written professionally for many years. I tend to forget the headlines and have given up on high-paying markets. I like working with editors at lower paying b/c they are quicker to respond to email and pay promptly. But I’m interested in pursuing these. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Carol Tice on

      So many writers say that to me, “I’ve given up on high-paying markets.” “I never pitch high-paying markets.”

      Why, why, why? Because we love starving? We don’t believe we deserve to be well-compensated?

      Bulletin to writers: You work hard, and you deserve good pay. Aim for some good markets! Everyone should make pitching top markets part of their marketing activities, if you ask me.

      I know Linda F has had students who have gotten $1 a word assignments as their FIRST assignment. You really can write your way in the door with a strong query, even at the top places.

  66. Tamara on

    Hi Carol,

    I’m too much of a perfectionist and/or afraid of rejection. I just wrote out a query on Tuesday but it’s Friday and I haven’t sent it out yet because I keep thinking it’s not ready. I’ve followed all of the advice in your posts, but I’m just not sure if I’ve executed it well enough.

    I’d LOVE to take your 4-Week J-School to boost my knowledge and confidence.

    Tamara

  67. Darnell Jackson on

    Good post Carol,

    Recently it dawned on me that the most valuable piece of content that someone can create is a survey.

    I’m putting this out there because I want everyone to find success quickly.

    It’s a lot of work but if you can ask 500 or 5000 people a question there’s TONS of high quality articles and other content like infographics and videos than can come from this.

    This type of content will get you real organic visitors and even interviews from other blogs and publications.

    But it takes some work.

    • Carol Tice on

      Not sure I’m following — you mean like the survey I’m taking now with this blog question?

      It is definitely fascinating to see everyone’s responses…I learn a lot. And you do get ideas for future posts, too. Helps me see what I need to write more about to fulfill my mission of helping more writers make more money sooner!

  68. Thomas Hill on

    Hi Carol:

    I hate to say this, but I actually found a publication with a GREAT editor who has taught me a TON of things….plus she gave me some insight into more markets where I can pitch to other magazines…….

    What I have learned is that like everything in life, the first time(in this case writing for a publication) is the scariest, but the more I get published, the more confident and more responses I get from new publishers…

    However, I am far from an expert pitcher and could always learn how to introduce myself to a new editor or two…..life is really about “what you know and who you know!”

    Thank you for the advice….it’s worth it’s weight in platinum (not gold)!

    • Carol Tice on

      Thanks Thomas — and congrats on finding that first good market! The feedback from editors is so helpful, and they DO refer you if they like you.

      • Thomas Hill on

        Thank you very much for the response!

        Good to know that about editors referring me to other editors…..LinkedIn is such a great tool which I am continually learning to leverage….

        You are probably going to scold me, but I actually found the article job for the publication on Craigslist!

        I have found other publications that have actually offered my an article for nearly $1,000…..and I’ve only been doing this full-time for a little over a year! Maybe I’m a freelancer savant….???

        I know dumb luck only gets me so far…….I have gotten numerous publications I would love to pitch to, but I feel like a scared little puppy going down the stairs after cruising up the flight of stairs….I am kind of getting dizzing figuring out how to formulate a pitch…….(Hint, Hint!)

        I’ve also had my “fun” with content mills………and scope creep…..but when I kindly, but firmly tell them I would be more than happy to do a task beyond the original agreement for $30 an hour, they get awfully quiet! Hmmmm….I wonder why?

        I would love to do a guest post!

        You’re such a great teacher…..can’t wait to learn more from you!

  69. chris on

    great post! I should have made the leap when I first took Linda’s magazine wriiting
    class because now I am unemployed and never really launched
    my back up plan! now I am feeling like there is.still so much I don’t know!!

  70. Jamie on

    My husband has been bugging me for a couple years to try magazine writing, but I ignored him because I didn’t know anything about it. However, in the last few weeks, I finally started paying attention and have started reading a bit about magazine writing. I’m at the stage of researching a few markets I’m interested in and coming up with my first few query ideas, but pretty soon I’m going to have to make the leap and actually SEND a query (terrors!). Winning a spot in this class would help with that leap. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Carol Tice on

      Congrats on moving forward, Jamie!

      You can get query letters reviewed in the Den, Jamie, and we find it makes a BIG difference. Seeing great response rates with ones we’ve reviewed.

      And in J-School we actually review a 500-word article draft, which is also hugely important feedback. I know a lot of writers have fears that their article won’t stack up — that they’ll get the assignment and then won’t be able to deliver an article that pleases the editor. We have a whole session on article writing and go through all the trouble spots of it.

      And actually, since we did J-School last I did this Anatomy of a $1-a-word Article call that you get as an early-reg bonus, so that’s got a lot of useful stuff as well.

      Want to say if people have forgotten to leave Twitter handles, just send them to me on Twitter! Don’t need another 60 comments of people reposting to add that here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Jeanmarie Morelli on

        Thanks Carol for this post! Reading over the comments about fear helped me recognize my own. I am re-entering the field after a hiatus of many years. I had a garden column for seven years in a local paper. I wanted to expand and get more clips but when a Seattle paper rejected me twice I just gave up.

        For several years I have been posting in my own blog, growgather2eat.wordpress.com. I got a certificate in editing through an online program at UC Berkeley but what I really love is writing. Now I am trying a systematic approach. I took notes on writing the query. It seems that thoroughly knowing a couple of publications is one step that cannot be left out. I am making small steps too. I hope I can join your school!

        This is my tagline:

        Cultivating mindful eating by providing reliable information, clarifying complex scientific concepts, and inspiring an appreciation for edible garden ecosystems

  71. Rachel on

    Well, until a day or so ago it was the fear of not being “good enough” that held me back. I was in a job writing product descriptions for a particular site, and my boss wasn’t an experienced writer. So she kept making me edit my work, complaining that I didn’t know how to write well.

    Well, I knew she was wrong (especially after I consulted other Den members just to be sure I hadn’t gone crazy), but it still made me doubt my abilities quite a bit.

    The last straw was when she threatened to cut my salary for time spent on “corrections” that weren’t my fault, and so I finally quit.

    Sure, it was steady money, but there was no way to increase my salary, and I was at the mercy of my boss. It was only a little better than article sweatshops.

    I think it was listening to the numerous bootcamps in the Den that finally gave me the courage to let go and try my luck elsewhere. So far, in just a few days, I’ve already identified several potential clients in my field of expertise, and will be sending out LOI’s next week.

    I’m confident that at least one of them will respond positively, but even if they don’t – it’s still a win.

  72. Susan Johnston on

    Right on, Carol! Oftentimes inexperienced writers make the mistake of pitching a topic rather than a story. A topic is broad but a story has a beginning, middle, and an end. A panelist at a conference said to think of stories in terms of photos. You can’t take a picture of a topic but if the story were a photo, what would the photo be of?

    However, I think there’s also a risk of pitching a story that’s too narrow in its appeal. I tend to like quirky topics and sometimes they’re too niche. For instance, a story about a woman with an obscure disease that most readers will never encounter. Most editors prefer to assign stories about cancer survivors because almost all of us know someone who’s had cancer.

    • Carol Tice on

      Ooh, I love that photo exercise, Susan — thanks for sharing that tip!

      And your second point is so true as well…you need to ask yourself, “Would the majority of this publication’s readers relate to this topic and want to learn about this?”

  73. Jenny on

    I appreciate the tip on a better researched query. I spend plenty of time getting the idea “just right” but often don’t include everything I’ve got for fear of boring the editor. I’m already doing the work- looks like I was wrong not to include it. Thanks!!!

  74. Sam on

    Wow, the first two comments really struck a chord. I thought I was in an ‘elite’ group of one when it comes to fear of having my work rejected. For me, the fear (of not being good enough, of being laughed at) really prevents me from trying harder, even though I’ve had my work published (for free) in a small Caribbean newspaper. This type of fear is a helluva thing.

    By the way, this is an excellent post. From the now so obvious “Writing a (strong) headline” (duh!) to “pitching low-paying publications out of fear”, it gives much food for thought for (wannabe) freelancers like myself. Thank you!

    • Carol Tice on

      Everybody thinks that it’s only them! So everybody look at these comments and realize…we’re ALL afraid.

      It’s just about who acts despite that, and who doesn’t.

  75. Joyce on

    I’m on the verge of making the scary leap from having a steady paycheck from my current, miserable 9-to-5 job to pursuing my dream of writing. I’ve researched a lot and read plenty of books and blogs about writing, but this post was a the best, distilled information re: queries, and a practical starting point. Thank you!

  76. Willi Morris on

    For me, it is the lack of fresh ideas. For most of the larger publications, you really have to do some brainstorming before you can pitch. Perhaps even subscribe, or at least dig through a few different editions. After querying our local magazine, I gave the editor several unique ideas.

    Even then, we had to really dig down to find good angles to choose from. So far, I’ve been able to take ideas based on personal experience/knowledge. But, as you’ve told me before, you can only go so far with ideas from your life.

    That’s where I’m stuck. I think I need to take a leap and query a magazine where I don’t have a lot of expertise. Thanks for the encouragement Carol!

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Willi —

      We spend a lot of time in J-School on developing truly salable story ideas…and I had one writer say she wished the whole 4 weeks would be just on ideas! It’s a very critical area. But practice helps…writers should always be developing and refining ideas. I actually took a random meetup with another Forbes blogger yesterday and ended up looking at my idea string file for that blog — and it’s 40 pages long now. Been blogging for them about 6-8 months. And I do try to delete ones I use, so that’s what’s left!

      The more you ideate, the more you develop a killer instinct for when a story angle is going to blow the editor’s mind and make them email you right back. And we see that in J-School too, writers who get responses the same day instead of 8 weeks from now, because they had the focus, the headline…it was all there and the editor immediately knew they wanted it.

      That’s really our goal in J-School, to give you the tools to get to that point, where you hit it out of the park on a regular basis.

      And yes, people, please leave your Twitter handles so I can check out how you’re spreading the word on this!

  77. Nicole Graham on

    Great tips Carol! My first query was WAY too broad. I could definitely write a book on it. My other issue is the research part. I am brand new and just worried that if I don’t get the queries out, the assignments won’t start coming. By doing so, I’m completely forgetting that a solid, well researched, thought-out query is key! Thanks again. These are great tips.

  78. Richard on

    Inner head trash! That’s my excuse. I usually read some of your posts and get super excited, and a week later I’m back to my “I can’t do this” best. I never even try to pitch for anything that looks remotely lucrative. My biggest “drawback” is the fact that I’m not even a native English speaker. Maybe I should just come here more often ๐Ÿ™‚

  79. Karna Tecla on

    I attended a writer’s conference in the mid-west recently where many of the workshops stressed the same thing. Although the conference was more for fiction and creative nonfiction, they all said the same things.

    My problem is more the fear: the fear that, although I have taught English / language arts for 33 years, agents, editors, and publishers will find my writing lacking in something. I have never done well with rejection, but I’m working on that.

    Thanks for all the fabulous advice.

    • Carol Tice on

      I’m always blown away by how many English lit teachers I end up doing mentoring with or seeing in my classes. If THAT doesn’t give you confidence that you have a command of the language, I don’t know what will! But I’ve mentored people with 3 degrees…it seems like the ivory tower doesn’t teach you how to go out in the world and get the good-paying gigs you really want.

      I’m starting to feel that dropping out to be a starving songwriter was the best decision I ever made…the street hustle I learned having no college network to fall back on has served me well.

      All I can say is — for heaven’s sake, put it out there, Karna!

      Rejection will happen. Instead of fearing it, accept it as inevitable and get over it. But if you put it out there, acceptance will happen, too.

  80. Ruksana on

    All great points here! I am happy to do the groundwork to make a pitch as targeted to an outlet as required, but I do not know where to look for these outlets that pay so well…

    • Carol Tice on

      Ruksana, a great place to start is The Writer’s Market. Get it with online support and then you can sort their listings by pay level and just look at the top payers.

      I used to do that a lot when I was prospecting for new markets. They run a blog on new magazines and editor changes that gives a lot of good leads, too.

  81. Paul on

    Lacking the time to do all the hard work to pitch pretty much anywhere because I’m presently unemployed and can’t really afford to spend a bunch of time on something that I expect to have a very low chance of success.

    • Carol Tice on

      That’s a very common syndrome, Paul — writers think “I can’t spend time writing a strong query because I can’t afford to spend that time.” But how much do you earn from writing if you DON’T invest the time to connect with editors and find assignments?

      Also, a good query can be pitched more than one place — if it doesn’t pan out with the first editor, you keep going on to others, until hopefully you find a fit.

      We find people who don’t get responses to queries need to learn more about how to write a successful one, which is why we have a bunch of resources on that in the J-School bonusi.

      The funny thing is, when I researched J-School curriculums to build this course, I discovered they don’t TEACH query writing! Traditional J-School assumed you’re all getting a staff job at a daily paper out of school.

      Obviously, the publications world has changed a lot, but regular J-School doesn’t seem to be keeping up. But we include it in our course bonuses because we know this is a skill writers need badly.

  82. Kevin Carlton on

    If you’re a good writer then surely you should be thinking about all these things anyway.

    And it’s a pretty safe bet that the editor who receives your pitch will be thinking exactly the same thing.

    But for those who are genuinely good at their craft but still struggling to earn decent money, it’s worth remembering that there are many lesser writers who have landed much better gigs purely because they’ve had the confidence and drive to do so.

    And thanks to Carol’s blog, I’m gradually moving away the fear category of writer to the confident one.

    • Carol Tice on

      So true Kevin!

      Don’t you find sort of dull articles sometimes, in the magazines you read? The writing isn’t that engaging or lively?

      You can do better than that…so get out there!

      • Kevin Carlton on

        Carol, I can’t say I read a great deal of magazine material these days – probably because I haven’t the time to waste on reading drivel.

        So, yes, I can well believe there’s still a plentiful supply of high-profile magazine articles out there that are just plain dull as dishwater.

  83. Bharti L on

    I dream of calling myself a “real” writer. I end up reading blogs and articles on writing and contemplate workshops rather than sit at the computer and bang out a solid query/article. I feel the need to organize my office space and desk before I start writing. Ideas flow during workouts, cooking, driving – all when I don’t have pen and paper. I have my hand in too many cans of paint. By the way, I paint too and can’t seem to focus on that either. So what’s keeping me from the $1 word article is definitely my lack of focus.

  84. Rebecca on

    Great post! I definitely needed to read this right now. Fear often holds me back from sending queries, but I’m working on overcoming that fear and sending them anyway! Thanks for the opportunity to win!

    • Carol Tice on

      Just do it like Nike says, Rebecca!

      It’s amazing to read all the fear here.

      You know…not to be morbid, but soon, we’ll all be dead. Looking at the great span of geologic time on this earth, every one of us reading this today will be over in a blink.

      Now’s the time to write, if that’s what you want to do in your life.

  85. Amanda J Evans on

    The biggest thing that has been holding me back for so long is fear of reject and not having the right amount of education. I don’t hold a degree in journalism so I don’t feel that I have the skills to write for magazines. I write for clients online completing articles, blog posts, etc and I am fine with this but when it comes to looking for higher paying work I feel like I’m not good enough and that I should have more credentials. I have read all the information on writing for magazines, completing query letters etc, but the fear of not being good enough and rejection seem to keep me firmly stuck where I am.

    • Rob on

      I don’t have a degree and I don’t think Carol Tice does, either. I wrote about that just last week:

      Once again, it was, โ€œOh, but theyโ€™re professionals!โ€ (โ€œandโ€, unsaid, but clear as day, โ€œyouโ€™re just a dumb cabinetmakerโ€).

      I got the gig. All anybody cares about is if you can deliver.

      • Katherine Swarts on

        You’re right that Carol doesn’t have a degree; it was even on the recently posted “feel the fear” video clip. Well, I DO have a degree–a master’s in written communications–and I can tell you that their value is overrated. Degree study programs will teach you the basics of the field and give you an impressive credential (if anyone ever bothers to ask, which very few clients do with independent contractors), but unless they’ve changed a great deal since my school days, they very rarely think to include courses on finding your own best career path, prioritizing your own schedule, or building your self-confidence; and, since most people remain in the career world for 30-40 years after graduating and change jobs several times, degrees eventually become outdated. A fifteen-year-old credential focused on general written communications isn’t too impressive to potential hirers in my new-love field of mental health.

        Sorry about going into a rant. That could easily be a whole blog-post topic.

    • Carol Tice on

      I should have more credentials, too, Amanda — but as it happens I don’t have any! I’m a college dropout. And I’ve even written for the Wall Street Journal. And Entrepreneur, and now I blog for Forbes.

      So many writers fall into the ‘credentials’ trap…no one cares what your credentials are, unless you want to be the editor of the New York Times or something. You can write or you can’t. So send those queries!

    • Carol Tice on

      Linda Formichelli and I get that a lot, Patricia, especially on the story-idea generating side. Which is why we pack a lot of resources on that into it and we spend the whole first week looking at and refining story ideas. One of the bonuses for early-reg is also a 1-hour Story Idea Lab Linda and I did, where we spin a lot of ideas and talk about ways to find and narrow them to a salable angle.

  86. Karen Lange on

    Thanks so much for the tips and encouragement! My aim now is to focus more selectively on better paying projects and clients. Working on clearing out the clutter as we speak. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the opportunity to win!

  87. wendy mccance on

    This was the article I needed to read. I have been so busy writing for companies that I haven’t had a chance to pursue writing for magazines. It’s really the area I want to explore the most. I have had so many questions on the formulation of a magazine query, but you have somehow managed to answer any questions I had. I hadn’t realized that I should show some research to back up my topic. Maybe an obvious thing to do, but it just hadn’t occurred to me. Thank you for breaking down the mysterious query for me.

  88. Amy Mak on

    I think lack of focus holds me back. I’m trying to do too many things. I’m working on a novel. I’m querying for a children’s story. I blog. Oh, and I’m a stay at home mom to four children. I love to write! I feel like I have many salable ideas, but they are half-formed because I’m not focusing; I’m not ALL IN. I would LOVE to win this class – thank you for the opportunity! Twitter: @AmyMakechnie

  89. Julia Anderson on

    My problem is me. I think up a good idea for an article, write the first draft of the pitch – which I put in my email drafts folder to correct later – and then my enthusiasm for it wanes or I forget all about it. My drafts email folder has many unsent pitches.

  90. Angela Yoder on

    When I first started freelancing I sent several query letters to magazines for which I hoped to write. I never heard a word back from any editor. Not one. It definitely shook my confidence in my abilities and it has been over a year since I queried. I have studied those queries and I know what I’ve done wrong, yet I’m still taken over by this crippling anxiety at the thought of querying again! Silly, yes. But fear of failure is all too real, and I know it’s destroying my ability to make better money.

    • Carol Tice on

      Angela, I think your story is sadly typical. What most writers don’t know is that the vast majority of queries WILL never get a response. That’s normal!

      Editors just don’t have time to send those “Sorry, not interested at this time” letters any more. They may be getting 100 or more queries a week — or a day, depending on the pay and audience size.

      I’m sorry to hear a few non-responses derailed you…because querying is a numbers game. You’ve got to keep going and send loads of them to get assignments!

      Also, you do need to know how to write a strong query — the bonuses we’re offering for 4-Week J-School through month-end give you a LOT of resources on writing queries and letters of introduction. We do find it’s an area where many writers are weak. We review queries in Freelance Writers Den for members (which you also get a membership with the class)…and few are ready to send off the bat. It’s a format that you have to master, though, to get ahead with publications…and it is certainly something any writer can learn to do.

  91. Lisa on

    Fear and a lack of connections hold me back. The fear is that my pitches are poorly craft or that they’ll be rejected anyway, so why bother, that kind of stuff. The lack of connections is just that. I’ve recently met with editors who say if they don’t know the name in their inbox, they often delete the email without looking. How do you overcome that?

    • Carol Tice on

      Lisa, maybe some editors are like that, but many aren’t. I never had any “connections” anywhere, and wrote my way in the door everywhere I ever got published, including into two staff jobs.

      I think a strong subject line helps overcome the lack of being a name they already know…people need to learn to write strong subject lines, and then strong headlines for their query ideas.

      • Diane S. on

        Maybe that’s your next training session – how to keep tweaking and improving the shorter stuff – headlines and pitches…?

  92. Semonna on

    Hi Carol, Great post! For me, it’s a mindset issue. I keep telling myself don’t even try. You don’t formal training, and this prevents me from even trying. Suggestions?

    • Carol Tice on

      Try anyway. That’s all there is. As I say in the post, the more you don’t try, the harder this gets. Take a step, any step, to move your writing forward.

  93. Nicola King on

    I think you’re spot on with saying that it’s fear, pure and simple that holds me back. When I look at job ads, or think about pitching, there’s a little voice in my head that says “DON’T PROMISE TOO MUCH! What if they say yes and you can’t deliver!” The little voice ALWAYS speaks in capital letters and exclamation marks, all the better to express the dire consequences that will certainly follow from whatever I’m planning to do. The same voice is dismissive of the (admittedly modest) success I have achieved as a writer so far.

    Deep down, I feel like I’m still a little girl in her mommy’s shoes and beads, playing at being a writer. I know someone is going to catch me out one day, and send me back to working in a miserable office.

    I try to think positive and ignore THE VOICE! but it never works. She’s hard to beat.

    Thanks for the FWD, Carol, I have learned so much.

    • Carol Tice on

      Nicola, thanks for kicking off the contest!

      I was dogged by that exact same feeling for so many years…that someone was going to bust me because I didn’t have a journalism degree (or ANY degree) and kick me out of their club.

      The trick is to just keep going even though you have that weird feeling. Honestly, it took me until several years AFTER I won a prestigious national business writing award that was the first time my 25-year-old publication had ever won it for me to start to go, “I know what I need to know. I’m qualified and good enough to be here.” It’s sad how we torture ourselves with these feelings, while the rest of the world is saying, “Nice article, Nicola!”

      One thing I used to do is take out my portfolio and look through it before I pitched or wrote a tough piece. Would really help me see “I wrote that stuff — so I could write this, too.” You say you have clips, so be sure you’ve got them pulled together where you can easily review your body of work. Each tiny addition built my confidence. And I mean at first, I would cut out 250-word FOB pieces I got published and be excited and proud. Every little bit helps.

      Meanwhile…I’m sort of freaking out that it’s not yet 9 am and there are 60 entries! Guess I know what my weekend reading will be…not going to be easy to choose a contest winner I can see already.

      And thanks to everybody for this feedback…really helps Linda and me to keep refining our J-School presentations.

      • Nicola King on

        Thanks Carol

        It helps to know that even you have felt like I do! And I failed the basic test of reading the guidelines, didn’t I? I didn’t put in my twitter handle. However, since I only have about 12 followers I’m hardly going to have the most retweets!

        Good luck to all the entrants who can read and follow simple instructions.

        Nicola

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