I get a lot of emails from people seeking freelance writing advice. One letter last week got me thinking about how much time writers waste on queries.
In the email, a new writer asked if I could read his query and tell him why it was rejected and point out any obvious problems. He went on to say he knew he didn’t miss anything because he had worked on nothing else but the query for two weeks.
Two weeks is a long time.
Queries are an important part of writing, especially for writers trying to establish themselves in the field. They should be given care and dilligence, but micromanaging a query is not the best use of your time. Queries are an introduction of yourself and/or your idea to a publication or client. The best ones are those that feel organic, are succinct and specific. When writers over-edit, the result is often long-winded letters that feel rehearsed. Here are three easy ways to get the query letter you want and the productivity you need:
1. Relax. Query letters are important, but so is maintaining a steady flow of work. Rejection is part of the process and even a perfect letter can and oftentimes, will get rejected. Even if it is there is no worry of someone coming and chopping off your writing hand so, take a breath and get out of your own head.
2. Know your publication. If you are going to spend time on a query, spend the most time getting the information to the right editor, getting the editor’s name spelled correctly and learning the tone and type of pieces the publication accepts. Pitching the wrong kind of piece to an editor or client is the biggest waste of time in the query process.
3. Set a time limit. Writers work well by due dates. Set one for getting the query out. Give yourself time to write, let the piece breathe and receive a final look over.
Good time management habits are often times what separates successful writers from flailing writers. Keep query writing in perspective and you’ll find the process to get work won’t overshadow your ability to complete work.
How long do you spend on a typical query letter? How long to you spend researching a publication?
Kathryn Lang says
Thanks for the permission to relax. The only thing more fretting than a query letter is the response from an editor “we’d like to see the manuscript.” 🙂
Terreece M. Clarke says
I think giving ourselves permission to be tired, make mistakes, relax a bit is the hardest thing Kathryn! I struggle with it all the time.
The delivering part is an anxiety-inducer too :0)
Je comprends pourquoi beaucoup de gens pensent que ” rester dans la seule spécialité, c’est se trahir un peu ” …
Bravo! et en avant la musique…
Jennifer L says
I recently agonized over a query letter to a magazine I’ve never queried before. Finally, I finished it, but I just couldn’t hit “Send” for some reason. So I saved it in the “Drafts” folder of my email account and went to bed.
The next morning, I had this weird little hunch. I googled the name of the editor I was going to send the pitch to. Yeah, it’s a good thing I did that. I had the letter addressed to “Mr. Editor” and actually it should have been “Ms. Editor.” Good thing I hadn’t sent it already!
So yes, I’m glad to hear you confirm that it’s really important to know who you’re sending your letter to, if your pitch is appropriate and all those details–but not to belabor it. Now…if I can just make myself do that….
Terreece M. Clarke says
Jennifer I’m so glad you listened to your hunch! There’s nothing like ignoring it and then seeing why your tummy kept nagging…