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Six Secrets for a Successful Query System
by Erica Myers-Russo

An overwhelmed writer recently asked the MomWriters http://www.momwriters.com/ discussion group, "How do some writers churn out so many queries?"

She knew getting assignments depends on sending queries, but like many writers, struggled with writing the letters efficiently. Here are six steps that will help you transform the struggle of querying into a system. The system will not only help you use your time more efficiently, it will also encourage you to spend more time querying because the whole process will be less hassle.

Step #1 Organize.

Designate the space and time for writing queries. Commit to it, and do not let anything else infringe. Linda Sherwood, owner of Sherwood Communications http://www.sherwoodcom.com/ and editor of Small Town Press http://www.smalltownpress.net/, notes, "It's very important to be ready to write. Even if you don't have an office, set up a little table on wheels with everything you'll need to start, polish, complete and send off a query." So turn off the phone; disable Solitaire. Then make sure that you have whatever it takes to sit down and write without excusing yourself to go get something. And don't forget your list of.

#2 Ideas.

When you sit down, you want to write, not wonder, "What should I write about?" The easiest way to have a supply of ideas is to maintain a list - it can be a small notebook or an electronic organizer, but keep it with you at all times. When you see a fascinating idea, jot it down. Leave a little space around it. Later, add details like potential markets, various slants, key experts. Of course, to flesh out those ideas, you will need.

#3 Sources.

Nothing stalls a querying session faster than searching for information. So have a sources at your fingertips, especially if you specialize - even in the loosest sense of the word. For instance, I write about the environment, so I keep a list of web databases that I can search quickly for the information I need. When I write about fitness, I call on a couple of pre-selected experts to answer my questions. You will still have to do research, but the key is to eliminate a level wherever possible. You want to search the database, not search for the database and then search for your information. If your resources are human, make sure they know the drill ahead of time so they understand why you are calling and - more critically - that you need to get the info and get off the phone. When you have your information ready, fill in your.

#4 Formula

Creativity is both a bane and a boon for writers. How many writers sit at their desk, staring off into space, putting more thought into a query than they will into the final piece? When you write queries, you need to channel your creativity through a methodology. The trick to efficiency at this stage is to have a query template. Most books on freelancing will give you a formula, so pick one that works for you. One of my favorites is from Abbi Perets, author of Successful Freelance Writing http://www.successfulfreelancewriting.com/, who offers this formula for a four-paragraph query:

* Hook - Open with a catchy lead

* Outline - Summarize your plan of attack

* Qualifications - Explain why you should write the article, and

* Close - Ask for the assignment

Whichever formula you use, keep it in front of you until it becomes second nature. That way you will feel like you are simply plugging in information, not waiting for inspiration. When you have polished the query, you are ready to.

#5 Re-Slant.

Take that query you just wrote and slant it to a different market. Ideally you already have brainstormed several potential markets and slants on your handy list, but if you haven't, do it now. Freelance writer and editor Lisa Beamer, in her Boiling Your Article Topic Down To Size http://www.writing-world.com/freelance/beamer.shtml, recommends asking questions about your topic. Maybe you started with an environmental issue about industrial pollution. Now look for the health implications of the issue, and re-slant it to a health magazine. Is there a risk of exposure to children? Send it as a short to a parenting magazine. Does it affect farmers? Birds? Businesses? This way one basic session of research can generate four or five queries with little additional work. Once you've sent off those queries, don't forget to.

#6 Track.

Tracking is the system that governs the system. You can use index cards, a spreadsheet, or an online tool like the Writers' Market Submission Tracker http://www.writersmarket.com/. Whichever method you choose, it should include the date, market, article title, and a place to record the response. If you haven't heard from the publication after a suitable interval (a good guideline is their stated response time plus a week or two), follow up. And when you get a rejection, have another potential market waiting in the wings. Tweak the query for the new publication and send it back out. Once you've written the query, make it work for you until it sells.

One final piece of advice comes from busy freelancer Bobbi Dempsey http://www.bobbidempsey.com/, who routinely keeps 100 active queries in circulation. She calls her approach the "Worry Less, Query More" philosophy: "I just do it, send it, and move on to the next one."

© Copyright 2003, Erica Myers-Russo

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