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How To Convince an Editor To Give You an Assignment
by Kelly James-Enger

New writers often overlook a critical element of their query letters. It's not the strength of their idea, or their analysis of the relevant market, or the amount of research they do, or even the tone of their queries they neglect. Rather, freelancers forget to demonstrate why they are the perfect writer for the assignment—to show how they are "uniquely qualified" to write the article they're pitching.

When I teach magazine writing or speak at writers’ conferences, I call this the "I-am-so-great" paragraph, or ISG. An ISG is an essential part of any magazine article query, but it's particularly important when you're a new writer with few clips or little experience. Knowing how to demonstrate your unique qualifications or relevant background and experience can make the difference between hearing a "no thanks" and getting the go-ahead.

Remember, a query letter includes four basic parts:

  • The lead, which is designed to catch the editor's attention. It might be a startling statistic, a recent study result, a timely news event, or an anecdote. The key is that it interests the editor enough to continue reading.
  • The "why write it" section. This paragraph (or two, if you have a particularly detailed query) fleshes out the idea, demonstrating why the readers of the magazine will be interested in the topic.
  • The "nuts and bolts" paragraph. Here you give the details of the story itself. What types of sources will you contact? How long will the story be? Will it have sidebars, and if so, how many? What section of the magazine will the story fit in? What's the working title?
  • The "I-am-so-great" paragraph (or "ISG"). Here, you highlight your relevant qualifications, including your writing experience and background with the subject matter. This is the paragraph where you showcase your unique qualifications and convince the editor to give you the assignment.

Let me give you a few examples of compelling ISGs from early in my freelance career:

  • When I pitched a story on a hidden dating treasure (also known as "shy guys"), I made sure that I mentioned that I am an extrovert who fell in love with and married a shy guy. ("10 Reasons to Date a Shy Guy," Complete Woman, October/November, 1997.)
  • I pitched a true-life feature about a young woman's struggle with a serious, debilitating yet undiagnosed medical problem to a number of women's magazines. In my ISG, I wrote that I had already spoken with the woman and had her permission to write her story. ("An Answer at Last," Woman's World, April 7, 1998.)
  • When I queried a bridal magazine with a story idea on the importance of communicating about money, I included an anecdotal lead about a money argument between newlyweds. In my ISG, I revealed that the couple was me and my newlywed husband. ("A Match Made in Financial Heaven," Bridal Guide, March/April, 1998.)

But the ISG isn't only for new writers. As I've garnered experience in a variety of subject areas, I've harnessed it to break into new markets as well as other types of writing. For example:

  • When sending a letter of introduction to IGA Grocergram, a trade magazine for grocery store owners, I neglected to include that I'd recently worked part-time at Trader Joe's, a specialty grocery store. But when I followed up with editor by phone, you better believe I worked that fact into the conversation!
  • When contacting The Pampered Chef about freelancing for their corporate communications department, I mentioned my relevant experience writing about food and nutrition for national magazines. (I'm not a big cook; otherwise, I would have said so.)
  • When sending a letter of introduction to a medical consulting firm, I mentioned both my health-writing background and my work (even though it had been years prior) doing PR for a small hospital.

Get it? The idea is to always look for some connection you have with the work you're pitching, especially if you're a new writer. If you want more assignments, make sure that every query you send specifies what makes you uniquely qualified to write the story. Taking the time to polish your ISG will improve your chances of getting an assignment, whether you're an experienced freelancer or one who's just starting out.

© Copyright 2008, Kelly James-Enger

Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.

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