One of the nine panels that SPJ/LA made available to Regional Conference attendees was a discussion about freelancing.
SPJ/LA board member and freelance writer Roberta Wax moderated the panel. She was joined by former board member and freelance journalist Michael Fleeman, Karen Robes Meeks, a freelance business writer, and Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, an Orange County-based freelance journalist.
The session covered pitch-perfect queries to negotiating payment. The experts also gave tips about finding markets, contract quandries, pitching story ideas, writing articles or books and more.
Below is a tip sheet from Wax on query writing tips:
Query Writing Tips
1. Know your markets. Read several back issues (or recent posts) to understand what editors need and want, as well as writing style, tone, perspective, types of articles used, recurring themes, etc. Check Writer’s Market and/or a publication’s writer’s guidelines to see what editors want and how they want you to query. Note regular columns and sections, as well as recurring themes/topics.
2. Understand that an idea is not necessarily a story. Make sure your idea is not too broad and is the right fit for that particular publication. Be specific. No: I want to write about adoption. Yes: I want to write a 1,200-word story about how to adopt from a child from Romania.
3. Query the right person and always check the spelling of names. Editors change frequently, so double check. Nothing will get you rejected faster than misspelling the editor’s name or sending to a long defunct email box.
4. Keep your query short, focused, and business-like. Start with a great opening paragraph that will hook the editor (as your lead would hook a reader). State your idea, who you might interview, the story focus, etc. Make it clear that you are asking for an assignment: “I would like to write a 1,200-word story for L.A. Parent Magazine.”
5. If you are sending clips, paste the clip in the body of your email, rather than as an attachment. Many editors will not open attachments.
6. Make sure your name and contact information (email and phone number) are on the query and easy to find.
7. Check carefully for grammar and spelling errors. I mean it. Check again. Print out a hard copy, rather than just reading it on the computer.
8. Almost always send a query rather than a complete manuscript. Exceptions: humor,
editorials/opinion pieces, shorts and fillers, personal essay, reprints of a previously published
9. Don’t say, “I know your readers would love this…” Editors know what their readers want.
10. Include a short paragraph about your qualifications, any expertise, where you’ve been published before. Short!
REMEMBER: THE QUERY IS YOUR SALES TOOL. Make it the best you can!