For many freelance journalists, queries are the key to landing assignments, yet many writers send generic pitches that don’t include enough information to entice an editor. The trick is giving enough information to show that there’s a story worth covering … "/>

5 Questions Every Query Should Answer

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For many freelance journalists, queries are the key to landing assignments, yet many writers send generic pitches that don’t include enough information to entice an editor. The trick is giving enough information to show that there’s a story worth covering but not so much that you overwhelm the reader. How do you know when you’ve hit that sweet spot? Here are five essential questions your query should answer.

1.    What’s your angle?
It’s not enough to say that you’d like to cover house foreclosures in your area. Will you cover how this impacts other homes in the neighborhood? Will you talk to recently foreclosed families to see what happens after they leave their home? Will you visit local animal shelters to see if they’ve had an influx of pets from foreclosed homes? All of these ideas offer a potential angle, and it’s often smart to focus on one angle instead of tackling a big, broad topic with lots of little threads that can’t be fully developed in a single article.
2.    Who are the major players?
I’ve had students in my freelance writing class who want to write an article based entirely on their own experiences. That’s fine for a personal essay, but if you’re pitching a reported piece, your editor will usually want you to interview others, often a mix of “real people” and experts. If you really want to wow an editor, you could do a quick speculative phone interview so you’ll have a juicy quote to work into your pitch. Other times, it’s fine to simply list a few potential sources you could interview. That shows your editor that you understand whom the major players are and you’re prepared to do some reporting.
3.    Who cares?
As you’re writing a query, ask yourself why readers of X magazine or website will want to read this information. Will these tips potentially save them money or improve their work/life balance? Will this story inspire or entertain them? Will it educate them about a serious health risk or transport them to another part of the world? If you can’t answer this question, then you may have a mismatch between your idea and your target market.
4.    Why now?
Depending on your target publication, editors may be hungry for ideas that feel current or they may be open to more evergreen stories. Timely ideas could center on an movie release, a product launch, an emerging trend, or a recent study. Evergreen stories could have a tie-in to current events or upcoming holidays. Mentioning a time hook creates a sense of urgency and hopefully gets your idea out of the slush pile and into assignment mode, shining above any other article writer.
5.    Why you?
Now that you’ve sold an editor on your killer story idea, you need her that you are the best person for this assignment. That’s why you should never leave out the “why I’m so great” paragraph. Maybe you’ve covered real estate for over a decade, so you have the reporting chops to tackle that foreclosures story. Maybe you’re a working mom, so you understand the parenting magazine’s readership and you have some humorous anecdotes to share. If you’re just starting your writing career, then think about the topics you’re uniquely qualified to write about and play up your connection to the topic.

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