As someone who runs a website for writers (http://www.TheInternationalFreelancer.com), I see a lot of query letters from new writers. The thing they miss most often? Confidence.
Writers who are confident know their story, what it hopes to achieve, and how they’re going to get the work done. Those who aren’t ramble on, send editors two different sides to a story and refuse to take a stand.
If an editor has limited time and is paying good money to hire someone, which freelancer do you think she’ll hire?
What can you do to become that freelancer?
1. Prove it to yourself
James Clear, who is an entrepreneur, weight lifter, and travel photographer, writes on his blog about the time in his freshman year of high school when his basketball team had started the season with a losing streak. One day, their coach pulled them together and uttered these words: “Confidence is just displayed ability.”
Put another way, you’re not going to achieve something because you believe in yourself; you’re going to achieve something and only then will you start believing in yourself.
2. Be cool
We’ve all met the writer who is so lacking in self-confidence that he emails you every week to “please vote for me in this contest that I’ve entered.” Don’t be that guy.
You want the work, of course. That’s why you’re writing. But you’re not desperate for it and will walk away if the terms don’t suit you. Even if you aren’t feeling confident, act like you are.
3. Sound like you know what you’re talking about
You’re pitching the story, correct? So it would be normal for an editor to assume that you know what you’re talking about as regards that story. Make sure you do enough background research to know exactly why this story should be published and why it would fit into a publication’s pages. Look at it from the editor’s perspective: Why should she hire and pay for someone who isn’t yet clear on what the story is and why it’s important.
4. Take responsibility
Maybe, perhaps, usually, typically, most likely, and other such words and phrases don’t have place in your query letter, especially if you’re new to freelancing. Don’t say “He seemed to be angry,” when in reality you’re pretty certain he was furious.
5. Make a point
If you have something to say, say it. Many writers are afraid of taking a controversial stance because the editor might not agree, but that is part of the reason you’re writing the pitch—to suss out whether this editor is the right fit for your piece or not. And you can’t do that if you tiptoe around what needs to be said. This is especially true in science stories and in most international reporting.
Be confident in not only the data you bring to her, but the inference and the conclusions that you’ve reached as a result of it.
Finally—and yet again—there is no weakness that practice can’t overcome, no lack of confidence that practice won’t make disappear. Practicing writing (and sending) queries helps you get better each time you do it and the better you get, the more confident your queries naturally start sounding. This is why I’m a big believer in pitching as much as you possibly can, especially in the beginning. By the time you’ve sent out the thirtieth pitch, you’ll no longer be wondering if you can do it. You’ll be pretty certain that you can.
And that will translate automatically to the words on the page.
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and the founder of The International Freelancer. She is committed to helping freelancers make a living with their writing. Which is why she’s put together a list of 70+ publications that pay $1 a word or more. Download a free copy here: http://www.theinternationalfreelancer.com/1-a-word/