How to Write a Query or Proposal as a Freelance Writer
If you are new to the world of freelance writing, you may not be familiar with the terms "query" and "proposal." Do not worry about that. After this article, you will completely understand what they are and how they are important tools to the freelance writer. There have been entire books written on the topics; but in this article, we will get to the essence of what it is, how to write one, and what to do with it.
Which One to Send?
The query and proposal are similar, but each is structured a little differently and used for different types of writing. The query usually is sent to magazines, newspapers, and publications that fall in that line. The proposal is more like a sales letter that goes out to businesses that you are offering your services to. There also is the book proposal, which goes to publishers, usually when a writer is suggesting a nonfiction book. Let us break down each one individually and see an example to get a clearer picture.
Unless you have a good standing relationship with editors, and you may after you have been freelancing for a while, you are likely going to be starting out getting assignments from them via the query. A query letter is a written pitch in which you send your article idea to the editor. It usually is one to two pages in length and offers an introduction, what you would like to write, and your credentials. It is sent to the editor and explains why you are the right person to write the article. You should always try to address it to the appropriate person, even if that means calling the publication to get the name of the editor.
In the past, people always sent queries through the postal mail. The standard procedure was to send the query, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Most of the time people would send it to only one editor at a time and await the editor's response. But the information age has changed all that and many editors today do accept, and often prefer, queries through e-mail.
When you are sending out your query you should try to send as many via e-mail as possible. Not only is it faster for you, but it also will save you money in the long run. If you choose to send it through postal mail, the SASE is not all that necessary any more. You may find that for every 10 queries you mail out, you get only one reply back. This means that all those other stamps are going unused and you still never hear from the publication.
Whether you can send your query to more than one place at a time depends on the type of publication you are querying. If you are sending it to a national magazine, then you will need to send it to only one at a time. If you are sending your idea to a regional magazine, you can send it to many at one time because the areas do not tend to overlap. For example, if you send a query for fabulous spa getaways to a women's magazine in Detroit, you also can send it to women's magazines throughout the country at the same time.
Magazine query sample
123 Appleby Way
Lance, PA 89876
Attn: Susan Snap, Editor
8987 Lolli Way
Pittsburgh, PA 87899
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 25 percent of young children today have weight problems. This is a vast change from 30 years ago. Many factors are contributing to this unhealthy shift in the American child's lifestyle. Not only can it set them up for having health problems later in life, but it can also be mentally unhealthy.
I'd like to write an article for your magazine that discusses this public health crisis. This article would cover the ins and outs of what is going on, according to researchers. For this article, I would also interview experts in the field, as well as provide some anecdotal experiences. The length of this article can be tailored to meet your editorial needs; however, I envision it to be around 1,000 words.
I am a freelance writer that has written for several regional magazines, including Lulu Bugs. You can see clips by visiting my site at www.freddyfreelancer.com. I have a bachelor's degree in modern arts and have completed several writing courses. Please respond at your earliest convenience. I look forward to possibly hearing from you.
With each query, you will need to provide clips for the editor to see. A clip is a sample of your work that will show the editor the type of writing you are capable of. You should have clips on your Web site, which will be discussed in Lesson 7. If you are sending your query by e-mail, you can simply direct the editor to your site to see the clips. If you are sending your query via snail mail, you should include a couple of copied clips in the envelope.
The Proposal Letter If you are planning on doing some work for businesses, you should be prepared to send a proposal. While you may send a sales letter in the beginning to get the attention of the business and let managers know about your services, the proposal is a little different. The proposal usually responds to a request. If a business has a project it needs completed, the managers often will ask a couple of freelancers or copywriting businesses to submit a proposal. The proposal is a letter that will tell them how much you will charge to do the project and what will be included in your services. Proposals usually are faxed or e-mailed to the company. Here is an example of what one would like:
1343 Lilly Lane
Parkster, PA 89878
Attn: Greg Lunst, General Manager
1321 Lilly Longer
Williamston, PA 89887
Thank you for allowing me to submit a proposal on your latest project. Below are my rates and what is included for the price. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact me.
- 2 press releases written, distribution not included.
- 1 brochure text, three panels.
The total amount proposed for this project is $475. This includes two rounds of revisions, providing they are requested within 14 days of the work being submitted. It also includes any phone calls and research that will need to be conducted.
Should you wish for me to proceed in completing the work, please sign the release below and fax back at your earliest convenience. All work will be delivered within four business days of receiving the signed proposal. Half of the fee will be payable before any work is started. The balance is due upon completion of the assignment.
I agree to the above terms and would like to assign this project to you.
While a query submits the idea to an editor, along with what you will include, the proposal is going to go to businesses. It also informs them of what you will include in the work. Only with the latter example, you are setting the rates, whereas in a query you would not likely be doing that or mentioning anything about rates.
Another type of proposal in the freelance writing field is the book proposal. While those who write fiction books often write the book and then submit the manuscript for consideration, writing nonfiction books usually works differently.
For nonfiction books, the person with the idea usually writes up a book proposal. You do this rather than writing the whole book first. The book proposal is like a much-expanded version of the query letter that is sent to magazines. For this type of proposal, you will need to offer the idea, market research, your credentials, and a sample chapter, among other things. This type of proposal would be sent to only one publisher at a time, and you would await that publisher's response. Once you prepare the proposal, you would want to send it to a publisher that has a record of publishing books in that genre. You can find this information by doing Google searches for book publishers and reviewing the publishers' submission page, which usually provides the instructions on what they require in a proposal.
Making the Sale
Send out enough queries and proposals and there is no doubt that you will get some assignments. So what do you do when you get the thumbs up from an editor, book publisher, or corporation that would like you to write? A lot!
For starters, you will need to kindly accept the assignment and thank the person who contacted you for the opportunity to work with him or her. At that point, there may be contracts involved. If you are writing for regional magazines, you most likely will not come across many that utilize contracts. Most often, you will simply get the assignment through e-mail and then just move forward with working on it. If, on the other hand, it is for a national magazine, you will most likely receive a standard contract. Just review it, sign, and send it back as the magazine has requested. If you have questions about something that is in the contract, do not be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
Most contracts you receive will state the type of publication rights that the magazine is seeking. Some may want all rights, meaning that they will own the work and you will not be able to use it again elsewhere. Others seek First North American Rights, which means they want to be the first to run the piece and then after that you are free to use it again.Serial rights allow the article to be published in more than one publication at a time. This is often used for columns that are used in multiple publications at once. Reprint rates are another option and often used for regional publications. This allows the publication to print the work after it has run somewhere else first.
Keeping on Track
Once you get the assignment, it will be your responsibility to meet the deadline. Do not expect hand-holding or reminders from the editors. Assignments that come from magazines and newspapers usually come with a deadline. If you are working with a business and doing corporate work, you often have more say in setting the due date.
Many writers use a calendar system to keep track of their assignments. You will need to find a system that works for you to help keep you on pace. The one thing you do not want to do is miss deadlines. After getting the assignment, immediately get the due date on the calendar. It is also a good idea to get some other milestones on the calendar as well, such as finding sources, following up, and writing the first draft.
If for some reason you see you cannot meet the deadline, let the editor or business know immediately. While you do not want to make a habit of missing or extending deadlines, there are times when extenuating circumstances arise and people usually are easy to work with about it.
However, if you miss a deadline without informing the person first, it could mean you may never get to write for that enterprise again. Always try to meet the deadlines set forth.
Billing and Getting Paid
If you are writing for a magazine, you can pretty much count on the fact that you will be paid on publication. This means that you write the piece and you will not be paid until it finally runs in the magazine, which could be months later. If you get a book proposal accepted, you likely will be offered a lump sum payment up front, as well as a percentage of book sales after publication. When it comes to corporations, many writers require 50 percent up front and the balance upon completion. This clause can be included in your initial proposal to the company. Many businesses are familiar with this type of arrangement and do not have a problem with it.
After submitting the work, you should always invoice, even for magazines. You should consider having an invoice program on your computer that will track your accounting information, such as QuickBooks. Alternatively, you can create a spreadsheet in Excel to keep track of invoices sent and paid. Accounting software is helpful in that it will help track your invoices, who has paid, expenses, and provide reports for tax time.
While most people pay as they are supposed to, from time to time you may come across a deadbeat account. The best you can do is try to always remain professional and send requests for payment, follow up with inquiries, call the accounting department, and contact the person who assigned the work to you. If all else fails, you can report the business to a collection agency, as well as the Better Business Bureau.
Reviews and Revisions
After you have submitted your work, you can expect that sometimes there will be revisions requested. This is normal and you should not take it personally. Most of the time, the requested changes will not be big. Kindly accept the request for changes, make them, and resubmit the work for approval. You do not want to be seen as hard to get along with or you may not get more work from this magazine or business. Keep in mind that it is impossible to please everyone 100 percent of the time. With the writing profession come revisions; it is just part of the process.
Should You Write on Spec?
Writing on spec, or speculation, is when an editor has not committed to agreeing to accept your proposed idea but would like to see it before making a decision. This means that you would be writing the piece with no guarantees that anyone would buy it. Whether you do depends on you. Some writers will not, seeing it as a waste of time if there is no guarantee of a sale. Others may do it if they really want to try to get their foot in the door and they believe they can sell it elsewhere if the current editor declines. Use your own judgment to make the call about what is right for you.
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