Using “The Socratic Close” to Sell More Articles – by Michael W. Michelsen, Jr.

Using “The Socratic Close” to Sell More Articles – by Michael W. Michelsen, Jr.

A few days ago, I was reading the want ads in my local newspaper. I get many of my story ideas from there, and that day would be no exception.

When I got to the “Sales” listings, I kept reading a line that intrigued me. In the copy of many of the ads it read, “Closers Only Apply,” “Closers Only,” or something similar.

I asked my wife, who was sitting on the couch across from me, “Why would somebody who couldn’t close a sale try to become a salesperson?”

She responded, “Why would anybody who couldn’t sell their articles and book manuscripts want to be a writer?”

She was right.

Fortunate for me, I think I have the answer. It’s a formula that I learned from a professor in college. It’s called the Socratic Close, and not only is it highly effective, but it’s easy to use. Further, it can be used in many ways, from providing logical conclusions to an article to convincing an editor to buy a piece.

Using the Socratic Close

The Socratic Close is named, of course, for the man who developed it as a basis for his debate arguments, the Classical Greek philosopher, Socrates. In the Socratic Close, all pertinent arguments to a debate are brought forth to be considered as part of a discussion. After all the relevant issues are considered, the person who uses the method discounts the elements to narrow the debate down to the most logical truth. As a result, those who are taking part in the debate can’t help but agree with the remaining argument.

Writer who chooses to use this method can more easily convince their readers of the validity of their arguments. The key to arriving at the answer to a question depends on the right questions as the example below shows:

  1. The writer asserts a thesis: Courage is endurance of the soul.
  2. The writer determines whether his wish is to prove or negate the thesis statement.
  3. The writer attempts to have readers present alternative arguments.
  4. The writer presents an alternate thesis that courage is not the endurance of the soul.
  5. The writer concludes that his thesis is correct by contradicting the logic of the alternative argument.

It can be easily seen that this method can be applied to nearly any discussion when a certain eventual outcome is desired. For example, in a query letter where a writer is attempting to convince an editor to review a story.

Assuming that a story idea is pitched to an appropriate publication, the editor can be presented with the thesis that a given writer is most fitting to write the story being pitched. An example of using this approach in a query letter is given below in a common thread I use for my pitches.

After the idea is presented in the text of the letter, I conclude by writing: “I believe I am uniquely qualified to write a story of this type. I have been a writer for more than 40 years. In that time, I have written and published countless stories in newspapers and magazines around the world. These include publications such as Business Week, US News and World Reports, Forbes, Fortune, and many more. May I send you my story, on spec, of course?”

It’s hard to argue with a presentation like that. Granted, there are many other reasons that an editor might reject an idea, but everything else being equal, chances are good that the editor will at least give my article a good looking over.

For this approach to make sense, it must be understood that I take a very logical and almost scientific approach to selling my work. I am always careful, for example, that I study everything I can about not only the publication I am pitching, but the editor as well. Fortunately, using Google, and specific websites such as Muck Rack, LinkedIn, and Facebook it’s almost impossible to hide from a writer who is determined to hone their pitch to an appropriate editor.


Michael W. Michelsen, Jr. is a freelance writer living in a cultural wasteland commonly known as Southern California. He specializes in business and technology subjects, but is not too proud to consider virtually any subject. Readers can reach him by email, Muck Rack, or LinkedIn. Facebook does nothing but frustrate him, but if you insist, you can see his page here.

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