It Never Hurts to Ask By Lisa Tiffin

Sometimes all it takes to succeed is to ask a simple question. Several years ago, when I was new to freelancing, I came across an ad for literature study guides aimed at homeschoolers and small schools. They looked like great guides; in fact, they looked like guides I would use with my own students and children. They looked like guides I could write.

Only one thing stood in my way: I had to figure out how to get hired. After completing my preliminary research, I discovered the company was a small one with no published writer’s guidelines. However, I was able to find an owner and an e-mail address. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I wrote the publisher and politely asked how and where she found her writers. I listed my credentials – a BA and an MA in English, teaching and writing experience, and my status as a homeschooling mom – and hoped for the best.

I know now after several years of freelancing under my belt that “cold calling” an editor or publisher is usually not the way to land a job, but back then it seemed reasonable to me. And guess what? The publisher wrote back. She explained her query process, which was lengthy and required a fair amount of up-front work.

I accepted the challenge and went to work. After a few weeks of gathering, reading and writing, I submitted my proposal package. It was accepted! After that first guide, I have written two others, and am working on a fourth for this publisher.

Who knew that sending out a simple e-mail could land years of steady work? Who knew that not following the standard rules could work? Who knew that it never hurts to ask? Well, now I know and so do you.

Lisa Tiffin’s first literature study guide, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, is currently available through Progeny Press. The Last of the Mohicans and The Cay will be available soon. In addition to study guides, Lisa writes articles and fiction for a variety of magazines and publishers. She lives in Upstate New York with her husband and twin sons. Visit her at