One of the most important – and most overlooked – aspects of making money as a freelance writer is the need to continually send out new queries. It’s tempting to put querying aside while you’re working on assignments, and then pick it up again when the work runs out. The problem is that, by then, it’s too late. You end up with a gap in your assignments – and your income.
In order to receive a steady stream of paychecks as a freelancer, you must keep a steady stream of queries flowing from your keyboard. Querying has to be a built-in part of your schedule. The trick is to treat it like an ongoing assignment, complete with firm deadlines and productivity goals. Find a method that works for you, and follow it consistently.
Scheduled Querying Time
Setting aside an hour or two each day to query can work if you don’t take too long to write each one. If you work fast, this method can be great. If you work slowly, you may not finish anything during the allotted time.
Alternatively, you can try devoting one or two days a week to querying, depending on how far along you are in your writing career. If you’re a beginner, you’ll need to spend more (if not most) of your time querying until the assignments start to come in. Then, you need to keep querying, but not to the exclusion of completing your assigned work. For more established freelancers, one intense querying day a week may be enough.
I wouldn’t suggest having a “querying week” each month. If you have a whole week without any assignments to work on, you should be querying the rest of the month, too! By the same token, sending out queries is the best way to use down time between assignments.
You may be more productive by setting number goals. I started out with the goal of having 12 queries out at any one time, but it was too hard to keep track of what was out there. Then I tried 12 queries per month, but that wasn’t enough. Nor was the goal structured enough to keep me querying steadily. Next I tried a goal of six queries per week. That sounded do-able, until I found myself putting it off until the end of each week. I’d reach Friday with only one or two – or no – queries sent out. I knew I had to try something else.
The last method I tried, and the one I still use because it works best for me, is to send out one query per day, first thing in the morning. This results in the six queries per week goal that I had set previously, but in a much more habitual way. It still gives me plenty of time to work on assignments (which are coming more steadily these days!) and I get a great sense of satisfaction from checking an item off my daily to-do list.
If you send out just one query a day, five days a week, you’ll end up with about 20 queries submitted by the end of each month. Depending on your acceptance rate and the amount of money you’re paid per article, this may or may not be enough for you. The best advice is to experiment until you find a system that keeps you cranking out those queries on a regular basis.
Whether you are bombarded with assignments or staring at an empty inbox, the important thing is to keep querying. It’s the best way to keep the money coming in!
Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a freelance writer and author of A Farm Heritage Album. Her articles and essays have appeared in Guideposts, Equus, and other national magazines. She also writes regular lifestyle features for Pennsylvania Magazine and for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper.