Tuesday, January 27, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Fear of the query interview

The one gripe I hear from every new freelancer is that they aren't paid for the time they spend writing and sending queries.

They resist contacting people to quote in their queries, fearing three things:
  • That the source will laugh at them/hang up on them/deride them for asking for their time without a guarantee of being in print.
  • That no one will talk to them without a big name--or any name--publication attached.
  • That they should be spending time on income-generating work instead.
And then there's always that resentment: Why should I, if there's no guaranteed return on investment?

To which I say: Welcome to self-employment, my friends.

This is what's call the cost of doing business. It's a hard--or maybe not so hard, depending on your mindset--reality that up to 40 percent of any self-employed person's time is taken up by marketing and networking. For me, that number hovers between a quarter and 30 percent.

It's also true, for me at least, that only about 15 percent of my queries sell. Does that mean I'm bad at it?

No. It means I'm constantly reaching out to new markets and figuring out, through the trial and error of querying, what that magazine is looking for. I think of it as educational time.

I also don't resent it. I look at is as an opportunity to write about things that matter to me. If you're only taking assignments and not querying, you're probably writing some number of stories that aren't all that interesting to you. You do them because it's your job, not for passion's sake. That's a path, eventually, to burnout.

So I say, why would you pass up the chance to write about something you're passionate about? I don't.

And so I query.

But how to get over those top-three fears? Here's how I address them for myself and my clients.

Fear #1: The source is gonna laugh at me/hang up on me/deride me for asking for time without a guarantee of a quote.

First of all, there's never a guarantee of a quote, even when you have an assignment. If you regularly promise sources that they'll be in your stories, you're setting yourself up for a lot of chaos and drama that will steal your serenity.

But here's the hopeful part: I can't recall the last time a source refused to talk to me for a story proposal. Most people want to be listened to, especially if it's about something that matters to them. Those are the people you want to interview anyway.

Most experts are in the business of raising their profile by talking to the media, so they don't bat an eyelash at the chance that their words won't be quoted.

Trust in your sources' passion and interest in publicity, and you'll be fine.

Fear #2: No one will talk to me without a publication attached to my name.

This was particularly difficult for me as I started freelancing after nearly a decade in newspapers. After all, I had been working under the assumption that my paper's name opened doors for me. People responded quickly. I thought the paper gave me power.

It turns out, like Dorothy, that I had the power all along.

The reality I found was that I was the brand now. My years of experience as a reporter made me a credible interviewer. The publications I had under my belt gave me some credibility.
Even if you don't have that, build on what you do have: Do you have years in the corporate world? Do you have an expertise based on your previous job? Do you know a lot about the particular topic due to years of private study? It all counts.

Fear #3: I should be spending time on income generating work.

You are. The fact is, you won't have work if you don't query, unless all your work is with one or two clients who feed you assignments without having to query. But in this economy, even that isn't a great idea.

What works best for me is to have a set number of hours I seek to spend on marketing a week. For me, it's five hours. I give myself that time, and permission to use it to tool around publications' Web sites, visit bookstores, seek sources, craft the queries, follow up and reslant and repitch.

In another post, I'll share ways I make it easier to interview sources for queries.

What helps you overcome the fear of the query interview?

Photo by Mia Takahara.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You made a very important point: Everyday, this career takes you into trail-and-error territory. No matter how savvy you get, you're still subject to learning. So it's about managing how you learn. Looking at old responses in new ways.

By the way, the site is looking fantastic!