How to Get Rid of Query Fear Once and For All

In the five years since I first launched this blog — and in the 1.5 years since I began coaching — I’ve learned a thing or two about the things that can hold a freelancer back.

And aside from the lure of a smooshy couch, a good book, or a curated list of sparkly jewelry on Etsy, a lot of the roadblocks we put up around ourselves stem from the pitch process.

You’ve asked me so many questions about query letters over the years:

How do I find publications to pitch?

Which editor should I target?

What do I do if I have no clips/experience/personal connection?

How long should I wait before I follow up?

Is my letter really good enough to send out? 

I had the same questions when I started out and, over the years, I developed my own system for making the pitch to publish process go smoother.

So what’s my trick to busting query fear?

For the past few months,  I’ve been working on 5 Weeks to Freelance Awesome: An Action Plan, a workbook that takes you from idea generation to the building of your freelance brand. This workbook, which will be available for sale in the late spring, will be pretty damn fantastic. But as I worked on it, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Is there a way I can use this information to show gratitude to my loyal word nerd readers? Is there a way I can share this information with readers without ruining the big reveal?

Yesterday, I emailed Word Nerd News subscribers with a download link to Freelance Awesome: A Starter Kit, a FREE mini-workbook containing the five worksheets necessary to jumpstart your freelance writing career. These worksheets comprise the system I’ve put in place for making my own pitch process a helluva lot easier. I use them on an almost-daily basis. They help me:

  • generate story ideas
  • conduct market research
  • write kick-ass query letters, and
  • track pitches and assignments

These worksheets take the self-doubt out of story pitching, and help me keep the freelance momentum going.

Because I don’t want you to miss out, I encourage you to sign up for my mailing list as well. As a subscriber to Word Nerd News, you’ll receive instant access to my starter kit. Not only that, but you’ll receive a once-a-month email containing freelance success stories, solid advice, and valuable resources from around the web. I’d say it’s a win-win.

Once you’ve downloaded my .pdf-powered word glitter, I only ask one thing in return: If you find my starter kit helpful… if you think I have something valuable to offer… if you think my hair is pretty… if you think I could be a service to someone else you know, tell them to sign up for my mailing list, too.

(If you don’t want to sign up right now, you can always come back later. There’s a simple sign-up form in the right-hand sidebar of this blog, and a sign-up button on my professional site as well.)

I should also tell you that, next week (Thursday, February 9 at 12 p.m. PST / 3 p.m. EST), I’ll be appearing on Carol Tice‘s weekly podcast, over at the Freelance Writer’s Den, to talk freelance startup plans. (You may recall that Carol is one of my favorite freelance writing bloggers.) This is a members-only event, so be sure to register beforehand!

Finally, I want to give a big thanks to Lyz Lenz, my writing partner, for ripping my workbook to shreds and then helping me put it back together again; Melanie Ostmo, a fantastic designer, for making my starter kit all sorts of pretty; and Milena Canizares, a former coaching client who was kind enough to read through my kit and give me her feedback before I shared it with the world.

Go forth and rock it, y’all.

Related: How To Pitch: The Basics

The Top 10 Bookmark-Worthy Blog Posts of 2011

At my last quasi-regular job (permalance editor at an online publication specializing in love- and relationship-related content), the end of the year was always marked by a mad scramble to throw together an assortment of “best of” and “top 10″ lists. Top 10 Love Songs of 2010. Top 10 Love Trends of the Decade. Best WTF Love-Related Moments. Best Sex Scenes. You get the picture.

As commonplace and cliche as they’ve become, everyone loves a good list. Even me. Especially me. Because when I was drawing together my Top 10 Bookmark-Worthy Blog Posts of 2011, I quickly noticed that almost all of them were lists.

A list of lists. How meta.

But even if you’ve grown weary of listicles, I hope you’ll find this one useful. It contains blog posts — all published in 2011 — that I keep returning to… posts I found so useful I couldn’t help bookmarking them for future use. They were just that full of awesome resources and easily-executable tips.

Together, they comprise a handy-dandy resource manual for building a better, stronger business.

So assuming your entrepreneurial muscles could use some flexing…

1. 50 Questions to Ask Yourself After 6 Months of Freelancing. Whenever I think I’ve found the perfect work/life balance, something inside me shifts, and I find myself growing in a completely new direction. Shifts like these have led to me moving from editorial to marketing. They have led to me going full-time freelance. They have led to my career coaching certification,  ghostwriting, and yoga. By this point, I’ve learned that it’s always good to reevaluate your goals. Which is why I love Laura Spencer’s collection of questions you should ask yourself after six months of freelancing. Though I’d take it further. I’d ask yourself these questions every six months, or even every month, from now into eternity.

2. 12 Ways to Turn Your Old, Dusty Blog Archive into Cold, Hard Cash. Carol Tice is the queen of the idea-heavy listicle. Here, as a guest poster on the always-educational Copyblogger, she suggests 12 ways to diversify… using content you’ve already created. How’s that for efficiency? From teleclasses to ebooks, she offers up information products and services to fit any comfort level. Because in an age of shrinking freelance budgets, one can’t survive by writing listicles alone. ;)

3. 109 Ways to Make Your Business Irresistible to the Media. It would be so awesome if Ellen invited me onto her show to dance awkwardly together to the latest LMFAO song and chat about my career coaching business. But Ellen likely doesn’t know who the hell I am. And that’s okay. I haven’t really done a damn thing to grab her attention. This Copyblogger post offers up 109 ways to grab Ellen’s attention. Or get local newspaper coverage. Or end up as the guest of honor on a radio show. Now what’s your excuse?

4. 40 Questions You Need to Ask Every Copywriting Client. Let’s put aside fame and fortune for the moment. We’re supposed to be making money here. Land those projects, yo! But wait. Be careful. Don’t say yes to everyone. And don’t even say yes to the best possible clients without first nailing down all the details. What do you need to know before signing that contract? Again, Carol Tice has the answers. Or the questions, rather. 40 of ‘em. From “When do you need this project completed?” to “Who is your target audience?”

5. 110 Ideas to Get More Freelance Work and Generate New Client Leads. Okay. Carol’s not the only one who can whip up a mean listicle. Over at FreelanceSwitch, blogging buddy Susan Johnston provides some major lead-generating inspiration. Because as we recently discussed, no matter how hot your business is, those slow periods will pop up, and you will need to get back to hustling your little booty off.

6. How to Failproof Your Business. Ohmygod. A non-listicle. Let’s hold it together, people. So I may have just broken the rules of this list. This link doesn’t exactly point to a blog post. Rather, it’s a landing page for a video series created by Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford. I have to include it, though. Out of all the content I’ve come across this past year, this video series has been one of the most educational. In fact, it’s so fantastic, I can’t believe it’s free. From how to build a list to how to close, this series has been a big part of my recent success. And I wish the same success for you, too. So watch it, punks.

7. 45 Kick-Ass Resources for Online Entrepreneurs. A list of resources within a list of list-y resources. Now we’re really meta. But this list is a good one, and contains some of my own favorite resources, including a couple that are heavily featured on this very list.

8. 50 Ways to Get a Freelance Gig. Oh Carol. We have to stop meeting this way. If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, I’ll spell it out for you: Subscribe to Carol’s blog. That is all.

9. Life Cycle of a Book. This one’s a little different from the other posts on this list, but I was absolutely delighted with it when I first saw it, and I think it’s a must see/read for any reader of my blog who’s interesting in someday writing a book. This series of videos (fine; I did it again) takes the viewer through the life cycle of a book (obvs), from the very first draft through to publicity (by both publishing house and author). It’s a great way to learn about the entire publishing process (writer, agent, editorial, production, etc.), and there’s even a pretty infographic you can download and hang up. Check it.

10. Are Your Supposed Weaknesses Actually Your Strength? Finally, I took a look through my analytics to find out which Freelancedom post was the most popular this year. I was surprised by the result. This post of mine is more inspirational than applicable. And it even includes homework! But maybe y’all love stories of vengeance and redemption. Or maybe it gave you hope. Or maybe — just maybe — you found it helpful to see yourself through someone else’s eyes. We tend to see the worst in ourselves. Other people? They see the best.

Did I miss anything so holy-shit awesome that you sorta want to key my car? Leave a link in the comments, and let us know why it deserves a spot on this last. Thanks y’all!

Related: Merry Christmas! My 12 Favorite Freelance Tools and Resources

How To Fish For (Those Completely Deserved) Compliments

Still trying to build up your freelance biz? There’s (probably) no need to drop your life savings on a slick advertising campaign, or on glossy, high-priced direct mail marketing. Over the years, time and experience have shown that word-of-mouth marketing is best.

Sure, I’ve broken into new markets by cold querying and social media marketing. But word-of-mouth marketing is still how I connect with the majority of my coaching clients. It led to my inclusion in the Young Entrepreneur Council’s inaugural group of members. It’s the primary reason I was asked to be a panelist on that ASJA sex writing panel in the spring. And it’s led to numerous writing and editing projects over the years.

You may believe that word-of-mouth marketing is out of your hands (and to some extent, it is). But if you’re looking to build legitimacy for your business, you can still use those satisfied clients to your advantage in a more deliberate way.

I’m talking testimonials, people. And all you have to do is ask for them.

Maybe you feel weird about asking your clients to talk you up. Maybe you figure that — if they really liked you — they’d do it on their own.

And they might.

But if you straight up ask for testimonials (and you ask for them using the types of thought-provoking questions that make for the most effective testimonials), you can then use them on your website, in your e-newsletter, in your email signature, on your blog… wherever you think they’ll be most visible to your target client.

And these solid endorsements from others will show those still hesitating to open their wallets that you have a proven track record of solving problems just like theirs.

So how can you score those eye-catching testimonials? Promotional wordsmith Alexandra Franzen makes it easy with her latest info-product: Five Scripts to Rake in the Praise.

Remember when I offered those freebie email templates you could use for asking your boss the tough questions? (Questions like Can I telecommute? and Will you hate me if I resign?)

Alexandra’s Five Scripts is sort of like that. Except way prettier. And with templates for multiple testimonial-gathering situations. Such as:

  • confidently requesting a testimonial from a current client
  • prompting your client with the types of questions that make for the most effective love notes
  • scoring a belated testimonial from a long-ago client
  • requesting advance praise for a soon-to-be-released product
  • taking previously written praise and spreading it among your advocates and fans

And like Alexandra herself, the scripts are bold and colorful, including such turns of phrase as “your words of support are like solid gold for my business” and “with wiggly anticipation.” (Seriously. This Alexandra chick is my kinda wordsmith.)

You can send out these scripts word for word… or you can use them as jumping-off points, allowing them to inspire you to new heights of writerly radiance that smack of your own huggable personality.

If nothing else, these scripts will stand as shining examples of what can be accomplished with top-notch copywriting.

Alexandra’s Five Scripts to Rake in the Praise is available for only $15 [not an affiliate link; I just think this product is quality and cool], but one lucky Freelancedom reader will receive it for free. Just leave a comment below with the five adjectives you wish your clients would use to describe you. (Example: Relatable. Honest. Funny. Empathetic. Looks like Zooey Deschanel.)


If you’re more interested in Alexandra’s Five Scripts to Fill Your Client Docket, leave a comment below describing your dream project/client, because I have one of those to give out as well.

Dream big, word nerds! Dream big.*

* I will be excepting entries through midnight on Thursday, December 22. I will email the winners on Friday, December 23.

Related: Want to Work Remotely? How to Ask the Tough Questions

How To Harness the Power of NaNoWriMo… All Year Long

We’re just a few days in to NaNoWriMo, and the tweets and motivational blog posts are already flying fast and furious. Not that I’m participating, mind you. I’m not a novelist, and all of my attempts at “fiction” back in college were thinly-veiled, totally emo personal essays (as were everyone else’s). But I can’t help feeling envious that fiction writers have a month like this, during which they can go all in on that large project they’ve been daydreaming about for eons, a built-in support network (and hard-core accountability) just an email or dedicated forum away.

Of course, I get my motivation and accountability elsewhere. My writing partner, Lyz Lenz, sends me threatening emails every week.

But what about the rest of you? Where can you go to ensure that your writing goals are met, thanks to a mix of motivation, camaraderie, and abject fear?

1. For those of you who have trouble updating your blog on a regular basis (shut up; I was doing very, very important things… okay, I was tweeting and surfing Etsy), there’s NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month (also in November). You can check out the BlogHer site for writing prompts and badges and then dive on in, secure in the knowledge that, at least for one month, you were on top of things.

2. If your November is just too damn busy (with Christmas shopping), there’s always Michelle Rafter’s WordCount Blogathon, in May. Check out Michelle’s Blogathon page for all the ways in which participating can help you build your biz.

3. And of course, those are just two of the more well-known ones. You can search for blog carnivals within your specific niche at this handy-dandy online directory.

4. If you’ve got your blogging covered, however, and would rather concentrate on content you can create for actual money, I highly recommend Freelance Success‘s twice-a-year Query Challenge. For the brief period of time in which I was a member of this professional writer’s group, I found the Challenge to be its most beneficial resource. Participants were split into teams and pitted against each other, earning points through queries and LOIs, and through the assignments that resulted from them. Team members had to report their points once a week, and team rankings were sent out in the weekly e-newsletter. There’s nothing like some healthy competition (and the fear of letting your teammates down) to make you sweat.

5. Then there are those sites and applications that target your writing productivity, and that can be used year-round. 750 Words is one such resource. It’s a site on which users aim to write at least 750 words a day and, for their troubles, receive points for their progress, and stats about what they’ve written (such as their most productive times of day, their quickest entries, their most common topics, and their most frequently used words).

6. Finally, if extreme terror is the most effective form of motivation for you, there’s always Write or Die. I’m afraid to use it, but rumor has it that, if you don’t reach your writing goals for the day, this application send you a threatening email, announces your failure to the entire Twitterverse, erases your hard drive, and makes your coffee pot malfunction.

Just kidding.

Write or Die tracks your writing and, if you pause for too long, you either a) receive a gentle reminder pop-up, telling you to stop being such a goddamn slacker (gentle mode), b) are subjected to an “unpleasant sound” that only ceases if you continue writing (normal mode), or c) are forced to watch your writing unwrite itself (kamikaze mode). Note: I am afraid to use this app.

7. Of course, you could always use mini goals, rewards, self-imposed deadlines, and good, old-fashioned self-discipline, but where’s the fun in that?

Any of you guys have an app or non-technical trick that keeps you at your keyboard?

Related: Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault, Resource Roundup: 4 Time Management Applications, Are Professional Organizations Worth the Cost?, Motivational Trick: Fear (of Letting Others Down), Finding Someone to Drag You to the Finish Line