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One Query at a Time
Guest Post by DeLana Nicole

A blank piece of paper can be the most intimidating thing in the world. I’d just completed Tara Lynne Groth’s workshop on query writing and sat in front of my ancient laptop struggling to write. Feeling inspired, I was determined to give this query writing thing a go.

I had identified a couple of article ideas that I thought local publications would be interested in. I emailed one local beer magazine about volunteering at Durham’s World Beer Festival. (Each year I volunteered as a pourer. And a volunteer taster, if you know what I mean.) The magazine responded, open to queries–yes! So let me explain where I am headed:

Writing has long been my first love and my lifelong dream is to become a professional writer.

That is what I told my college English professor. She took one look at me over her glasses and said, “Only if your name is Maya Angelou, honey.” The professor’s words were like a hot needle to my balloon of hope. Obviously, my name isn’t Maya Angelou, so I believed her, convinced that I would never be able to earn a living as a writer. I entered Corporate America and ran the rat race along with everyone else. That is, until I met Tara Lynne.

I saw an advertisement for one of her writer’s workshops and curiosity drove me to register. Meeting her was like seeing a manifestation of my dream: a woman who was able to leave Corporate America behind and earn a living as a writer. She told me I could do it too, and I believed her.

And that’s what brings me to this point, staring at a blank page. My plan is to gather clips to build my portfolio and gain clientele, slowly working my way out of the cubicle and into my creative dream. My first query was sent to AAA Carolinas magazine, for an article about how Claims Adjusters determine liability in a car accident. (Hint: it is not determined by who gets the ticket.)

It only took one day for me to receive my first rejection.

I swallowed my disappointment and forged ahead with queries. I glanced at Tara Lynne’s query examples for guidance and started typing. I drafted the query about Fullsteam Brewery for Fifteen501, a local magazine. Run spell check. Click. Send. A few days later I received an email from a Fifteen501 editor stating they are interested in my story – success!

Freelance Writing Mistakes 101

I danced around my laptop in my underwear, spilling my orange juice. My first article! Feeling overly confident, I emailed the same query to three other local publications, thinking I could get the same article printed in other publications. Copy. Paste. Send.

The following day, I received a response from one of the magazines; it was the local beer magazine that I pitched the Durham Beer Festival idea to. ‘First of all,’ the email read, ‘I do not work for Fifteen501 and second, we were discussing an article about the beer festival, not Fullsteam….’

Gulp.

I didn’t…I couldn’t have…but, yes, I did. ‘Embarrassed’ doesn’t even begin to cover what I was feeling.

I sent the wrong query to the wrong magazine.

My first failure as a professional writer. Sheesh. Red-faced, I quickly pecked out an apology and included the correct query. (Yes, I still tried to secure the article; I am nothing if not naively brave.) I never heard from the editor again. Not only did I not land an article, I also ruined my already spankin’ new reputation with that magazine. Great.

Starting a Career as a Freelance Writer: Write and Learn

Well, the good that came out of this bad experience is that I gained my first lesson in query writing: From that day forward, I draft my queries in email, save them and review them the next day before hitting send. That way I am able to review the query with fresh eyes and identify any potential errors. Lesson learned; so far, I have never made that mistake again. Onward!

The great news is that I had my first article assignment. Remember my happy dance in my underwear on Saturday? Well, I finally got dressed and started to prepare for my interview with Sean, Fullsteam Brewery’s owner. I went online, reviewed Fullsteam’s website and read every interview on Fullsteam that I could find. I didn’t want to ask Sean the same ol’ questions he had already answered; I wanted my interview to have a different angle.

At 7PM sharp I arrive at the brewery, nerves churning my insides like a blender. Sean introduced me to his wife and two daughters, who join us at the table. I push the recorder as close as possible, praying that it would capture his voice over all the noise.

“So,” I began, clearing my throat, “when did you fall in love with beer?”

Sean tilts his head to one side; I can see him turning my question over in his mind. His eyes are warm as he recounts the moment beer captured his heart. The interview flows smoothly and I can feel myself relax. “You know,” he said, “you are a rock star with the questions!”

Yes! And I got it on tape!

Lesson two: Always research your interviewee so that you can develop original questions.

I float home and open my laptop to transcribe the article but there’s a new email: ‘Dear Ms. Nicole, I know I sent you an email message earlier that we couldn’t use your article. However, I am willing to take a look at it and if we use it, we pay $150 upon publication. Thanks.’

Wait, a paid assignment?

One down, one step closer, one query at a time.

DeLana Nicole Writer

DeLana Nicole

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DeLana Nicole is a freelance journalist and creative writer living in Cary, NC. She holds a B.A. in Written Communications and Journalism. She is hard at work on her first novel. Please check out her Facebook Fan Page and stay tuned for her upcoming website delananicole.com.