If you want to breathe new life into your freelance writing career, a 30-day query challenge is a great way to go about it.
That’s right: for 30 days you will commit to submitting a new query to a magazine or another market.
You might be thinking, “Why can’t I just submit a query whenever I have a great idea for a story?”
You could, but if you wait around for a Muse to grace you with her presence, it might be months before you send off any new queries. And pretty soon, your writing assignments will dry up … which for a full-time freelance writer is never a pleasant feeling.
A better approach is to make inspiration happen on your own.
After all, writing is your chosen profession. If you were a doctor, you wouldn’t tell your patients to come back later when you felt inspired to help them get better.
You’d just do it.
Plus, committing to writing 30 days of queries forces you to become more systematic about how you approach your work.
Along the way, you will become better at pitching, which means you will have more writing assignments and more feedback from editors. And in the end, you will have a better chance of succeeding as a freelance writer.
I’ve chosen 30 days because it’s in the Goldilocks Zone … not too long, not too short.
You could do 30 days in a row or 30 business days in a row. I’ve chosen the latter, because that allows me to preserve some of my work-life balance. And recharge my writing mind over the weekend.
To help you make your 30-day query challenge successful, I’ve listed some tips and resources below.
This is just my take on how to approach writing queries. You may find that something else works better for you. If so, go for it. And share your thoughts in the comments below.
Before you jump right into your 30-day query challenge, take some time to do a little planning. This will help make your experience more enjoyable and successful.
- Check your calendar to make sure you will have time to do 30 days of queries. If you have a vacation coming up or several big projects due soon, it might be good to wait until you have fewer commitments.
- Time block your query time. This means putting it on your calendar and protecting that time from all intrusions. I suggest four hours each day, but do what works for you. I like to work on my queries first thing in the morning when I’m most focused. (For more on time blocking, check out The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan).
- Gather your resources, including magazines, trade publications, list of websites you might consider submitting a query to, books on magazine and query writing, market research books, favorite notebook and pen, or software that will support your efforts. See my list of resources below.
- Pick someone to keep you accountable. You will have a greater chance of success if you have someone (other than yourself or your cat or dog) keeping an eye on you. This could be another writer doing their own 30-day query challenge. But partners, friends and family members can also be great cheerleaders. You might even start a Facebook group for like-minded writers.
So you’ve blocked time to work on queries for 30 days and gathered all of your resources. Now it’s time to get started. Here are the tasks that I recommend for each day, in the order that you should do them.
- Submit a new query. Come up with a great idea for a story. Find a magazine, website or other publication that your idea would be a great fit for. Write the query, tailoring it for that publication. Send it off. No, resubmitting a rejected pitch to a new magazine doesn’t count. The goal of your 30 days is to develop the habit of creating new pitches. Of course, you can still block off other time in your week to resubmit rejected pitches.
- Research a new market. Do an in-depth review of one new market each day. This might be a magazine or website that you are planning on submitting a query to that day or just one in your topic area. You’ll want to look at several issues to get a sense of the types of articles they publish, their tone or style, regular departments and seasonal articles. Magazines usually list writer’s guidelines on their website. These provide good tips on what an editor is looking for.
- Check in with query responses. It can sometimes take several weeks for an editor to respond to your query, but you might get a reply in a few days. As responses start to come in, read them over and decide right then what your next steps should be, e.g. start on an assigned story, plan to resubmit a rejected pitch later in the week, take a look at feedback from the editor (it happens sometimes) and use that to refine your future queries.
- Learn something about writing queries or just writing. You don’t have to take a writing course each day, but there are many great blog posts, magazine articles and books on improving your queries and writing craft. So learn something new today.
If you have blocked off enough time on your calendar, you should be able to get through each of those tasks every day. If you are running short on time (some days I get stuck on a query and my time block runs away from me), you can leave out the later steps.
So that’s it.
Rinse. Repeat. For 30 days.
Again, I’d love to hear about your experience with the query challenge. What works. What doesn’t. And of course, your own great ideas.
You can post your comments below.
Have a great 30-day query challenge.
Resources for a Great 30-Day Query Challenge
- Freelancewriting.com: Includes writer’s guidelines, articles, tips on pitching and queries, job lists for freelancers and more.
- MediaBistro: Includes articles, tips on pitching, freelance marketplace and more.
- Writer’s Digest magazine and website: Includes market information, contests, conferences, writing classes and articles for all kinds of writers.
Books and Magazines
Buy your own or check them out from your public library. If your library doesn’t have what you are looking for, ask your library to buy it. You may also be able to request books and magazines from other libraries.
- The Complete Guide to Article Writing: How to Write Successful Articles for Online and Print Markets by Naveed Saleh
- Magazine Writing by Christopher D. Benson
- Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing by Michelle Ruberg
- Writer’s Market: Detailed information on markets and book publishers, updated each year. An online version (paid service) also offers search capability. This won’t replace your own market research, but it’s a good place to start.
- Flipster: Platform for digital magazines and books.
- Zinio: Platform for digital magazines and books.
Mind-mapping is a great way to brainstorm story ideas. You can do it on paper or on a whiteboard, or try mind-mapping software. I have also used these software to track projects (e.g. stories).
Online project management tools
Project management tools can help you track your queries and assigned stories throughout the 30-day challenge and beyond.