How to Make Yourself Look Good Without Lying

How should talented, upcoming writers present themselves to editors when pitching articles? Freelance professional Katherine Swarts has a few tips.
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Hello, my name is Katherine, and I’m a writer with an inferiority complex. When I approach a new market or B2B client, the sentence most commonly edited out of my queries is, “I don’t really match your ‘call for submissions’ description perfectly, but …”

It’s a common problem among writers, detail-oriented lot that we are. We can fret ourselves into nausea over the question, Is it ethical to:

  • skim a few online posts and then send a query that implies you “know” your target market?
  • mention “planned expert sources” you have yet to contact?
  • skip mentioning that you’ve never published before?

Most writing mentors answer “yes” to all the above. Still, for the sake of your conscience and your reputation, you wouldn’t want to tell outright lies. So how does the talented-but-nervous writer present him- or herself accurately, without implying, “I’m nowhere near good enough for you”?

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The Truth About Your Advance Research

When submitting a query, it’s a plus to say, “I’ll interview such-and-such an expert on the topic.” Often, though, we know whom we’d like to interview but aren’t sure they’ll say “yes.”

You may think you’re facing a Catch-22: expert sources won’t commit until the project is confirmed, and publishers won’t assign a project until the sources are committed. Actually, few publishers or experts are that strict. As long as you sound reasonably confident you can get an article assignment/interview—“I plan to,” not “I hope to”—they usually respond favorably to “commit on spec” requests.

As for research on the market itself, if you’re a longtime follower by all means say so. But if you’ve recently discovered the market, go ahead and read just enough to get familiar with its style and to pinpoint topics it hasn’t recently covered. Then, query in a matching style (if all their articles open with questions, open your query with a question), without mentioning what you have and haven’t studied.

The Truth About Your Experience

Experts unanimously agree: Do not say:

  • “I’ve never published anything before.”
  • “I’ve never written in your genre.”
  • “I don’t have any professional credentials.”

Besides begging for rejection, this wastes space and the editor’s time. They want to know what you can do, or why are you bothering to contact them? Leaving out areas where you lack experience is not lying by omission: it’s editing to include only relevant facts, just as in a manuscript.

The Truth About Your Ability

Do. Not. Include. Your. Own. Opinion. Of. Your. Writing. Ability. Positive or negative, it’s rarely accurate. Remember the writer’s mantra “show, don’t tell:” editors want to see how well you can write, and your query is your first writing sample.

You don’t need to tell anyone you aren’t perfect. That’s a truth that goes without saying. Contrary to what many people think, it does not follow logically that you aren’t very good, period. Tell yourself the truth about your writing talent, every day:

  • Focus on your talents and successes, not your shortcomings.
  • When acquaintances and readers compliment your writing, believe them.
  • But don’t assume you’re as good as your mother says. Or as good as you’ll ever need to be. Never stop learning and growing.

When you regard yourself as a talented (but not infallible) writer with much to offer, so will publishers and fans. And you’ll not only look good as a writer, you’ll feel good about your ability and your integrity!

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