By Vicky Gits
Boulder freelance writer Jayme Moye graduated from college with good grades and found a great job as a data analyst for a giant worldwide technology company. But she always dreamed of a career as a writer.
So after 10 years writing queries for information database programs, Moye quit her job, got a divorce and started seriously writing query letters (she prefers to call the “pitches”) and launched a career as a freelancer.
In he last five years she has written articles for 50 magazines, mainly in the travel, adventure and outdoor categories. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Marie Claire, Outside, Men’s Journal, Bicycling, and 5280, among others.
Her life is full of fascinating adventures and travel, many of which she helps finance by writing articles that she has successfully pitched to editors of local and national magazines. Being a successful freelance writer entails understanding the structure of the magazine and the psychology of editors in general, in addition to knowing how to write, interview and generate ideas.
Writing the kind of pitch letter that impresses editors is one of the most important keys to success Moye said. These days a pitch letter is always by email and never by letter. The style is business casual. It’s “Hey, John” not “Dear editor.”
Fewer words at the top are better. Don’t attach clips. Instead give links to your website or refer to a blog. Stress your unique expertise. Moye was an amateur bicycle racer, giving her an edge with cycling mags. “Establish that you are the best person to write the story,” she said. A good book on the subject is “The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock,” Moye said. Remember that national magazines are typically working on articles six months ahead of the publication date.
“A pitch is an idea, never an entire story,” Moye said. “Professional writers are too busy to write something just to see if an editor likes it,” she said. Editors also like to be a part of the writing process and make suggestions.
Identifying the right outlet and the right editor is essential. “Editors tend to say a pitch should be so specific to the magazine that it can’t be used somewhere else. If editors say they see the disclaimer, they throw it out the window.” (A disclaimer indicates that a freelancer has also submitted the same article to another magazine.)
A pitch letter is designed with a structure that includes key elements in this order: subject line, greeting, introduction, head and deck, hook, nut graph, proposal and the writer’s credentials. The head and deck will be written to imitate the style of the publication in question. For example: “The World’s Most Dangerous Road Bike Ride,” and the deck, “Despite the odds, the Afghanistan National Cycling Federation is riding …. And winning.” This was part of a pitch for Outside magazine, which tends to favor adventure stories with danger in them, Moye said.
If you want to be a writer and have no clips, consider starting out with a small, local magazine. There are dozens in Colorado. Check websites like mediabistro.com for masthead info and mediakitty.com, which posts info on media trips. See more of Moye’s work on the website jaymemoye.com.