For a freelance journalist, there are few experiences more nerve-racking than crafting a query letter to pitch a story to an editor.
You’ve devoted time and energy to researching an idea that excites you, and now seeing that idea become a published story depends your ability to communicate it succinctly in a way that will appeal to the personal preferences of someone you’ve never met. (This is especially true for those who are just starting out and have few established contacts in the industry.)
Thanks to the email listserv of a professional organization to which I belong, I came across a resource that will help demystify the process for freelancers like me, especially those who are interested in science journalism.
The Open Notebook is a nonprofit website, launched in 2010 by freelance science journalists Jeanne Erdmann and Siri Carpenter, that aims to help other science writers hone their craft. The site’s Behind-the-Story Interviews ask writers to break down their work, from the nuts and bolts of reporting to art of crafting the story. It even includes interesting bonuses like this handwritten outline for Amy Harmon‘s recent New York Times piece “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World.”
The section of the site I believe will prove most valuable for me is the Pitch Database. For the database, writers have generously shared successful pitches that landed stories in publications such as Wired, Scientific American, Smithsonian and even one for a piece broadcast on This American Life.
Journalism has a reputation for being a hyper-competitive field. And, while this competitiveness can be an important motivator for all of us to do our best work, it’s also great to see experienced, successful writers willing to share what they could hold as closely guarded trade secrets.