Query Letter Writing: Get Organized

Unfortunately, the world of query letter writing is one of numbers:  the more you write, the more responses you get.  Now that gets a little daunting at first, because you might not get any (or few) replies – even rejections!  Hopefully, if you’re following along with our other query letter tips, you’ll be getting better and better.  But I’d like to focus on another important aspect of your query letters: getting organized.

What You Need to Track

Well, I think this is pretty straightforward, but it might vary depending on your niche and topic.  Here’s what I’m tracking:

  • Publication Name
  • Contact Name
  • Contact Email (I don’t have phone since I rarely use it, but you might want to track this)
  • Article Topic (just in case I pitch similar topics to others)
  • Status (matches the color coding – see below)
  • Date/Comments (I have a running list of updates, with a date next to each)

That’s it.  I also color-code the lines; dark grey is for queries that were rejected, yellow is for work that is won but not paid/complete, and green is for work complete and has been paid for.

My spreadsheet also has a second tab where I put story ideas that need a publication to pitch to, as well as a list of publications I want to pitch to and either haven’t, or I don’t have a good idea what to pitch them yet. 🙂

For me, less is more.  I could totally overengineer this thing, but then I would be spending my time working on a spreadsheet, not writing.  Guess which one pays more? 😉

How to Track It

So, most of us – myself included, as I have mentioned – just use a spreadsheet to track your query letters.  Google or Excel both work fine. Just make sure that it’s backed up safely, and don’t be afraid to adjust your columns for formatting as you go along.

Spreadsheets aren’t ideal.  You can forget to update them; you might get the format wrong and it starts to get unwieldy.  (Be sure you have a plan to archive stuff that is no longer useful – an extra, out of the way tab might work, or throw it into another spreadsheet all together.)

CRM systems are another option.  CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, and I do have one actually – Highrise.  I use it for my consulting services business.  Why don’t I use it for queries?  Well – that is a good question. Mostly it is because my services stuff has very long sales cycles, so I need to track proposals and follow-ups etc, whereas my writing projects tend to be Query -> Wait -> Receive Decision.  There isn’t much negotiation or massive amounts of communication to manage.

That might be different for you.  You might also find the thought of a spreadsheet to be nightmareish – it is the marketing arm of your freelance writing business, after all.  I would suggest you take a look at the options out there – Zoho is another popular one, as well as Salesforce.

Scanners, Read Here

So, if you’re scanning this, here’s the important point: it isn’t about whether you use CRM tools or a simple spreadsheet. It’s about the quality of your tracking data – so whatever you put back in you get back out.  If your spreadsheet is a mess or never updated, it doesn’t help, does it?  Same for a CRM tool – it isn’t a magic wand that gets more writing work.  It is just a tool to help you get organized.

FWJ Readers: Are you:

A) Not Organized
B) A Spreadsheet Person
C) A CRM Person
D) Organized with Something Else

Curious to hear your thoughts.






8 responses
  1. JoAnna Avatar

    I fall under category D: Organized with Something Else. I have a separate Word doc for each article idea, which notes where, when and what else I sent with each query. It also notes what day to follow up or withdraw. I also keep all of this tracked on a hard copy document. I suppose I could do this on a spreadsheet, and I tried to do it once, but it was such a mess with everything all lumped together versus broken down individually.

  2. Debra Avatar

    I use a combination of B & D. I love spreadsheets and diligently keep them current and updated. I also color code and use a category breakdown, however, often on the same tab. I separate my tabs by month, weeks. For quick reference to the proposed article that has research, reference and/or completed articles in Word, I note the file name in a column next to the pitch.

    I am loving this series. Thanks for all the tips, Deb.

  3. Nico Avatar

    I just use Excel, but I was amused to discover I use the same colour scheme you do. 🙂

    I have a tab for queries and another for submissions. It’s stressful seeing how long it can take some publications to respond, especially as I’m new to freelancing.

  4. Andy Hayes Avatar

    Thanks for all the feedback – so interesting to see how people organise…

  5. Issa Avatar

    Though you have useful tips here, sometimes, it’s so hard to keep track of all those query letters you’ve sent- especially when it takes these editors like forever to say yes or no to your letter. Of course, they do get a lot of submissions daily, but a little notice on what’s going on can help me get better sleep at night. As for database, there’s no need to go too techie on these new tools coming up. Even an excel file will do just fine so long as it’s simple and updated.

  6. Rebecca Avatar

    I’m organized but my information isn’t in Excel or Google Documents but I’ll transfer it to Excel. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. StacHolbrook Avatar

    I enjoy using Excel to keep things organized and I update on a regular basis, but I also keep a back-up disk with updated information on it as well as hard copies kept in my file cabnet for emergency use. I beleive I’m organized, if anyone asks me where they can find something in my office, I can pretty much tell them where to look and what to look under.

  8. daniel mamann Avatar

    Hello, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam remarks? If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything you can suggest? I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very much appreciated.

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