A review of Knock Their Socks Off by Mridu Khullar

Although at 130 pages, this isn’t a lengthy book, it is a pleasurable, humorous read full of pithy information designed solely to get the reader writing for the potentially lucrative magazine/freelance article market.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Knock Their Socks Off:
A Freelance Writer’s Guide to Query Letters that Sell
By Mridu Khullar
January 2005, e-book, 130pages, $12.95

If you are looking to make a living as a freelance writer, you’ll need to become very familiar with the query letter. It is the basis of any assignment, from a brief point by point article to a full length non-fiction (and even fiction writers need to produce good queries). Mridu Khullar is the editor of WritersCrossing.com, and has written for hundreds of magazines, websites, newspapers and anthologies around the world. Many of the books targeted to freelance writers come out of the USA, and tend to be just a little bit US-centric (to coin a word). Although Knock Your Socks Off is applicable to writers working anywhere in the world, for those freelance writers who don’t live in the USA, the global applicability of the advice and anecdotes is refreshing. Khullar writes in clear, accessible and friendly prose, designed to encourage and inspire new, and experienced freelancers in the art of finding ideas, markets and putting together query letters with those ideas, for those markets, in order to land writing assignments.

Khullar presents a number of “assignments,” brainstorming techniques and practical suggestions designed to give you targeted and viable ideas –the obvious basis of any query. The assignments provide activities which will help you understand the limits of your own knowledge, and ensure that, when you do get a sale (as you will if you follow Khullar’s advice), your work is relevant to you, for example: “Make a list of all the jobs you‘ve held previously and for each, come up with an idea that would appeal to a mass audience.” The idea generation questions in this section are guaranteed to break through any kind of writing block, and will provide the basis for magazine articles for the rest of your working career. Some of the suggestions, like itemising your big successes, or noting the compliments that others give you may seem obvious, and they are, but just the process of working through the questions in writing, with article ideas as the agenda, is enough to generate a huge number of fairly original topics. Khuller provides advice on how to ensure that your idea is original too, for example, using a common idea for one market (like an article about good eating for a pregnancy magazine) and switching the market (an article on your pregnant spouse’s diet for a man’s magazine).

If you’ve followed Khullar’s advice in the idea chapter, you will probably already have a number of markets lined up, but Knock Their Socks Off provides a detailed guide to the different types of markets, generally focussed towards the non-fiction magazine markets, both online and print. She also provides links to some of the more respected online market e-zines and instructions on how to set up an manage a market/query database for the huge number of potential markets. Once you have a good list of markets, it is critical to determine whether the piece you are pitching is a good fit for the market and Khullar provides a number of techniques for customising your queries in a way which will be most attractive to editors. She also provides advice on how to obtain and make good use of quotes and expert opinion, with tips on using online websites like Profnet and NewsWise.

The rest of the book goes into the nitty gritty of putting together an actual query, from the salutation through the lead or hook, the brief, the bio and clips. Throughout the book are examples and anecdotes, quotes from queries that worked, and those that didn’t, and tricks for making your queries stand out above others. Hints on using photographs, formatting, e-mail querying, one sentence queries and resubmissions, with a range of real life templates/queries that you can use yourself with a few modifications. Khullar also suggests a workable schedule for ensuring a steady supply of queries goes out (2 queries for each rejection). Although at 130 pages, this isn’t a lengthy book, it is a pleasurable, humorous read full of pithy information designed solely to get the reader writing for the potentially lucrative magazine/freelance article market. By the time you’ve finished Knock Your Socks Off if you haven’t already begun the process of writing a series of weekly queries, and receiving a reasonably number of acceptances, you probably aren’t serious about being a freelance non-fiction writer.

For more information visit: www.writerscrossing.com/queries.html