There are a few golden rules to writing proposals:
- The shorter the better.
- Be complete.
- Do your homework … know your target publication.
- Be realistic.
- Always follow up if you haven’t heard within four weeks.
- Rejection is a natural part of the process.
Below is the basic structure of a feature proposal with notes. Feel free to adapt them as you see fit. Remember, what works for you may not work for someone else. On the issue of whether to include clips of your work or not … it’s a good idea to include live links that point to your work online. It’s imperative that these do point directly at your features however. Check them before submission. If you include clips in the email as attachments, make the files as small as possible, as many email servers (especially those of large companies) do not handle large emails well.
As most queries or proposals these days are submitted via email, it’s important to consider the subject line. This is possibly the most important few words in the entire process. Don’t throw them away: use a clear, concise powerful subject line for your message that stands out in the editor’s inbox. For example: Feature proposal: Death and Dark Waters – an Amazon adventure.
Get the editor’s name. It’s easy and immediately gives the impression that you are familiar with the title in question. Be sure you spell it correctly.
If the editor is still reading you’re doing fine, but don’t blow it. Just like the intro of any great feature has to capture your reader, so too the first line of your proposal has to capture the editor’s interest. Make it punchy, catchy, captivating, quirky, anything you like, but if it’s boring, the editor will be bored and quickly move onto something else.
Spell out the gist of the feature, but don’t go overboard – 150 words or so should do it.
Now we’re cooking, the editor is interested. Explain how you will tackle the piece and, if necessary, put your piece in context with what is already out there. This is a good place to tell the editor how you will be different, giving this publication the edge. Don’t go overboard, tell it straight and simple. Use as few words as possible … don’t wax lyrical about your wonderful idea. Lean heavily on the old journalism maxim of What? Why? When? Where? And Who? If you have interviews planned, then give a brief outline of who you’re going to talk to (no need to use names here if you don’t want to). The tendency here is to put too much in, restrict yourself to 300–500 words. Make them count!
If this is a first-time submission, give the briefest possible background to yourself, explaining why you’re qualified to write this feature. Even if it’s repeat business, you may include something here explaining why after your previous submission on dog kibble you now feel you’re the right person to travel through the swamps of Cambodia tracking unmarked landmines.
Include URLs that point to your work here, but be selective. Two or three pertinent examples of your work should suffice.
In lala land you get to explain how much your magnificent idea will cost the publication. In reality, most publications are not particularly forthcoming with cash. That said, there are certain publications in the world that do employ freelancers to get great stories and if you’re aiming high then an envisaged budget shows that your idea is not simply a flight of fancy but has been researched in some detail.
Provide a brief timeline giving the editor an idea of when you’ll be ready for submission.
You don’t need to make a formal section of your concluding remarks. It’s best to leave with a kicker, as this will refocus the editor’s mind on the initial story idea rather than what its all going to cost and what not…
Your name goes here
If you already have a thorough signature file on your email … you can leave this out. If not give all your contact details here:
Freelance writer/photographer/photojournalist …
Cheap hovel address line 1
Cheap hovel address line 2
Cheap hovel address line 3
Phone (+27xx) 000-0000 Fax (+27xx) 000-0000
Member of SAFREA: www.safrea.co.za