Interview with Mridu Khullar

interview by Magdalena Ball

Magdalena: Tell me about the origins of Knock Their Socks Off! A Freelance Writer’s Guide to Query Letters That Sell.

Mridu: It was intended to be a 30-page free e-book on the mistakes writers make when sending out query letters. But the more I wrote, the more kept coming. Eventually, I ditched the freebie idea and decided to write a book that said everything there was to be said about query letters. The book counters popular advice (such as you have to read back issues of a magazine to write for it), questions common practices (send only a one-page query letter) and talks about the many important things that are left out of freelance writing books (such as when it’s okay to have a free e-mail address, how exactly you should include your clips, what’s the format of a multiple-idea pitch, etc.)

While most books do stress the importance of the query letter, they just cover the basics and be done with it. I want writers to perfect the art of writing the query letter because that’s the basis of a solid freelance writing career.

Magdalena: Why the query is so critical?

Mridu: That piece of paper or e-mail is the only thing an editor has to judge you by. Sure, you may be a fantastic writer, obsessive-compulsive about keeping deadlines and professional to the core, but the editor has absolutely no way of knowing that. That’s where the query comes in. It helps you to not only send the editor an idea, but also portray an image. That image is what’s responsible for getting you a yes or a no.

There are a lot of wonderful writers with great ideas, but are they all professsional? Will they keep deadlines? Will they make a fact-checker’s life easy? Sadly, nope. 90% of writers do none of these things, and that’s why you need to prove to the editor, right there in your query that you’re a professional writer who is going to make her life easier. That’s what’ll get you hired.

Magdalena: There are a number of books on querying on the market. Why is yours unique/different/better?

Mridu: Have you ever read a book on freelance writing and then thought, “I wish that author would have told me whether she interviews the expert first or gets the assignment first,” or “Okay, so she got personal with an editor. But how?” or “What kind of questions did she ask in the interview and how did she know whether to do it over the phone or in person?” That’s exactly how I used to feel. I wanted to hear about the real examples, the real e-mail messages and the actual conversations. I also wanted to see the real mistakes that other writers had made and still made it. Turns out, most authors are perfect.

I’m not though, and that’s what I’ll tell you in my book. Sure, I’ve missed an unimportant deadline or two, come up with ideas even when my own life experiences have nothing much to offer, and messed up interviews when I ran out of questions to ask. I’ll even admit to sending out very bad query letters in the beginning of my career when I’d promise the world in my pitches. Yet, I’ve still made it. And the book shows you exactly how.

Magdalena: How and why did you start Writers Crossing?

Mridu: When I started freelancing, all I could find were resources for writers based in the US. A couple of sites existed for Canadian or British authors but that’s about it. I didn’t know a single Indian or non-US writer who had made it successfully in the business of magazine writing. When I started becoming successful and decided I needed a web presence, I immediately knew a writing site for international writers would be my focus. Someone needed to step up and show that you could be a freelance writer no matter where you lived. Even India.

Magdalena: Do you find the market in your own country to be too limited to sustain your career?

Mridu: Oh absolutely! I’d be starving if I had to rely on the market in my own country. And I know most Indians are going to either hate me or love me when I say this, but it’s true. India is just not ready to respect its writers yet. Most editors gawk at me when I talk about queries, rights, or well, even payment. To give you an example, consider this: WritersCrossing.com pays its writers more for non-exclusive web rights than a national magazine in India does for all rights! Another national magazine that I write for regularly has the best rates I’ve seen so far– Rs. 2 per word. That’s Rs. 2,000 or approx. $50 for a 1,000-word article. You do the math.

The book publishing world is equally bad. I’ve heard of authors earning Rs 20,000 in total for a book. I’ve made double that amount selling reprints to foreign publications!

Magdalena: Are there specific cultural/market differences which writers need to be aware of when querying across countries?

Mridu: YES! And that’s something most writers conveniently overlook. In fact, that’s the biggest complaint international editors have. I was interviewing an editor from Bahrain recently and she told me that she’s sick of writers who don’t understand the culture and the people. Bahrain is a Muslim country for God’s sake. Don’t send the editor articles on sex, marital affairs or drug use!

I recommend that writers do a quick search on the Internet to find out what kind of material the magazine (or other magazines in that country) publish. If you don’t see a mention of a topic, leave it out in the first instance. Don’t write about sensitive topics unless you’re sure they’re acceptable. Concentrate on topics that would do well in any culture such as the Internet, health, leadership and motivation, etc, at least in the beginning.

Magdalena: What do you think is the one biggest mistake that writers make when putting together queries?

Mridu: Only one? I’d have to say not making a good enough impact for the editor to trust you. When I want to work with a person, I don’t just look at their resume, I look at their personality. Even if a writer has no clips, I might hire her over someone who does simply because she’s the more professional one, or the one I’m more likely to enjoy working with. Editors are people, too. They like working with writers who are enthusiastic about their work, meet their deadlines and are generally amiable and friendly.

If you can get an editor to see beyond your idea and your words and give her a glimpse into your personality, she’s much more likely to trust you and buy work from you. Even if she doesn’t like the idea you’ve sent her now, she’ll give your future queries much more consideration. On the other hand, if you’re sloppy and unprofessional, she’ll remember you too. But for very different reasons.

Magdalena: Do you have any plans to put out a print version of the book?

Mridu: In India, no. In the foreign market, I would if I had a way to be physically present there and promote the book. That’s the reason why I opted for an e-book actually. There’s no market for such a book in India (yet), and I can’t promote the book in another country. It kills all chances of ever doing radio and TV interviews, book signings or speeches. So for now, I’m not considering that option.

Magdalena: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects/books that you can talk about?

Mridu: Promotion, promotion and then some more. I’ve also been toying around with the idea for another e-book for writers, but I’m not sure of the angle I want to take with it yet, so it’s still in the preliminary stages. And magazine writing is always on my agenda. I’ve been putting off querying for a while, but I’m back in full-force now. WritersCrossing.com is also going to see some changes and enhancements in the coming months, but you’ll have to subscribe in order to find out.

Magdalena: Have you got that tattoo yet (don’t tell us where!)?

Mridu: Hmmm. You sure you wanna know?

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