Friday, May 22, 2015


  • A sharp focus - Your query, like your article, must be sharply focused on a specific aspect of your subject. For example, you can’t write an article on marriage; it has to be on one clearly defined aspect of marriage. If an editor wanted to know everything there was to know on a subject, he could look it up in an encyclopedia. An editor once told me to use a rifle—not a shotgun.
  • Give needed specifics - Give pertinent data, such as how long the piece will be, when you can have it ready, and what pictures/illustrations are available, if any. Be sure the length you suggest is appropriate to the magazine and to your topic. When indicating when you can have it ready, make sure it is a sufficient time to complete it and a specified length of time after getting their go-ahead. Generally speaking, you won’t send photos with your query (except, perhaps, for a composite sheet), but will let them know what you have available.
  • Qualifications/Professional Experience - Tell what qualifies you to write this particular piece, which usually is your experience, background, education, or simply that you are extremely interested. Give your writing experience if you have any. If you don’t, say nothing. For example, you might say, “I have sold over 100 articles in the evangelical market, one of the latest to Moody.” When mentioning a specific magazine like this, pick your best credit in the same general field as the one you are querying. So if it is a women’s magazine, mention the biggest/best women’s magazine you have sold to. If you have a special skill that qualifies you to write this piece, tell them that. If you have access to a unique source, person or event of importance to this piece, mention that.
  • Tell your viewpoint - They will want to know how you are going to approach this subject, or your viewpoint. It may be that you are enthusiastic about the topic, that you are indignantly opposed to it, that you are amused by it, or that you are setting out to write an objective balanced report on it. Indicate whether it will be written in first or third person, and if you are writing it as an observer, a participant, or what. For example, I once wrote an article about dyslexia (a learning disability in children). I was not an expert on dyslexia, I didn’t have it myself, I didn’t work with dyslexic students, but I was the mother of a dyslexic child and the article on how parents can best help a dyslexic child was written from a mother’s viewpoint.
  • Indicate timeliness - If applicable, mention anything that indicates this topic is timely, such as linking it to a current trend, news event, recent statistics, or any factors that indicate popularity.
  • Present a lively title - A great title can almost sell an article, so work at making your title as good as it can be and mention it in the letter. Note that publications tend to be fairly consistent in the number of words they use in a title, so include that as part of your homework. I simple go to the contents page of the publication and figure out the average number of words in their titles. Typically a scholarly journal will use more words (6-8 words), than does a teen paper (1-2 words).
  • Don’t talk money - Never mention money in a query letter unless it is a publication you write for regularly and you have to discuss necessary expenses to get the story, which they normally pay for you. Don’t say, “I will accept your regular rate of pay (that’s all you’re going to get anyway),” or “I’ll take less than your normal rate of pay,” or “I’ll write it for free is you’ll just publish it.” Any one of those will mark you as an amateur.
  • Include a postscript - Take advantage of the fact that everyone reads the P.S. at the end of a letter, by using it to convey something important to the editor. In the postscript say something like, “ Any suggestions on slant or special emphasis to benefit your readers will be appreciated.” That simple sentence is important because it tells the editor you are willing to work with him—to rewrite if necessary. An editor’s worst nightmare is the writer who refuses to rewrite or insists their writing was somehow so godly inspired that it would be sacrilegious to change a word.

1 comment: