Once you have an article idea, and you know what type of article would be best for it, you need to write a query letter. Most magazines still prefer that you send them queries instead of the full manuscript (though some magazines do prefer that).
Some people favor a short paragraph query that includes an intro about who you are, any previous writing credits you have and a request about their interest. In the next paragraph, include the title and a brief description of the major points you’re going to cover and anyone who you plan to interview. In the final paragraph, thank them for their time, sign it and send it. Eric Butterman, who presented this querying at the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, said that two weeks later, you should call with a brief, one-sentence follow-up, asking whether they received your pitch and if they’ve given it any thought and add a little bit more about the piece.
For example, (Please note this is not a perfect example. It’s just AN example) the example we came up with during his workshop went something like this:
Subject: Freelance Writer Wondering
My name is Robin McClure and I’m a writer for the Goshen News. I was wondering if you’d be interested in the following article:
“*Insert title *” We can all manage the occasional strike, but in bowling, as with life, it takes real talent to be able to nail that strike each and every time. I plan to interview professional female bowler, Diandra Asbaty, about what it takes to throw a strike or pick up a ball for a spare. This article will explore successful bowling techniques coupled with professional tips about what to wear and ways to keep the first date conversation rolling to make for a fun and memorable first date, despite a few bad throws.”
I really stink at that type of query. It takes a lot of effort for me to call strangers. I don’t like trying to come up with something enticing that I can add because I always think it sounds stupid. However, it works really well for Butterman and I’m sure it works well for others. And it’s well worth trying. It takes less time and it gives you the chance to be proactive in making sales.
The Query Letter
The method I have had more success with is the more-tradition style.
In the first paragraph, introduce the topic with a picture and establish the problem, leading to what the article will be about.
In paragraph two, describe what the article entails, with specific details about length, who you’ll interview and any specific points you plan to cover. Also mention why it’s a good fit for the magazine you chose.
In paragraph three, establish yourself as the best writer for this article. Include any previous publishing experience or personal experience you might have, or people you know who you could interview. If you don’t have any of this, leave it out. Some writers suggest including how long it will take you to send in the article.
Finally, briefly thank the editor for his or her time and ask for a response. That’s a trick I learned from my Dad, a businessman. Ask for action on their behalf.
Sign the query.
This is an example of a query that led to an article:
Dear Mr. Matt Stabile,
Imagine slipping your hand into your bag to retrieve your passport so you can go home after a trip abroad. Your passport’s not there. Trying not to panic, you search your pockets. They’re empty. Dread floods through you as you step out of line and search your suitcase. Twice. You remove each item one piece at a time, maybe even shake it out, all to no avail. It’s gone.
This happened to me on my return home from Italy. And I’m not alone. It happens to hundreds of travelers each year. The good news is with a bit of time and money the problem is easy to solve.
My name is Robin McClure and I have previously published articles in the Goshen News and in Girlfriend to Girlfriend Magazine. In this 1000-1300 word article, I will detail what to do from the time you realize your passport is missing until you have your new temporary passport and are safe on your way home again. I will also include information about concerns held by Homeland Security if you “lose” your passport too frequently and how to get your new passport once you get home.
I can write and turn in the article within three weeks of hearing back from you.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
Where to Send the Query?
I’ll be honest, when I write the first query, I have a generic idea that I tailor, later. That requires asking:
1- Who would read this article?
2- What kind of magazines do they read?
Come up with all of the different magazines that fit both who and what and create a tailored version of the article for that magazine. The best way to do that is to use a source, such as Writer’s Market.
Before you send it, please remember to:
- Address the query to a specific editor. None of this “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Editor” crap.
- Make sure you have the correct editor.
- Make sure the article meets the magazine’s guidelines. Length. Style. Whether they prefer heavily sourced article, articles that includes a few interviews or articles that are include more personal experience. The best play to find information about this is “Writer’s Market.”
- Make sure that the magazine accepts articles from freelance writers
- Include a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope if you mail the letter (by snail mail)
Freelance writing for magazines can be fun and rewarding, but it’s often discouraging. You get to write what you want and you get to build credits, but you’ll receive a lot of rejection and pay is unsteady and irregular.