Magazine Writing Tips for New Freelance Writers, Part 2: Write a Selling Query Letter
This post is the second in a three-part series that offers magazine writing tips for freelancers new to writing for magazines. The first covers identifying an article topic and a magazine market and the third covers writing an article after your query is accepted.
You’ve chosen a topic that interests you and found a magazine that covers that topic. You’ve read the magazine from cover to cover and can see yourself writing for this magazine.
Time to develop an angle for the topic you want to write about and send a proposal (also known as a pitch or query) that captures an editor’s attention and contains enough information for the editor to give you a contract.
Note: Contracts are beyond the scope of this article. They are important. Make sure you read and understand the contract.
Here’s your step-by-step process to writing a proposal:
Step 1. Refine Your Article Idea and Angle.
Because you want to make money writing, you goal isn’t just to find an article idea but to find one that you can write in an amount of time that makes sense for what you will be paid. You also have to follow the magazine’s guidelines.
For example, let’s say you want to write an article about whales, which is way too big of a topic for an article. What’s your angle? Maybe you decide to write about whale songs. Is this idea a good one?
First, ask yourself how long the article would take you to write. Let’s make it a short article of about 800 words. You’ll need two to four sources. Can you find those sources quickly? Do those sources have something new and interesting to say?
If you’re not sure how hard sources will be to find, spend a couple of hours hunting for sources. You’ll need to do this basic research before you write your article proposal because you’ll want to mention the sources you plan to use for the article.
Step 2. Write the Query Letter.
Always read a magazine’s writer’s guidelines and follow them to the letter.
Here’s the basic query process:
- Create a title for your article. The title probably won’t be used for the finished article but is a way to sum up the piece quickly and show the editor you know the importance of good headlines.
- Explain your article idea briefly, with the angle that you intend to take on the topic and the sources you intend to use.
- Explain why the article will interest the magazine’s readers.
- Include your credits or other credentials for writing this article.
- Ask for the assignment.
Write your query letter in the same style as you plan to write the proposed completed article. Mention everything you’ll cover in the article, and if you plan to use expert sources, mention your sources.
It’s a good idea to write several drafts to make sure you don’t leave out something obvious you should have included.
Essential: Always address an editor by name. You can find editor names on mastheads, websites, or sometimes in Writer’s Market or other market listings.
Step 3. Send Out the Query Letter.
Once you’ve written your query, you can send it out, either via postal mail or email. Most magazines accept email queries (and some require them), but you may find a magazine that prefers old-fashioned mail (read the magazine’s guidelines).
You may want to send the same query to several markets. However, customize each letter. That is, while you can send the same letter to several markets, read each market first, so that you can target the letter specifically to that market. Market A may want you to include academic experts, Market B may want personal anecdotes, and Market C might want something else entirely.
When you approach editors using email, here are some useful tips:
- Make the subject line: Article Query: Title of Your Article.
- Include your complete contact details, including your phone number, in the message.
- Include a link to your online portfolio so editors can see examples of your work.
- Never add attachments to your email query, unless you’re asked to send an MS Word or other file as an attachment.
Step 4. No Luck? Send Out the Query Letter Again.
Let’s say that over several months, you’ve sent a particular query to various markets, with no takers.
At this stage, you can revamp the query. Getting back to the whales query, you could brainstorm fresh approaches. For example, do an online search of newspaper sites for any incidents involving whales, looking for a fresh hook or angle.
Or, simply send the query out to the same markets you sent it to before. Exactly the same query, to the same markets you sent it to before. Remember, editors are busy. Your original query may be languishing somewhere near the bottom of an editor’s Inbox. Or the editor lost it, or lost your contact information. Followup is appropriate, but don’t bug editors too often.
Recommended Resources For Learning to Write Queries
- Choose an article idea, with an angle appropriate to your intended market, and do just enough research that you can write an intelligent query.
- Write a draft query letter.
- Revise and carefully proofread your draft query letter. Send it to an editor.