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Making Your Query Letter Work For You

April 19th, 2019

As you probably already know, some magazines are willing to accept articles and features  on spec – others won’t consider unsolicited material. So, how should you approach the latter?

Nowadays, most professional writers prefer to sell an idea to the editor first, before writing the article. That way, they don’t waste time writing something that no-one wants to publish. It’s a far better use of time and resources if you know that an editor is interested in and has commissioned your work. Ultimately, you’re far more likely to be paid for your writing!

But to get that commission, you need to sell the editor the idea by making a pitch. This is a sensible way to approach it because:

If the editor doesn’t like your idea, all you’ve wasted is the time to write the query, not the time it will take you to research and write the complete article.

If the editor likes your idea, but wants you to consider another couple of points, you can tailor it to their exact requirements as you write it, rather than having to do revisions later.

Most pitches are now made by email, so it’s essential that you make yours stand out. First, make sure you are sending it to the right editor. You should already have researched your target publication thoroughly; so you should be able to identify the right person (a section editor, the commissioning editor, the features editor –  or the main editor if it’s a smaller publication).

Make your email subject header clear. Begin with a phrase like ‘Feature Proposal’ or ‘Article Pitch’ followed by a catchy title or phrase. This will tell the editor what the email is about and, hopefully, your catchy title will encourage them to open it and read your proposed idea.

Begin your email (or letter) with a business-like salutation (Dear Ms Smith) and then cut straight to your idea. Using bullet points can be a succinct way of doing this. Use what will be the basis of your article outline for this. Whatever you do, don’t hold back. This is your one and only chance to sell the idea. Don’t tell them that you’ve got three great interviewees lined up – give the names of your three great interviewees!

If there’s an important topical hook to your piece, mention this and explain it, if necessary. Also, use your pitch to sell yourself and your expertise. Why are you the best person to write this article? But keep to the facts and make sure you don’t come across as being boastful or long-winded.

So, hook the editor quickly in the opening paragraph by explaining the basic idea.  Then go on to say HOW the subject will be dealt with (your bullet points) and how long you plan to make it (proposed word length is important).

Avoid sending large attachments with your query. If you have photographs to illustrate your article you could attach a couple of low resolution images to whet the editor’s appetite.

If you have examples of previously published work which might be of interest (to illustrate your writing style, for example), either offer to send cuttings or include links to where they can be found.  Above all, keep your pitch business-like and professional, because you’re competing with other professional writers and in the writing world first impressions really do count.

My guest next week is Writers Bureau tutor, Esther Chilton, who’ll be looking at guaranteed ways to draw readers into your short stories.

Author: Diana Nadin

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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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