A query is a first impression. Prepare to make a great impression with the publisher by being professional and prepared. Look at the publication’s WRITER’S GUIDELINES. See their website or write to them for a copy. The guidelines state how to submit work to them, their target audience, their purpose, pay, lead time, and the rights they purchase.
Look at the publisher’s schedule of topics for the coming months. Allow yourself three months’ lead time to query your article.
When sending a query, mention placement of your article in a specific section or column of the magazine to demonstrate familiarity with the publication. Identify the specific editor of that section or column by name. Do not address a query to Life Editor, but to Ms. Jane Smith, Life Editor. Spell the editor’s name correctly!
If the article is timely, that is its value or newsworthiness expires after a certain date, then you can query multiple magazines and newspapers at the same time. Be sure to note in the query that due to the nature of the article, this is a multiple submission. An example: The 50th anniversary of the moon walk, or the 40th anniversary of a business, the end of a era, the first fundraiser of a new organization or charity. First one that sends a contract wins the race to publication. And if you time it right, you could submit the article as a reprint to another publication that same year when the rights expire on the first publication. More on reprints in another blog.
If the Editor wants a query by snail mail instead of by email, then include clips, and a business card. (By clips I mean copies of previously published articles on this topic.) If you have a website with samples of your work, include this website listing on all correspondence, emails, letterhead, business cards and faxes.
- Title Does it capture the essence of the article? Be short, be sharp and direct. If the article or essay is humorous, let the tone show in the title.
- One-sentence summary This is always my lead-in statement for the query. Unless the article can be stated clearly in one-sentence, it isn’t ready to send. Show the slant of the article, how it is unique compared to others on the topic.
- Opening paragraph Grab attention and set the tone and context.
- Theme Two to three sentences that build on the one-sentence summary and opening paragraph and provide a description of what the body of the article will cover.
- Word count is this a snapshot of the topic in 400-500 words? Medium length of 700-800 words like an essay? Full-length feature of 1000 to 1200 words?
- Submission delivery date Show professionalism with a realistic delivery date and what travel/research/interviews must be done to complete the article.
- Photos Detail the images you will provide and their source (taken by yourself, publicity shots, or a photographer) and their format (prints, jpeg files on CD, color, black & white, slides).
- Sidebar details Further information on the location, map, prices, etc. on the topic or subject.
- Column location Demonstrate your understanding of the publication by naming the section or column that the article suits.
- Credentials A four-line bio that details the overview of the topics you have written on and where they have appeared. List three publishing credits in the same genre of the proposed piece. Do NOT skip giving this information by telling the editor to go to your website—the Editor won’t do it.
- Clips Submit samples of previously published works on this topic or area of expertise.
A more in-depth explanation of query letters appears in Moira Allen’s book The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals. Moira devotes a chapter to print and electronic queries.
Two sources of market listings are:
The All Freelance Writing website has a free online listing of markets that provides direct links to the websites of the publications so you can read their latest guidelines. http://allfreelancewriting.com/writers-markets/
The Writer’s Market sells for under $50 for the print version and more for the combination print and online version. The online version also includes a submission tracker. This is the largest market listing available that I know of.
Another source of information for freelancers is: The ultimate guide to being a freelancer.
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