Crafting A Query -- Part Four
Editor’s Note: This post is the fourth in a series of basic steps to writing the magazine article. If you are wondering about my headlines. I know it’s a bit different but I’m changing the headlines and extending the parts since they are connected. Check out the previous articles: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.
As a magazine editor (like book editors), I have many more responsibilities than simply reading unsolicited manuscripts. Yes, I’m looking for new material yet as an editor, I’m also proactively pursuing material for my publication. Most of the higher paying magazines prefer to receive a single-page pitch letter called a query letter. Within a few minutes, the editor can determine if the idea is appropriate or not for their publication. Because of the volume of submissions, many editors will never respond if the answer is “no thank you.” It’s one of those reality checks that writers need to hear about.
You aren’t looking for “no, thank you.” I’m not looking for this response I’m looking for an assignment or a “go ahead” or a “yes” response from the editor. One of the most important skills for writers to develop is this query letter. It’s also something that requires repeated practice. As you write these letters, you will refine and improve your technique. Some times at writer’s conferences, I will teach an hour on this topic and give detailed examples and a checklist in my handouts. I continue to recommend Lisa Collier Cool’s excellent book, Irresistible Query Letters (Writer’s Digest Books). I have part of my personal technique in my magazine article basics.
Rather repeat this information here, I’d suggest you follow the links to learn more about this critical skill.
I prefer writing on assignment and you can snag magazine assignments as you learn how to write a riveting query letter. You want the editor to read your letter and be compelled to pick up the phone and call you for more information or an assignment. Or you want that editor to open an email and write you immediately asking when you can have the article ready for their magazine. I hope you can see the importance of this skill as a writer.
Because I’ve been published repeatedly in different magazines, many mistakenly believe I was born this way. Wrong. I garner my share of rejection in this process. There are many reasons for rejection and some of them relate to the pitch and some of them do not relate to the query letter.
Years ago in college I took a magazine writing course. We were required to write several ten-page magazine articles. My key mistake was a lack of understanding of the market or the audience for the publications. When you write your query letter, you have to focus on both of these aspects. You want the idea to be perfect for that particular publication and you want to think about the publication’s audience when you write the query. If you don’t handle these two basics, then I can almost guarantee rejection. My writing and my research for the college articles was right on target—yet these articles were never published because they had no market or audience in mind. Don’t make that same mistake.
Tomorrow, this series will continue. You have an assignment or an magazine article to write, how do you begin the execution of writing?