Query Letters Part 2: Querying Magazines
by Ann Harth
"Loved your query. Send us the article."
Sounds good, doesn't it? Learning to write exceptional query letters will ensure that invitations like this drop
into your mailbox with regularity. Not only will you have steady work, but you will also be writing about subjects
that interest you. The hardest part will be deciding which article to write first.
There are thousands of magazines worldwide, covering any topic imaginable from parenting to poultry. How do you
choose which magazines to query?
Know your strengths. You know you can write, but what about the other areas of your life? Can you knit a
sweater with your eyes closed? Are you an expert on cleaning reef fish? Maybe you've won the environmental award
for recycling three years in a row. Discover your strengths and list them.
Know your interests. How many times have you heard 'write what you know'? This is valuable advice. But
just because you don't know much about the life cycle of the butterfly at the moment, if it interests you, you can
become reasonably knowledgeable in a short period of time.
The Internet brings a world of information to your own home. If you are interested in butterflies -- Google your
way to wisdom. Take some notes. Email or ring the contacts on the most informative sites. Ask questions that
haven't been answered. In a matter of hours, you will be steeped in information on butterfly stages.
Suddenly, you are writing what you know.
Decide on your topic. You've found a few areas that interest you. Keep a record of them because you will
want to use them eventually. But for now, concentrate on one. Lions? Castles? Air travel? The possibilities are
Study the market. This is a crucial step to successful querying. Let's say you have chosen horses for
your topic. You've always liked the equine beast and you have a passing acquaintance with their care. Head for a
newsagency or plug some keywords into your search engine. You will find dozens of equine magazines. Some will be
general horse lover periodicals while others will focus on a specific aspect: care, breeding, shows or training.
Find a few magazines that interest you and study them. Get an idea of the types of articles that each publish. Are
the articles written in a relaxed, conversational manner or is the tone more formal and instructive? What is the
approximate word count? Make notes. Write down the name of the magazine and the acquisitions editor if stated. Keep
thorough records. You may not query them this week, but in a couple of months, you may have a perfect idea for
Find your angle. Your slant, or angle is possibly the most important part of your article. This is what
makes your work different from the rest. Maybe you've decided that you want to write a piece based on preparing a
horse for a show. You will find lots of articles on plaiting manes, polishing hooves and making coats shine. How
will you make yours stand out? What can you offer along with the basic information that is different?
Maybe you can:
Change your target audience.
Is Your Horse Ready? A Ten-Year-Old's Guide to Preparing for a Show
Break down into specifics:
Getting Your Horse Ready for the Show: A Six-Week Calendar
Focus on one small aspect:
The Show Circuit: Packing for Your Horse and Yourself
Now you can sketch an outline of what your article will cover. If you have read the articles
offered, with a little imagination, you can supply information with a difference.
Create an outline. The point of a query is to find out if there is a market for your article
before actually writing it. However it will help to clarify your points and purpose if you create an outline. It
doesn't have to be detailed, but it will help you clarify your points when writing your query.
Write your query letter. Now we get into the specifics. A query letter should be no more
than one page unless absolutely necessary. It must be clear and concise and grab the interest of an editor. How do
we do this?
1) Present professionally. Use clean, good quality paper and print on one side of the paper
only. Create a letterhead that includes clear contact details. Whenever possible find out the name of the
acquisitions editor and address them as Ms. Puddle or Mr. Swamp. Make sure their name is spelled correctly. They
won't notice if you don't misspell their name, but they will definitely notice if you do.
2) The beginning of your query letter must grab the editor's attention and should be written
in the general tone of the article. If the article is written in a light, informal tone, gear your hook toward
this. On the other hand, you wouldn't begin a query for a piece on funeral flowers with a joke.
You can hook the editor in a number of ways:
a) Open with a question. Did you know that chickens blink 3498 per week?
b) Begin with an interesting fact. Over 79% of women over the age of forty dream about
c) Pose a question that will be answered. Why do children overeat?
3) After you have hooked the editor, tell him what you can offer. Give him an approximate
word count and target audience. If you have a catchy title you may want to mention this here. This is also a good
place to explain your slant. Why is this article different from any other on the subject?
4) By now, the editor will want to know exactly what your article will include. Give him a brief
overview of the topics you will cover. This is where your outline will be helpful. You can even use bullet
points here if you wish. They enable a busy reader to grab the gist of your work at a glance.
5) You've piqued an editor's interest. It's time to prove yourself. Explain why your article
is a perfect fit for his magazine. Tell him why you have the expertise to write this article. If you don't have
personal experience, tell him about your experts who do.
6) Finally, tell him how soon you can deliver after acceptance. If you have done some
research and drawn up an outline, it shouldn't take much to fill in the gaps. Although, if you are counting on
indispensable interviews, you may have to allow yourself a bit more time. A solid article with a unique slant will
be worth waiting for.
7) Sincerely sign off.
An important point when querying magazines is to keep up-to-date records of who you have queried,
regarding which article and when. Don't forget to record your rejections as well as acceptances. You don't want to
send the same query to the same editor more than once.
Now comes the fun part. Look around you, at home, in the garden, at the supermarket. Discover your
interests, your strengths. Open your eyes and your mind.
• Pierced navels, eyebrows, lips, etc. Does it hurt? How long does each take to heal? Does a minor
need parental permission?
• A child screeching at the supermarket. Why? How can it be avoided? How can it be handled?
• A grumpy checkout chick. Ten ways to make her smile.
• Vegetable gardens in the tropics. What's best to plant when?
The ideas for articles are limitless.
Next week: Recording Submissions: The Spreadsheet.