Welcome to a new week! Since so much of last week was spent in direct contact with new-to-this-blog writers, I’m assuming there were some newbies in the crowd. And hopefully, a few have stuck around. If so, this post is for you. And veteran writers? You, too.
Remember what your first query letter looked like? No? Is it because, like me, you’ve blocked it from your memory? Those first attempts were pretty awful, weren’t they? But worse is the lingering misconceptions we cling to – those query-writing myths that could be keeping us from getting the job. Time to change that.
I can’t give it away. Yes, I committed this crime. I wrote a query to an editor that was so veiled, there’s no way that editor would’ve known what I was trying to sell. You’ve done it too, right? You’ve sent a query and thought “I can’t give them my best opening because I’m saving it for the article!” Wrong! The editor is your first audience. Write that query beginning as though this is the article. Put in the excitement, the drama, the anecdote, or the stunning facts that are going to land the assignment. More importantly – most importantly – address this question: What does it mean to this publication’s readers? For example, “I will talk with XYZ Company’s Todd Doe for his impressions on how Crater Explorer readers can improve their equipment function and gain more accurate crater measurements.” If you can make the correlation between the article and the readership, you’ve shown you get who they are and you’ve increased exponentially your chances of acceptance. If nothing else, you’ve impressed them with your ability to present strong, relevant ideas.
I need to remind them of how important this topic is. So you think saying “Your readers really need to hear about this” is going to help? Try this – present the facts, the angle you’re taking, and show, don’t tell why it’s important.
I’ll let them decide on a focus. No you won’t. They’re not going to enjoy doing your job for you. It’s a tough market out there right now. You need to present everything, including your understanding of their audience, slant, advertisers, etc. If you can’t be bothered, neither can they.
I’ll tell them the idea and figure out what I’m doing later. Guess what? Later’s not coming. That’s because presenting an idea with nothing to show you’re capable of following through, or that you have a clear direction is just lazy. Try this – locate potential sources with the right credentials to contribute to the topic (if you haven’t joined PRNMedia and used ProfNet, here’s your chance). Show the editor some of the questions you’re hoping to answer with this article. Give that editor a mini-summary of your topic, who’s going to be quoted, and where it’s going. Otherwise, it’s going nowhere.
This query is going to six magazines. Tell me you don’t do that. Every magazine – EVERY magazine – has different audiences, viewpoints, advertisers, needs, etc. If you send an idea for crocheted tea cozies to Crafts Monthly, don’t think it’s going to fit into the scope of what Redbook or Marie Claire. Extreme examples, but the point is no two magazines are alike. You have to approach them with different sales pitches.
I don’t have to read their magazine. They’ll buy the idea if it’s good. Right. First, they may have already published a similar story – have you looked at the last six or more issues? Second, who’s their reader? You might not want to sell a “cheap family vacation” story to a magazine catering to the over-$100K crowd. You’d know that if you looked at the advertising. If there are high-end jewelry ads, ads for luxury cars, or ads promoting exotic destinations, these people don’t care about how to save a few bucks on family vacations when the family may have a permanent place in Martha’s Vineyard.
I should apologize for my lack of experience. Oh no you shouldn’t. You should present the idea, and add any of your experience that’s relevant. Read that again. Relevant. No one at Scientific American is going to care that you wrote filler pieces for Pittsburgh Magazine unless those fillers are directly related to Scientific American’s main focus.
They say no email queries, but I’m sure they don’t mean it. Hell they don’t. Do you realize how many emails the top magazines receive in a day? When I was on staff at the trade magazine, I was wading through hundreds a week, of which few were actual queries. If we’d been a high-profile magazine accepting email queries, triple that number. Give them the information in the way they expect to receive it.
In fact, read all the submission guidelines and follow them. Experience shows that many writers don’t. If they want snail mail, send it snail mail. If they want clips, give them clips. If they don’t want phone calls, don’t call. Don’t think you’re the exception. If they don’t know you personally, you’re not.
Anything you’ve learned about query letter writing?