Writing for Magazines --Part 4

By June Campbell

Part 4: The Query Letter

When writing for magazines, unless the editorial guidelines stipulate otherwise, you will need to send a query letter to the editor pitching your idea. Think of this as a one-page sales letter for your article.

Yes, one page!

Magazine editors are enormously busy and do not have the time to read long pitches.

Essentially, a query letter is a business letter that includes these components:

  1. Your header or letterhead providing your complete contact information.
  2. The "to" information, including the editor's name. Many professional writers suggest phoning the magazine or at least checking the web site to ensure you have the correct name.
  3. An eye catching subject line
  4. 4. The body of the letter, covering:
    i. Introduction
    ii. Your approach to the article
    iii. Why this article would benefit the magazine's readers
    iv. Your credentials, or why you're qualified to write this article
  5. Photocopies of other articles you have had published, or supporting material if applicable
  6. .

A Sample Query Letter to Use When Writing for Magazines

This query letter sold an article to a computer magazine some years ago:

Re: The Phone Bill is HOW MUCH?

Dear Ms. XX

You open your phone bill and discover that along with the long distance charge for phoning your brother in New York, and the charge for the 1-900 conversation your kid had with Tammi, Goddess of Love, you are also being billed for the cost of software you downloaded from the Net and for a charitable donation your spouse made online to the Salvation Army. Impossible, you say? Nope. Not any more. There's a newly released product that'll put a fresh spin on Internet commerce.

My proposed article discusses the Company X Billing System, a product launched this week by the XX Corporation of Seattle. Downloadable items or time-measured services are charged to your monthly phone bill, eliminating the need for a credit card or for the hassle of purchasing Cyberbucks. XX company uses the Internet to interface with an existing telecommunications infrastructure (AT&T Multiquest,) located in Denver, Colorado.

I will base my article on interviews with J Jones, President and co-founder of XX Corporation. This topic provides timely information to your readers since this is an extremely new approach to ecommerce, and one that has huge implications for persons selling downloadable or time-measured products (i.e. time spent playing a game). The article will also touch on the security issues inherent in the product and how these issues are being addressed.

I am a full-time writer living in Vancouver; my writing has been published over ninety times. Clips are available for work appearing in Canada Computes, Computer Player, BC Agri-Digest, RAM Chowder Magazine, Home Business Guide, Folksonline, webreference.com, Singles Center and Dance International. Works in progress include writings for American Iron, BC Business Magazine, Mountain Living, Plant & Garden and Women's International Net.

Yours sincerely,

Note that since I am a full time writer, my credentials include a selection of published works. However, this is not the only way to establish credibility. If you are an expert on your subject matter, include that information in the last paragraph instead.

For example, if you are pitching the golf article I discussed earlier, you might say something like, "Having managed a golf course for the past 15 years, I am familiar with the frustrations and challenges facing today's golfer. I have helped many improve their game with these special techniques.

Now send your query letter. If sending by mail, remember to include a stamped, self addressed envelope. Usually editors phone or email you if they want to accept your pitch, but if the answer is negative, you are unlikely to hear back from them without including a SSAE. Since editors sometimes write a note on a rejected pitch letting you know why they turned it down, it is worth your while to receive the rejection note. It gives you useful information for future pitches.

Now for the next step on your way to writing for magazines. ... the Editor Calls

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