How to Improve a Query Letter – Sample Pitch to a Magazine Editor

This sample query letter includes several ways to improve it. It’s a pitch I sent to Child magazine two years ago; the editor didn’t assign the article, and here I explain why. These tips can be directly applied to your own query letters, to help you sell your freelance articles…

Before the tips, here’s a quip from two experienced freelance writers:

“We think writers should stop placing so much emphasis on ‘rejections’,” writes Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell in The Renegade Writer. “They’re not rejections – they’re business decisions. What if your attorney or massage therapist moped around in their bathrobes like writers do whenever they lost a potential client?”





No matter how good your query letter is, it’ll get rejected if the timing isn’t right for the magazine, if the article idea doesn’t resonate with the editor, or if the topic doesn’t fall within the publication’s normal MO. To succeed, fellow scribes, you must accept rejection for what it is: a simple business decision. And then you must move on.

Here are several tips for improving your query letters, based on a pitch I sent to Child magazine. The editors didn’t buy this article – and I’ll show you why. To learn more about pitching query letters, click on The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock by Formichelli and Burrell.

 

Tips for Improving Your Query Letters – A Sample Pitch to Child Magazine

 

Loren Chidoni

Editorial Assistant

Child Magazine

January 4, 2007

(To improve this query letter, eliminate the editor’s info and the date if it’s an emailed pitch).

Dear Ms. Chidoni,

Could you use an article like this?

(To improve this query letter, don’t open with a question. Instead, open with a strong lead or hook – and possibly a brief introduction. For example, “I’m Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, a full-time freelance writer…”). 

 

Should You Ban Frogs and Fairy Princesses?

The Best Way to Nurture Your Daughter’s – or Son’s – Body Image

(To improve this pitch, create a shorter, snappier, more specific title).

Kylie is more afraid of getting fat than of nuclear war, losing her parents, or getting cancer – and she’s ten years old. Nicholas weighs himself every day, binges on food in secret, and feels disgust at his size and shape – and he’s fifteen. Boys are increasingly affected by body image issues; in fact, 10% of eating disordered patients are males. (Sources: Centre for Change Eating Disorder Clinic, and the National Eating Disorders Association).






(To improve this query letter, cite the sources in the body of the paragraph. For example, write, “According to the Centre for Change…..”  And, don’t use Canadian spelling if you’re pitching to American publications).

Where does this fear come from? Some say fairy tales because they show beautiful weak girls needing rescue and heroic boys displaying strength – stereotypes that don’t support self-acceptance or “lifestyle mastery” in girls or boys. Others say Barbie dolls because her measurements are humanly impossible. Still others cite the media, saying that images of perfect faces and thin bodies provide standards that are impossible to live up to.

(To improve this query letter, cite specific experts or sources of information. For example, “Dr X says fairy tales…”).

The final factor, however, could be you. As a parent, how you deal with your own body image could pack more punch than all the fairy tales or Barbies in the world.

In less than 1,000 words this article will:

  • Debate two pros and two cons of banning stereotypical images (Barbies, fairy tales, magazines, tv shows).
  • Describe the holistic approach of “lifestyle mastery.”
  • Discuss five ways to role model self-acceptance in daily life (eg., Research the techniques behind the images of perfection in magazines with your daughter – learn the secrets behind the beauty trade together!).

(To improve this query letter, don’t offer to debate pros and cons unless it fits the style of the magazine. However, if debating the pros and cons is a good idea, then list the specific pros and cons you’ll be debating).

(To improve this query letter, eliminate the lifestyle mastery stuff – it’s too general. Or, include specific ways to improve lifestyle mastery. A good query letter finds the balance between being specific and general).

I’m the Body Image Editor for BellaOnline and the Psychology writer for Suite101.com. Check out these websites for a sense of my style and voice! I’ve written for various mainstream magazines such as alive and Health and Wellness, as well as weekly articles for the local newspaper.

(To improve this query letter, highlight your credentials closer to the beginning of the article, in a more natural style. For example, “As the body image editor for BellaOnline…”  And, list your most recent and most noteworthy clips at the end of the pitch).

Thank you for considering this query. I hope to hear from you soon. 

(To improve this query letter, end with a call to action. “Would you be interested in this article – or a version of it – for Child? If so, I can have it to you within 3 weeks of assignment.”).

Sincerely,

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

Those are my tips for improving this particular query letter – and in fact, I’m going to revamp this pitch right and send it to my favorite editors at Woman’s Day! Hopefully my timing is right…

Have you dissected your query letters, and found ways to improve them? I welcome your thoughts below…



4 Responses

  1. Karl says:

    I think all query letters should follow the same pattern as a direct mail marketing letter.

    1. Picture
    What is it that the editor is likely to be looking for, hook them
    with the picture they most desire. What problem can you solve for
    them as a writer.

    2. Promise
    Target with hot words a solution to that specific problem you have just
    presented an image of. It could be your take on an article, a book etc.
    This is where you plug your idea.

    3. Proof
    Either explain your understanding of their problem, or even use a few
    example excerpts. Better just to show your understanding. How does your
    idea from (2) solve the problem presented in (1).

    4. Push
    Reiterate (1), (2) & (3) and push for acceptance.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. Laurie PK says:

    Hi Amber,

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you; I’m exploring Prague, Czech right now and am only logged on a couple hours a day!

    Here’s an example of a query letter for unpublished writers:
    Example of a Query Letter for Unpublished Writers

    This article should answer your question about pointing towards your personal blog as a sample of your writing style. Of course, this depends on the type of article you’re pitching and the type of blog you have. If you’re pitching a hard-hitting news article and your blog is about kittens, you may want to leave it out.

    Good luck with your journalism classes….I hope you’re learning a lot 🙂

    See you in cyberspace,
    Laurie
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Example of a Query Letter for Unpublished Writers =-.

  3. Amber says:

    Hey Laurie – I’m a journalism student right now, and I’d love to see an example of a BEGINNERS query letter.

    I do have some clippings, but most of them are for local newspapers and magazines.

    Also, do you recommend pointing editors towards your personal blog as an example of your writing style? I’ve done it with a few editors in the past and they liked reading my un-edited work, but I’m not sure if thats a little immature?

    Thanks,
    Amber

  1. March 12, 2009

    […] Pawlik-Kienlen’s blog post “Tips for Improving Your Query Letters” quotes Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell in their book, The Renegade Writer’s Query […]

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