How to Write a Query Letter and Get Your Article Published
How do you get an article published in a magazine? By learning how to write a query letter to a magazine editor, of course! That’s your first step – because without an excellent pitch, you’ll never sell your articles. Here’s what one beginning freelance magazine writer says:
“I have a brilliant idea for an article, and I believe it’s perfect for the publication I have in mind,” says Newbie Magazine Writer on 11 Types of Magazine Articles That Editors Love to Publish. “I just don’t know how to write a query letter to a magazine. Can you help me by giving me a formula or structure on how to pitch my idea to the editor? I haven’t done much research or reading, but I found this article on the different types of magazine articles helpful. Thank you for any direction you can offer!”
The following tips are from a great “Query Letter Clinic” in Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition 2017: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published; I’ve also included a sample of a strong nonfiction magazine query letter. But, the most important thing to remember is that the only way to really learn how to write a query letter to a magazine editor is to practice, practice, and practice some more. And get comfortable with rejection!
“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.” – Henry David Thoreau.
It’s the same with writing query letters! I’ve realized dozens of fabulous ideas for articles while I’m running through the forest with my dogs…and then I let them get cold because I don’t write them down. Then they’re dead. Useless. Don’t “postpone the recording of your thoughts”, fellow scribes. Write now, while the heat is alive in you.
How to Write a Query Letter to a Magazine
“The query letter is often the most important piece of the publishing puzzle,” say the experts in Writer’s Market. “In many cases, it determines whether an editor or agent will even read your manuscript.”
1. Know why you’re writing the query letter
What’s the purpose of querying a magazine? To find out of the editor is interested, willing, or able to publish your article. Before you send in your article, proposal, or synopsis, you must first submit a query letter. The goal of your query letter is to present an article idea – or a fully written article – in a clear and concise manner. The query letter’s job is to entice the magazine editor to assign the article outright, or at the very least ask to see the full article.
A query letter is usually less than one page in length. You must demonstrate that you know not only what the article is about, but that you’re knowledgeable about the magazine or publication you’re querying. Whether your query letter is intended for a well-known national magazine like the New Yorker or a smaller more specialized niche publication like Poets and Writers, you should address why your proposed article is a perfect fit for the magazine.
Since your goal is to sell your article or manuscript, you need to be enthusiastic (but don’t use too many exclamation marks!!!!! like I do). Focus on being persuasive, professional, and realistic.
2. Get specific immediately
“The most effective query letters get into the specifics from the very first line,” say the freelance writing experts in Writer’s Market. “It’s important to remember that the query letter is a call to action, not a listing of features and benefits.”
To learn how I got my first article published in the print edition of Reader’s Digest magazine, read Sample of a Successful Query Letter to Reader’s Digest.
3. Include some biographical information about yourself
Here’s what I say at the end of my query letters to magazines I’ve never written for before: “I’m a published writer; visit The Adventurous Writer for links to my most recent articles. My credits include MSN Health, Woman’s Day, Health, Reader’s Digest, Glow, alive and sometimes More.
Show your personality and voice in your query, but don’t go overboard by using fancy colorful fonts or visuals. When you’re writing a query letter to a magazine, use a normal font and typeface (such as Times New Roman, 12 point), address a specific editor (such as the managing editor or assigning editor), and limit your query letter to one page. Include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and website.
4. Don’t mention money in your query letter
Your goal is to get paid at least $1 per word (okay, that’s my goal) – but don’t mention money in your query letter. The experts in Writer’s Market say, “This step comes after an editor has agreed to take on your article or book. Besides making an unprofessional impression on an editor, it can also work to your disadvantage in negotiating your fee. If you ask for too much, an editor may not even contact you to see if a lower rate might work. If you ask for too little, you may start an editorial relationship where you are making far less than the normal rate.”
How Freelance Writing Pay Rates – Newspaper and Magazine Articles to find out how much magazines and other publications pay freelance writers.
5. Follow the “submission guidelines for writers” on the magazine’s website
One of the best ways to get rejected by a magazine editor and lose a potential writing assignment is by not researching the market you’re querying. Editors know exactly what they want. If you, as a potential freelance writer, mention an inappropriate word count or subject idea then you give the editor an opportunity to reject your query.
Most (I daresay all) publications have writers’ guidelines to help freelancers tailor their pitches properly. Following their guidelines is a crucial tip on how to write a query letter to a magazine. Don’t think that being different, cute, or outrageously creative will help you get published in the magazine! Difference, cute, and outrageously creative article pitches backfire.
Learn as much as you can about he “rules” of writing query letters for magazine articles; for more info, read Pitching Your Freelance Article to Magazines.
6. Follow up a few weeks after sending your query letter to the magazine
Okay, I’m the worst writer in the world for following up with editors after pitching my article ideas.
I never contact an editor after emailing a query letter – though I have heard that writers get assignments when they do! The editors in Writer’s Market recommend following up after the magazine’s response time has lapsed. “Then, send a short and polite e-mail describing the original query sent, the date it was sent, and asking if they received it or made a decision regarding its fate.”
“The importance of remaining polite and businesslike when following up cannot be stressed enough,” say these writers. “Making a bad impression on an editor can often have a ripple effect because that editor may share his or her bad experience with other editors at the magazine or publishing company.”
Here’s a made-up example of a magazine query letter to Writer’s Digest:
Dear Editor (insert real name here),
There are 87 varieties of freelance writers grown in the United States, but there’s only one farm producing 12 of these. This farm is called the Brilliant Creative Nonfiction Writers Corporation.
Located in the heart of California, this company spent the past decade providing great organic crops of freelance writers at a competitive (but not too cheap) price. Shockingly, the organic nature of the crops helped the nonfiction writers grow into the ninth leading organic farming operation in the country. Along the way, they developed the most unique organic offering of creative nonfiction writers in North America.
As a seasoned writer with access to William S. Brilliantwriter, the founder and president of the Brilliant Creative Nonfiction Writers Corporation, I propose writing a profile piece on Brilliantwriter for your Organic Writers department. After years of reading this riveting column, I believe the time has come to coverthe Brilliant Creative Nonfiction Writers Corporation’s rise in the organic writers’ farming industry.
The piece would run in the normal 800-1,200 word range, with photographs available of Brilliantwriter and the company’s operation.
I’ve been published in Poets and Writers, Writer’s Digest, Wannabee Writers, and in several newspapers.
Thank you for your consideration of this article. I hope to hear from you soon.
And that, fellow scribes, is how to write a query letter to a magazine editor. What do you think of that query? I think it’s short, sweet, succinct. Professional yet casual.
Help Writing Query Letters to Magazine Editors
To learn how to write a query letter to a magazine, read books such as How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool. Writing strong query letters that convince editors to hire you is both an art and a craft – and it takes a lot of practice. Learn as much about the business of freelance writing as you can.
One of the best sources of information on freelance writing for magazines are the Writers Market books — get the most current Writer’s Market. I learned more from reading books about writing than by reading writing blogs and websites because the information is more concise, accurate, and targeted. Plus, many writers don’t read books and thus don’t get the information that can only be found in books.
For more magazine writing tips, read How Do You Get Paid for an Article After the Editor Leaves?
Fellow scribes, what have I missed? If you have any questions or tips on writing query letters for magazine articles, please comment below…