pitch query letterThese tips on how to pitch a query letter to magazine editors will help you structure your writing and get your articles published.

Querying and pitching query letters to editors are reliable ways to get freelance writing work. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – I worked as an editor receiving queries, and I worked as a freelance writer pitching magazine articles. These are some of my best tips on how to pitch a query letter and get published in the magazine of your choice.

Before the tips, a quip:

“An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better.” ~ T S Eliot.

Why? Perhaps to keep the writer motivated. If editors are only critical and negative, then writers may lose confidence in their writing. If you’ve lost your confidence – or if you’re new to the freelance writing game – you might like  The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster.

And, here are some pitching tips…

Tips for Pitching Query Letters to Magazine Editors

Guest Post ~ Sharon Hurley Hall

These tips assume you’ve already got an article idea – or a slew of ideas – that you’re just dying to write for the right online or print publication…

Identify the Right Target Markets For Your Article Ideas

The first step is to find the publication that’s right for your article. There are lots of ways to do this. You could browse the magazine shelves of your local bookstore or search online for suitable markets. Writer’s Market is a great resource to help with this and it’s available both in print and online. The online version of Writer’s Market is a particularly useful tool to help you find the market that’s right for your article.

But, there’s another step to take before you send off a query letter…

Read the Publication to Make Sure You’re on Track

You wouldn’t believe how many people fail to read the publication before they pitch a query! As an editor, this was my nightmare. I ran a magazine for the youth work industry, and would receive pitches about unrelated ideas in the social work field. The reason you check the publication is to see what they’ve published before is twofold: 1) so you don’t waste the editor’s time; and 2) to find out the writing and article style they like. If you can write something in the correct style, you’re already halfway to a pitching a successful query letter.

Write a Brief Intro to Your Article

A query letter should be short. There are many different styles. Both as an editor and a writer, I favor the ones that hook me. In other words, if you know how you plan to start your article and hook the reader, use that same method to hook the editor.

When I was pitching a series of articles on relocating to the Caribbean, here’s how I started:

“Most self-builders pick out a convenient plot, within easy reach and where they can keep track of what the construction workers are doing. But we like a challenge and decided to build our dream property some 4000 miles away in the Caribbean. ”

My next step was to give a one sentence description of the idea for the series, followed by my qualifications for the job. The magazine editor was interested and asked for follow up information.

Expand Your Pitch and Give the Editor More Details

Once you have the editor’s attention, it’s time to give more details. Expand on your article idea and say more about how you plan to cover it. For a journalistic or interview piece, this could include your proposed sources. When I worked as an editor, a reporter once pitched me a piece in which he planned to interview Prince Charles. He wasn’t trying it on, either; he had already landed an interview with the Prince through coverage of a charity event and, like all good journalists, he was getting as much mileage out of the interview as he could.

One way to give the editor a flavor of what you plan to do is to outline the main parts of the article as a bullet pointed list. This keeps it short but still allows the editor see the essence of your query at a glance. If you can’t outline your idea like this, then you’re not ready to pitch a query.

Don’t Forget the Extras and Follow Ups

As an editor, if I had to choose between two virtually identical pitches, I’d pick the one which would offer most long term value. That meant photos to accompany the article or the possibility of a follow up. I always keep that in mind when I query now.

If you’re a blogger pitching guest post ideas, then one way that you can add value is by promoting your post through social media. Most editors are happy to have help with that.

If you lack writing confidence (or clips), read For Doubtful Women Writers – 3 Tips for Increasing Your Confidence.

Two final pieces of advice for pitching query letters:

  1. Check your queries for easily avoidable errors, such as the ones Laurie mentioned in Email Mistakes Writers Make.
  2. Read The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, Second Edition by Moira Anderson Allen for more tips on how to pitch a query letter.

If you have any questions or thoughts on pitching queries to magazine editors, please comment below…

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional web content writer and blogger. She runs Get Paid to Write Online, which offers tips and advice for freelance writers. Follow her on Twitter: @shurleyhall.

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5 thoughts on “How to Pitch a Query Letter to Magazine Editors”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hello Laura,

    Great question! I was hoping Sharon would weigh in first, but it looks like I beat her to it 🙂

    I wrote this article for you:

    When to Ask Editors About Pay Rates for Your Articles

    I hope it helps, and welcome your thoughts there or here. And, let me know when you sell your first article!

    All good things,

  2. Hi, great tips. I have read several articles on this topic and am almost good to go but am a little unsure about when the rates discussion comes in. If the editor is interested will they reply with their rates? I know how much to charge for articles but am unsure how much more valuable accompanying photos make the piece. Can you please help?

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I also think it’s important to find the balance between learning how to pitch a strong query letter, and letting your personality, voice, and style shine through.

    I recently sent a query letter to literary agents, and decided to scrap the formalities. Instead, I told my story. So far, I six agents have asked for the book proposal!

    It’s the same with pitching queries to magazine editors: let your personality shine through. Tell your story. Of course you still need to be professional…it’s all about balance 🙂

  4. Sharon Hurley Hall

    Glad you liked them, Keri. As a writer, if you think about the editor’s viewpoint, you’ll be well on your way to a better query.