Q is for Querying

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Illustration by Ramiro Roman.
Illustration by Ramiro Roman.

Querying (or pitching) is extremely important for writers who want to get into magazines, news writing, or blogging. And, really, what writer wouldn’t? All of those markets are incomparably awesome.

Your query letter–your pitch, your letter of introduction–is your foot in the door of Article Writing’s well-guarded fortress.

It’s your way to break in.

The 6 Components of a Query Letter:

A well-formed query letter includes the following components:

1. It Follows the Magazine’s/Newspaper’s/Blog’s Guidelines.

Nothing annoys editors more quickly than writers who don’t know how to follow basic instructions. And if you show you’re incapable of following directions before you’ve even gotten the job – yeeeeeesh.

Every publication has their own set of guidelines when it comes to querying. Some want a quick introduction but no pitch. Some (most) want a full-on query (introduction + pitch). While still others will want you to send over your completed article and forgo the pitch entirely.

Follow the guidelines!

2. It’s Addressed Correctly.

Your query letter needs to be sent to the correct department. For blogs, you’ll generally be sending your query to the head editor/owner of the site. For magazines & newspapers, you’ll need to double-check which editor you need to connect with. Larger magazines & news outlets have different editorial departments for each section: Fashion, lifestyle, opinion, sports, entertainment, business, whatever. Make sure you address your query to the right department.

And make sure you address the editor by name.

Finding out who’s in charge isn’t that hard. Do a little digging. Adding that personal touch is well worth the effort. No more “To Whom It May Concern” salutations.

3. It Shows Your Personality.

In a recent Morning Motivation, Linda Formichelli said:

“In their zeal to sound professional (and their fear of sounding like a newbie), many writers come off as boring and stilted instead.”

Too true!

Instead of trying to come off as “impressive”–be authentic. Be you.

That said, don’t overcompensate and go too far in the opposite direction (“YO, DAWG!”). This is a professional query to a professional business, not an e-mail to your BFF. Pay attention to your spelling & grammar. Your query is often the editor’s first impression of your writing as a whole: Show you’re competent.

4. It Shares Why You’re the Best Writer for the Job.

There are a gazillion writers out there all vying for the same spots. Why are YOU the best writer for this particular article? Don’t be afraid to strut your stuff.

As Linda Formichelli said in the same Morning Motivation article I mentioned above:

“If you won an award, have written for other magazines, have personal or professional experience in the topic, or have access to a hard-to-get source—sing it, baby!”

5. It Keeps Your “But” Out of It!

Writers tend to be a humble bunch. Related to #4, it’s all too easy to undo our well-earned boasting with a big ol’ “BUT…”

“I’d be perfect for this assignment, BUT this is my first time writing for a magazine.”

“I have an intimate knowledge of dog grooming, BUT I’ve never actually seen a dog in real life.”

“I’ve won several writing awards, BUT I probably didn’t deserve them.”

You wouldn’t show your bare butt to an editor. Don’t show them your “but” either.

Keep negative talk about yourself out of your pitch.

6. It Makes It Easy for the Editor to Visualize.

By providing potential titles (“How to Blog in 10 Easy Steps,” “Lit Erotica Finds New Home on E-Readers,” “Print On Demand in Demand: The Future of Paperbacks”) and giving a bullet-pointed outline for your intended article will help the editor truly visualize your article in their publication–with youin the writer’s seat.

The easier you make it for the editor to picture your article as a REAL piece of writing, the more likely it is that they’ll let you actually write it.

Don’t be afraid to whip out statistics, quotes, suggestions for sidebars, potential interviewees, and whatever else you feel would make your article a great read. Show the editor that the article you’re pitching is relevant, legitimate, and fits with their publication’s established style.

Good luck out there!

BONUS!! – Sophie Lizard just released the newest edition of her Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs. There are over 50 markets to choose from. *hint hint* Get querying!

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