How are you marketing your articles? As a writer prospecting potential clients, your query letter is your marketing tool. What does it tell the editor about you?
Show me... the Market
Show the editor that you know his magazine. Jeff Peck, the editor of Insider's Journal, recently wrote, "...I end up rejecting fully 90 percent or more of the submissions because would-be authors simply don't take the time to understand what our publication is about." Are you sending out random queries shotgun style or are you using laser targeting to pinpoint your target magazine? As published authors, it should be the latter. Most editors recommend reading several back issues. Sending an article on living like a tightwad to an affluent parenting magazine won't work. If you think a few hours learning about your market is a waste of time, then sending out queries wastes both the editor's time and your time.
Show me... the Readers
Show the editor that you know who her readers are. Your query needs to show that you understand who will be reading your article. The Christian Librarian caters to librarians at Christian academic centers. Christian Library Journal meets the needs of academic librarians, but is also read by homeschooling parents, church librarians, school librarians, and public librarians. These two magazines have similar topics, but address very different needs. Be specific when stating the planned content of your article. When the information in your article matches the interests of the readers, the editor will give you a "go".
Show me... the Perspective
Show the editor that you know his magazine's perspective. This is similar to understanding the readership. Focus on the Family provides articles to help families live out their Christian faith. Many other Christian magazines publish similar articles. What makes this magazine unique is their focus on offering only this type of article. From interviews to humorous anecdotes to serious topics, Focus on the Family only publishes articles that provide distinct methods families can follow to grow closer to Christ together. Every magazine has a unique perspective and focus. Many publications place mission statements on their website on the "About Us" page. Some even include it in the writer's guidelines. Make sure that your query reflects the fact that your article will mesh with the editor's goals.
Show me... the Theology
Show the editor that you understand the theology of her magazine, whether or not you are a member of her denomination. Joan Alexander, an editor at Regular Baptist Press, states, "We hear from many writers who are not appropriate for our readership. We prefer that our contributors be well acquainted with our church customers and their theological and cultural perspective." If you are a member of an affiliated church, be sure to let the editor know. If not, you can find the information about the denomination's theology on the internet, books, or people you know in that denomination. In your query, give the editor specific examples of what you intend to put into the article that show her that you understand the unique religious views of her readers.
Show me... the Style
Show the editor that you can write in his magazine's style. Whether scholarly, educated, or conversational, your introductory paragraph (which should be vivid enough to be the first paragraph of your article) should be written in the magazine's style. Scholarly articles offer research driven theses and specialized vocabulary. Conversational pieces often begin with anecdotes or questions and continue in a chatty way. Other stylistic items are more specific. Living Light News always includes the ages of interviewees, contains locations specific to where an edition appears, and almost every news story begins with a testimony of God's goodness. Reading and analyzing back issues reveals these nuggets of information. Show the editor that you understand the style and make a sale.
As an experienced, professional writer, you analyze back issues of the magazines you want to write for. You know their readers and their perspectives. You write in the correct style. Does your query letter show your competence?
Terri Pilcher is the author of MONEY Markets 101: 101 Markets That Pay Writers in 6 Weeks or Less and the editor of a searchable online database of writer's guidelines and theme lists (2-day FREE trial). Both are available at http://www.powerpenmarketsearch.com.
She also publishes a FREE weekly markets e-zine for writers; sign up at http://www.terripilcher.com.