Lorraine Mace answers readers’ queries.
Alicia from Estepona, Spain, wants to query magazines, but isn’t sure what she should put in the email. She writes: I’ve seen on websites and in magazines that freelancers should query before submitting articles. I’ve sent lots of emails asking editors if I can write for them, but only one replied and that was to say I had to be more specific about what I had to offer the magazine. Does that mean sending my work CV?
No, not at all. Sending a query is not the same as applying for a job. A magazine editor has certain slots that are written in-house by permanent employees. There are other slots that are written by freelancers, but the same writer will fill that column every issue. What you are looking to fill is one of the many slots supplied by freelance writers that are not allocated to a specific writer.
First things first – you need to know that what you want to write fits the magazine you are going to query. This means reading several back issues to get a feel for style, word length, tone and content.
Assuming you’ve done that and have an idea for an article that will absolutely fit with the magazine’s readership, the next thing to do (before writing the article) is to send a query to the editor.
You need to treat this as a business email. Editors are busy people, usually with inboxes overflowing with unsolicited emails. This means you need to make the subject line striking enough to stand out from the rest – more on this later.
What is a query?
This is simply a one page email outlining the article’s content and gives reasons why the editor should commission you to write it.
To whom and from whom?
Always address the editor by name and use Dear Whoever. Once you have built a relationship with an editor you can switch to Hi, Hello, or any other friendlier form of address.
Make sure you have your full contact details in (or after) your signature.
What to say after the greeting
The opening paragraph is crucial – this is where you will make or break your query. If it’s a strong opening the editor will read on. If it isn’t, he or she will move on to the next query. Below are some ideas for strong opening paragraphs.
The first line of your planned article – provided it is attention grabbing!
A quote from someone you have interviewed for the article
A shocking statistic
A relevant newspaper headline
Follow this up with a short description of how you intend to deal with the subject matter – including mentions of interviewees (if any).
Having outlined the article, you need to say why you are the right person to write it. Give relevant details of your personal history that promotes your credibility and/or professionalism (as related to the subject matter). If you’ve been a chef in a top restaurant and want to give an insider’s view, mention the work background. However, if you intend to write on global warming, telling the editor how hot it was in the kitchen is not going to influence a decision in your favour.
Mention any relevant writing credits if you have any and say you can produce clips (copies of previously published work) if wanted. If you have not yet had any success, simply leave this part out.
Subject heading for the email
Only decide what to put in the subject line after you’ve written the email. By the time you’ve reached the end you should have a better idea of what angle you can take. It needs to be to the point and eye-catching. A play on words or the punchline to a joke can work, as can a short, sharp statement. You need to tailor the hook in the heading to the subject matter of your proposed article.
Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and head competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.
Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, has now been followed by the second in the trilogy, Vlad’s Quest.
Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of four crime/thriller novels featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes, Call It Pretending and Looking for a Reason by Crooked Cat Publishing.