By Abigail Green
Did I get your attention? Good. That’s the point of a query letter, also known as a pitch. A query is a freelance writer’s calling card. It’s how you pitch an idea, show an editor that you can write, convince him or her why you’re the best person to write the story, and hopefully, clinch the assignment.
Beginning writers often believe there is one perfect formula for queries. Not so. A query can be two sentences or two pages long, formal or chatty, sent by e-mail or snail mail. I’ve sent all kinds of queries that yielded assignments. That said, it is a good idea to tailor your pitch to each circumstance.
For instance, when I’m approaching a new-to-me editor, I always address my query to Mr. Bigshot Editor or Ms. Bigshot Editor. (Of course, I look up the correct editor’s actual name on the masthead, or better yet, call the magazine. And I triple-check the spelling before sending it out.) If in her reply, the editor signs off as “Cathy,” fine. But wait for her to indicate that you’re on a first-name basis.
I begin my query with an attention-grabbing lead, similar to how I’d start my article. (See the first sentence of this column.) Say you’re pitching a story on the recent trend of “girlfriend getaways.” If you begin, “I would like to write an article on the increasing focus of tourism professionals on the female demographic,” the editor will toss your pitch – or doze off – before she gets to the next sentence. Dazzle her from the start.
Next I give the editor a taste of the goodies I’ll include in my article – a recent statistic, a juicy quote, or an exciting source. You don’t have to do all the research up front, but sometimes a quick call or Web search can yield a tasty bit of info that will set your query apart from the rest.
Then I show that I’m familiar with the magazine: “I see this as a good fit for your Travel Trends section.” Next, I tell her why I’m the best writer for the job: “In addition to writing regularly for This Magazine and That Magazine, I just got back from a girlfriends’ getaway to Cancun.”
Finally, I assume the sale, as they say in the business world. “I hope to hear back from you” is too weak. Better: “I look forward to working with you on this piece. I’ll follow up in a couple of weeks if I haven’t heard back.” Then send it. A strong query is the first step to netting an assignment.
Abigail Green is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 12 years, she has written for national, regional and online publications including AOL, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. She blogs about the lighter side of pregnancy, parenthood and potty training at Diary of a New Mom. She also teaches the six-week e-course Personal Essays that Get Published.