Most magazine editors prefer authors send them a query letter rather than the entire article. This helps minimize the size of the unsolicited submissions stack towering over their desks, and allows them to quickly judge if an idea is right for their publication.
Some editors will buy an article on the strength of the query alone, especially if the author is previously published. So, while you can send out queries before you actually write the piece, it’s essential that you complete your research and have a good idea of the direction your article will take before committing to it in the query letter.
Also, be sure you can finish the article quickly if the editor writes back and asks to see the whole piece. If you’ve never written a magazine article before, I suggest you do so before sending out queries, just to be sure you can deliver what you promise.
Like your article, the query letter should be lively, well-organized, and entertaining. Open with a strong sentence that sets the tone for your article–an interesting fact about your subject, a question you intend to answer, or a line of dialogue from someone you interviewed.
Complete the paragraph by presenting the five basic facts about your topic: who, what, when, where and why. Sprinkle in a few statistics if you have them, and don’t forget to list the projected word length.
Your second paragraph introduces the questions you intend to answer in the article, and the slant you’ll take on the subject. This is your opportunity to show the editor why your article is unique. If you have unusual information or have interviewed experts, include that in this paragraph.
The third paragraph states the market for this topic. Show you’ve done your research and explain why your article would appeal to the magazine’s readership. You should know that your particular slant on the topic hasn’t been done before (search magazine databases at the library under subject headings), so tell the editor of your findings.
Your final paragraph includes any pertinent information about yourself. List previous writing credits, areas of expertise that are related to your article, writing organizations to which you belong. Anything that gives you credibility as an author should be included. If you have no relevant experience, skip this paragraph.
Some magazines request an annotated bibliography of resources used in writing the article. This can be attached on a second sheet of paper. Be sure your letter also includes your full address, phone number, and email. Submit with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the editor’s reply.
It’s best to query one magazine at a time unless you are slanting the article differently for different publications. If two magazines request the complete work, send to your preferred market first. If they buy the piece, be sure you retain the appropriate rights to write about the same subject for a different market before submitting a new article elsewhere.
By Laura Backes
Laura Backes is the author of “Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read” from Random House. She’s also the publisher of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers.