How to Write a Magazine Article Query

I’ve been asked by a couple of people, when they found a job on my paying leads thread on my writer’s forum, how to query a magazine for an article. It is true that a lot of magazines take manuscripts for articles on spec, but some require a query first.

Well, a new writer who has only ever submitted unsolicited or targeted articles on spec might never have had to write a query before. Yet, many of the higher paying magazines don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, because of the length of time required to read and review them to see if they are a good fit for their publication, so they want shorter queries first, before you or the publication puts too much time into the work. You want to query, since usually these are higher paying jobs!

So what needs to go into a magazine query?

First, you need to read their query/submission guidelines. Some publications tell you exactly what they want, and regardless of industry standard or what you’ve done for other publications in the past, you need to do what they tell you to do, period. You can read my blog post about submission guidelines here if you missed it. It’s important.

However, if the publication doesn’t have specific guidelines posted, and they simply ask you to send them a query first, then you need to follow a certain standard for queries that is pretty much the same across the board.

First, keep in mind that the query is a sample of your writing ability. It should be of the same quality of writing that your article would be once you write it. This is not a time to be casual or skimp on professionalism.

So let’s start with some really basic steps:

1.) When addressing the query, get the editor’s name whenever possible and address the query to that editor, and for goodness sake, spell it right! If you are not absolutely certain of the gender of the editor, don’t do Mr. so and so, or Ms. so and so. Names aren’t always a clue. I have a good friend who is female and her name is Michael. She hates when people write to her Mr. so and so because of it. In the absence of knowing an editor’s name, use the name of the publication: Dear Such and Such Magazine. Use the full publication name, and spell it correctly. Avoid: ‘to whom it may concern’ or ‘dear sir’.

2.) Queries should be targeted to the specific magazine, and not sent as a standard query you write to all publications that require a query. You should address that publication’s specific editorial needs, and not try to pitch a story that is not in line with their genre or style. Plus, publications talk to each other – you’d be surprised – and if you write a blanket query to every publication, eventually, someone is going to catch on.

3.) Know your audience and the publication’s audience too. First, your audience is an editor – bottom line, editor’s jobs are to make and save money. They want to know that your article the query proposes is going to make them money and because you’re a good writer needing minimal editing and correction, it is going to save them money. The more they can make off of you and save because of you, the more they can pay you too.

If you’re going to write a query to a magazine that caters to mid-career business women, writing an article about how to go fly fishing is probably not going to fly. A woman’s magazine shouldn’t have tips for teens, and a teen magazine probably shouldn’t have an article about shopping for the right diaper service. Make sure your topic and article you want to query matches the needs of the magazine.

Next, know YOUR audience – the editor. You are not writing a query to sell the public or readership on your article idea; you’re writing a query to convince an editor to buy the article or request the article on spec.

4.) Get their attention! The first sentence of your query is your big sales pitch – get their attention, make them want to read more. Starting with, “My name is and I’m a writer and I’ve done this and that and blah blah blah” is not going to make the editor, who probably reads hundreds of queries a day or thousands per week, want to read more. Make that first line attention grabbing.Get to the point, be concise, and don’t use fluff. Editors don’t have all day to read your life story and learn more about how or why you write. All they care about is 1) can you write, 2) do you have a good article idea, 3) will that idea sell magazines?

After your killer first sentence, get to the point quickly by explaining in 3-5 sentences what the article is about. Then use 3-5 sentences max to tell the editor how it fits into their genre/readership, and why you feel the article is a good addition to their publication.

5.) After you pitch the article in the first sentence that steals their attention, then you write one to two short paragraphs about the article, then you can sell yourself. This isn’t the place to write your bio, but rather a place to tell the publisher, in 3-5 sentences tops, why YOU are a good choice to write about this topic. They don’t need your other bylines, unless those bylines pertain specifically to the type of article and writing you do here, but never, ever EVER give them links to read your other works online unless they specifically ask for it.

For example, I recently successfully queried ADDitude Magazine, a publication that specializes in ADD and ADHD related issues, with a particular focus on children. My son is an ADD/ADHD child, and I have managed an online support group for parents of ADD/ADHD children. As such, I wanted to be sure to include this information in my query, so that ADDitude knew that while I was a freelance professional writer, I also had personal experience. I indicated in my query that I could write from both perspectives.

If there is something that makes you uniquely qualified or experienced to write on a particular topic, this is a big plus for you and the publication, so let them know.

6.) If you have been previously published with other publications, you can include this information in your query, and state the name of the publication and article title you wrote for them, as well as what issue the article was published in. However, this works best if the publication is a similar genre or style to the magazine you have queried. If the publication was a major print publication, you could mention in the query that you have had works featured in XXX magazine, but do not include the title of the article or other information if it’s not the same style of genre of publication as the one you are querying.

If you are unpublished in print, or you have never been published in the genre you are querying for, try not to draw attention to this fact. Rather focus on your career as a writer (professional freelance writer, etc.) and then focus on why you are uniquely qualified to write the article you’re pitching (mothering magazine: I am a professional freelance writer, who also has raised five children, blah blah blah).

Do NOT send clips or samples of writing unless the publication specifically asks you to do so. However, you can indicate that samples, tear sheets, or clips are available upon request.

7.) Be sure to leave contact information for the editor at the end and let them know how and when it is best to contact you. Include your phone number, email address, alternate email address if you have one, and let them know you are available by email or phone at their convenience, and then be available should they contact you. Do not assume they will know your email address since you sent the query via email, but be sure to put it in the body of the query letter.

8.) ALWAYS be professional and courte
s and thank them for their time and consideration. Even if they don’t accept this query, they might want something else from you in the future, so always be sure to handle yourself with the utmost professionalism. One magazine I currently write for nearly every month actually rejected my first four query ideas, until I finally hit a topic they wanted, and now I get to bypass the query and go straight to manuscript on spec. That’s the sweet spot with a publication, so don’t think a rejection means no forever – keep trying to find something they want or need.

9.) NEVER call. If you contacted them by email or by postal mail, you should follow up the same way. Calling breaks up their day, makes them have to find your query, respond to it, or worse, not respond to it and toss your query in the trash.

NEVER follow up until AFTER the time to respond has passed. Most publications will have their lead time or response time posted, and it’s usually 6-8 weeks minimum. Some are as much as 3-6 months. Read their guidelines, and never ask for a status until that time has passed. Some publications even say, “If you don’t hear from us, assume we do not want to publish you.” Harsh, but at least they tell you something, right?

Don’t be a pest.

Now, let’s sum this up – you are going to send the publication a ONE PAGE query. You do not want it to be longer than a page. The editor doesn’t have all day, so get to the point quickly. Wow them with your first sentence, then tell them in less than two paragraphs what your query is about, what the article is about, and how it appeals to their readership. Next, tell them a little bit about you, the writer, and why you are qualified to write the article you’re pitching.

Finalize with a thank you, contact information, and a professional signature a close.

Then you wait.

In the next blog post, I’ll talk a little bit about how I query and the process I use to follow up and track submissions and queries.

If there are ever any questions about any of my blog posts, please ask – I’m not perfect, I could be wrong, but I write about what has consistently and regularly worked for me as a writer. I’m more than happy to answer questions too!

Keep writing, Keep submitting!

Love and stuff,

PS: As I said in THIS ARTICLE, query about two – three times the amount of money you need to make. Even the best of freelancers are going to experience 40-60% rejection rates, and keeping a constant stream of queries out there ensures a constant stream of accepted articles, and thus a constant stream of income too!