Know the magazine’s submissions / writer’s guidelines
The easiest way to find out what a magazine wants is to let them tell you. Many magazines post their writer’s guidelines on their web site. If you can’t find them online, contact one of the editors and ask for them to email or snail mail you the guidelines. A directory such as Writer’s Market can be helpful for your initial search, but don’t rely on them for all of your information. Any number of things can change between the publication of those listings and the day you decide to send your query. Not only do writer’ guidelines tend to address content issues, but they can also tell you what format the publication prefers their submissions in. One magazine may want you to email them, another might want you to send a paper copy and a third may want you to upload a Microsoft Word file. You won’t know if you don’t do the research.
Know who the magazine’s editors are
Knowing the right person to send your query to is one of the little details that can make a big difference when you are trying to make a sale. If you query the wrong person, any of a number of bad things can happen. The person who receives it might dismiss your query and throw it away because it isn’t what they are looking for. The person who receives it may know who should get it and plan to give it to them, but never get around to doing so. If your query does finally get to the right person, they may hold the fact that it was addressed to the wrong person against you. Always take the time to find out who the right recipient for your query is. Check the magazine’s masthead for the latest information and don’t be afraid to call or email to confirm your choice.
Know the magazine’s editorial calendar
In addition to guidelines, many magazines have an editorial calendar that covers such things as publication lead times, deadlines for holiday or seasonal items and upcoming special editions or subject focuses. Some magazines dedicate issues to a single topic. Knowing what a magazine is looking for and when they are looking for it can give you a serious advantage over the competition. When you request submission guidelines, be sure to request the calendar as well.
Know the magazine, front to back
Don’t assume you know what a magazine wants just because you have read their writer’s guidelines. The proper way to research a magazine is to read it. Get your hands on a copy of the magazine (the more copies the better). Check the magazine’s website if they have one. You don’t have to read every word of every article, but take the time to get familiar with the different sections and the general writing style. Be sure that what you are proposing fits in well with the publication’s approach to content and style.
Know how to write a query letter
Your query letter needs to demonstrate both the quality of your idea and the quality of your writing. Additionally, it should demonstrate that you know how to follow the magazine’s submission guidelines. Many editors receive dozens of queries each month. For major publishers, the number of queries can climb into the hundreds. This may seem intimidating, but the number of queries that are actually well-written and well thought out is quite small. Most queries are terrible. They are badly written, inappropriate or fail to follow the magazine’s guidelines. It is easy to rise above the crowd if you know what you are doing and you are willing to make a genuine effort to create quality query.