A good query letter can mean the difference between a rejection and a sale. In the days of email and web clients, many writers have lowered their standards. They dash out quick notes rather than make formal queries. They use casual language and give only brief explanations of what they plan to do. For some people, this works. Two dozen quick, badly written queries may be more cost effective than one well-crafted query. If you do care about quality though, and want to show that you are a quality writer with a solid idea, than this series is for you. Part one is all about getting to know your potential client.Â
Look for submissions guidelinesÂ
A magazine or web site’s submissions guidelines are the best advice you are going to get about how to approach the potential client. They may have a format they prefer, or they may let you know what topics they are looking for and what topics to avoid. They might also tell you what they pay, who the appropriate editors are, and what lengths are preferred. Some magazines may still prefer printed and mailed submissions over email. Whatever the case, the submissions guidelines are your first, bet advice about how to approach your potential client.
Read the articlesÂ
You need to get to know your potential client. Read through their articles. For web sites, it is generally easy to find archives and review past articles. For a magazine without a web presence you may need to pick up several issues and examine them. You don’t have to read every word of every article, but you want to familiarize yourself with the writing style and the sorts of subjects they write about. You also want to be sure that your idea won’t be identical to something they have published recently.Â
Figure out who is whoÂ
You need to identify the appropriate person to receive your query. Sometimes you can get this information from the submissions guidelines, but in many cases you are going to have to actively look for the appropriate person. With magazines, there is generally a masthead somewhere in the publication. The masthead is a list of all the relevant people at a publication, from the publisher to the editors to the writers. You want to look for the editor that best seems to match your submission. For example, if you wanted to submit an interview with an artist to a regional publication, you would look for the arts editor or perhaps the lifestyle editor.Â
When searching a web site for the appropriate person, the best places to check are the “about” page and the “contact” page. If you cannot find an appropriate person, it is acceptable to email the publication and ask for the name and title of the person who can review your submission. Using the correct title for a person is important. Identifying a person by the wrong title is bad. If you are unsure, just use their name.