by Sarah Hamaker, reluctant marketer
Last month, we talked about basic query don’ts. This month, we’ll tackle basic query dos. We’ll wrap up in September with the anatomy of a query letter.
Basic Query Dos
- Get familiar with the publication. What type of articles are run? What topics are covered? What is the publication’s general style/slant? Who are the readers?
- Read editorial guidelines. This will help you target your piece and select appropriate places to send your work. Many times, these guidelines are posted online. If not, call or write an editor to ask for the guidelines.
- Read sample issues or books or listen to radio/TV segments. This will help you figure out if your idea will fit into the publication or program. This will also help you know if most pieces include sidebars, bulleted or numbered lists, or any other “extras,” such as resources, websites, contact info, etc.
- Check back issues/programs to see if similar pieces have run. What you want to avoid if at all possible is sending in a duplicate story idea that’s similar to something that just ran a month ago.
- Look at the editorial calendar. Most publications publish editorial calendars, which are basically a list of what topics will run in what month. These tend to be a bit fluid, but provide an overall view of what could be published in the coming year.
- Check spelling/grammar before hitting send. I can’t tell you how many queries I read when working for two trade publications that had misspellings and/or obvious grammatical mistakes.
- Get the person’s name right. The other huge mistake is misspelling the name or title of the person to whom you’re writing. That shows such a basic lack of research that you can guarantee the query will be deleted/trashed immediately. This includes adding the proper Mr. or Ms. (Unless you know for a fact that the woman is married, stick with Ms.).
- Provide details but not too much. Include enough details that the editor will know you’ve thought this through but not too much to bog it down.
- Direct editor to online examples of your work. Don’t include hard copies of your work unless requested. Most editors have enough paperwork cross their desks that they prefer links to pieces rather than print outs.
- Let the editor know you’re open to suggestions and tweaks to your idea. This shows you are willing to work with them to get the story right for their publication.
- Keep it brief. The query letter should be no more than one page, or around 500 words. Really, you don’t need to share more than that with your first introduction to an editor! And don’t make the font too small just to cram more on to the page.
- Be professional. Keep your tone on the professional level and don’t descend into the cutesy realm.
- Follow the standard query format. This is not the time to get creative in how you organize your query letter. Stick to the basics and let your story or idea shine through. More on this next month.
- Tell about your expertise when it directly relates to the subject. In other words, don’t mention you love to jog unless you’re pitching an article about amateur runners. Don’t comment on your hobby unless it shows your expertise on the topic at hand. Too much information will make the editor throw your work into the slush pile.
- Remember that for articles, editors are not assuming you’ve finished the piece. Therefore, you don’t have to have all your sources and know the exact direction of the entire article.
What other don’ts related to queries have you seen? Next month, we’ll go over what makes a good query letter or email.