Do you want to be a professional writer? Tips to get you started

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By Guest Blogger Robbi Hess

To whom it may concern: Attached please find my marvelous article/blog post that I know you will want to publish in your magazine/website. My bio is attached. Please mail my check to Jane Doe, PO Box 1234, Bestwriterville USA 12345.

Frikipix_slurp_dog Isn't that a wonderful query letter? Word to the wise, no it isn't! Honestly, I wish this type of query letter didn't exist but they do. I received quite a few of them when I was editing newspapers, magazines and as a book editor. These queries showed me that the writer was blind-sending query letters to any and every magazine he found. This is not the way to go if you ever want to become a published writer. 

Rule 1 for querying an editor — READ the magazine. If you're writing an article about pet grooming don't send a query to Web Technology Monthly. Common sense dictates you'd send an article about pets to a magazine or website that dealt with pets, right? Unfortunately, common sense doesn't always seem to rule the wanna-be-published writer's thoughts.

Okay, here are some things a query letter can do for you:

  • Prove to an editor that you are qualified to write the piece
  • Shows the editor you can actually string together two sentences and use proper grammar

Regardless of whether the market you are targeting wants hard copy queries and submissions or will accept submissions via email, you still want to be professional in all of your dealings with an editor, from finding out his or her name to knowing what they publish.


Speaking of markets:

  • Know the market you are targeting and target appropriately
  • Read the magazine, order a sample copy
  • Get the writer's guidelines
  • Know which editor to target your query to — larger magazines have editors for different departments

Be professional:

  • Even in an email, use a professional format — date, editor's name, address, etc.
  • No spelling or grammar errors
  • If you aren't sure of the gender of the editor: Chris Smith, don't use Mr. or Mrs. simply use Chris Smith
  • Single space the letter (not double spaced like your article submission should be)
  • Include all of your contact information: name, address, email, telephone number
  • Single-space your paragraphs and double-space between paragraphs
  • Include an SASE if you're mailing a hard copy

Grab the editor's attention:

  • Introduce your article in the first paragraph of your query
  • Make it interesting, by using a "hook" in your query
  • Use a legible font
  • Make the query specific. Don't say, "I'd like to write an article about how to train a dog." Say instead, "I have a unique idea of how to train your puppy to walk on a leash through the power of positive reinforcement — in the space of 10 minutes!" 
  • Keep it short — one page max for your query letter
  • Let the editor know the length of the piece and whether it will have photos

Be persuasive:

  • If you have writing samples, include them or if they are online, include links
  • If you have credentials that show why you're the best writer for the piece, let the editor know that

Whew, this is just a short list of what to do in your query letter. Bottom line, your query letter is your job interview with a potential employer (the editor). Sometimes, writing a query letter can seem to take as long as writing a synopsis for a novel and maybe it should. You have one page and a few lines of text to grab the attention of the editor to whom you've sent your article idea, so take time to make it shine. There are editors of both print and online publications who are hungry for query letters and fantastic articles from writers — let that writer be you! 

 

  • http://www.dogsforthepaws.com Missy Johnson

    Great feature and very informative Robbi!!! So important to have all the correct grammar and details to rely the professional image and attitude you expect in return.

  • http://browndogcbr.blogspot.com/ Hawk aka BrownDog

    One thing that really annoyed me was receiving a letter addressed to “Mr” when my name was obviously female (unless you happen to be “A Boy Named Sue”).
    BrownDog’s Momma

  • http://e-pawprints.blogspot.com Lavi

    This is very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.brianshome-me.blogspot.com Brian

    Thanks for the insight, hopefully I can remember it at the right time!