Wednesday, January 4, 2012

School of the Writer - Part IV - Make a Pitch!

See?! I told you I'd get back to my "School of the Writer" series as soon as I could in this New Year! Now, let's just hope it's not 4 more years until the next installment, as it was between Parts III and IV!

For links to the previous parts, see my last post here.

And now, for Part IV on "Query Letters"!


Once you have done some research on various publications and have chosen a topic to write about, it's time to make a "pitch" to the editor! This is in the form of a "query letter" or more likely, these days, a "query e-mail."

Consider the difference in response times between my very first magazine query letter and one of my recent query e-mails:

Sent query letter by snail mail = November 1996
Received positive reply from editor = January 1997

Sent query by e-mail = September 10, 2010
Received reply from editor = September 10, 2010 (!)

Most publications (but not all) do accept e-mail "pitches" or queries, but don;t expect a same-day response from all of them; that said, the response times are much better now than in the "olden days"!

I have put an actual query of mine below you can use as a models...the e-mail resulted in a positive reply from the editor...this meant they invited me to write and submit the manuscript, but did not guarantee publication (we'll get to that in the next installment).
You can also Google "sample magazine article query letters" and get other examples.

In any case, remember that a query letter is often your only chance to make a good first impression! Do not hurry! Use the carpenters' rule (adapted for writing) of measure twice, cut once!

A query letter will consist of several parts:

  • Salutation to a specific person
  • A "hook" to grab the editor's interest (sell the article)
  • Proposal ( word count, specific department, etc.)
  • Writer's credentials (sell yourself!)

Now for an example (I have "anomynized" some names, but otherwise the query is as the original):

Dear Mr. _____

P. T. Barnum considered the Civil War the “damndest, barbarous, mean, and causeless rebellion ever known,” but had faith that “history will set this matter right.” He offered his “last shirt…last dollar…and the very last drop of blood” if it would help “preserve this nation as one and inseparable.” Barnum hardly had to offer his last dollar; in fact, he did very well during the war. Still, in his own way – from supporting President Lincoln, procuring substitutes, providing intelligence, entertaining the troops, stoking Union patriotism and engendering Rebel enmity – Barnum kept his promise to do “all in my power to assist in making history in these times.”

As an avid reader of __________ magazine, it is my pleasure to submit for your consideration this query for an article on the interesting and important role that P. T. Barnum played during the Civil War. I propose a feature article in the 3,000 word range with suggested illustrations following this outline:

“THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!” - P. T. Barnum and the American Civil War

  • Introduction
  • Brief Biography of Barnum's Early Career
  • Transition from Democrat to Republican Party
  • Barnum Gathers Intelligence for the War Department
  • Soldiers Visit Barnum's Museum in NYC
  • War-Related Curiosities at Barnum's Museum
  • Rebel Sabotage of Barnum's Museum
  • Barnum is Elected to the Connecticut Legislature
  • The American Museum Burns to the Ground
  • Barnum's Rebuilds
  • Conclusion

I am the author of more than fifty articles on American history in publications such as North & South, The Artilleryman, World War II, Learning Through History, and Chemical Heritage magazines. My column, "Medical Department," has appeared regularly in The Civil War News since 2000. I am also the author or editor of three books on the Civil War.

I look forward to your reply.

Best Wishes for Continued Success to You and _________ magazine,

James M. Schmidt
(contact info)

See, that's not so hard is it?

Now resolve to send out a query! Feel free to send me an e-mail if you would like some advice! I'm happy to help!

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