Sunday, November 09, 2008

Researching the Query

Thank you to Kathy Ruff of the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association, who invited me to speak to women writers in Pittston, Pennsylvania. I had a great time sharing my experiences and fielding questions about freelance writing. (If you're an attendee reading this blog, I hope you'll contact me if you need help or have other questions. We writers have to stick together!)

Going into the meeting, I assumed that everyone would know what a query letter is, but since many were or are staff writers, the query was unexplored territory. I apologize to anyone who was confused. Here are a few pointers before writing that first query:
  • A query letter is a writer's introduction to an editor. The letter not only shows that you have article ideas, but it also shows that you've done homework on the editor's name and title, on the publication, and it gives a small sample of your writing style. Treat the query letter as seriously as you would an assigned story.

  • Use online tools such as Writer's Market or Wooden Horse Publishing to get market information, such as length and style guidelines, lead times, pay rates, and more. Writer's Market has more listings, but Wooden Horse has more demographic info and only $1.99 for a one-day subscription to its database.

  • Check out Shirley Kawa-Jump's How to Publish Your Articles for ideas on where you can get your foot in the door, writer testimonials, and a helpful resource guide at the back that shows you writers' organizations that can help you.

  • Pick the publication you want to write for, and tailor your research accordingly. Don't do like I did and write an article with the hope of finding it a home. (That method can sometimes work for essays, but it's still the longer way to publication, in my opinion.)

  • Research a year's worth of magazines (if it's a monthly) to get a feel for the publication and the topics it's reporting on. If it's a bimonthly, look at two years' worth of mags; if it's a weekly, look at six months' worth.

  • Also, don't forget to research the magazine's Web site and note whether the site has Web-only content. That's a separate market.

  • Include in your query your opening "hook" (what your story is about), a brief but more in-depth description with a generalized list of who you'll be interviewing, and why you're the right writer for the task. Include links to online articles or offer to send PDF or Word attachments. Many editors do not like attachments, especially if the editor doesn't know you.

  • Browse this blog for my entry called "First Clips."

  • Always remember: It's not personal; it's more about timing.

Good luck!

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