Friday, August 11, 2006

Perfecting the Magazine Query Letter

Can you show us a sample query letter that you used to pitch freelance articles?

Sure. I'll go one better: I'll show you two examples. Now, keep in mind that I already knew these editors, so I didn't have to list my credits and to be honest, I probably kept them a little more casual than if this were a first-time pitch. I tried to track down a really detailed query to give you a more introductory example but couldn't find one in my files. (I delete them after a while.) But I'll keep looking. These days, I don't send query letters that often - usually, I'm fortunate enough to be able to rattle off a few sentences and the editor will either ask me for more details or tell me that why it doesn't work for her - but when I DO draft query letters, especially to new-to-me editors, I try to include solid facts or quotes, give a clear sense of my writing style, as well as ensure that this writing style still meshes with the magazine's overall tone and vision.

So, here you go:

Parents Magazine Pitch:

Dear XX:

When my son was born eight weeks ago, he was blessed with my gorgeous mug (ahem), but not so blessed to have inherited his daddy's stomach. Namely, if I were to put it less delicately, his gas. Cam is a perfectly behaved angel (if I do say so myself) with the sole exception of when he scrunches up his legs and screams his face off...and then he makes up for all of his other good behavior as his temper tantrums and discomfort spiral downhill.

I'd like to propose a story for the 0-12 months column on how to help your little one combat these bubbly situations. I know that it might sound silly, but in the hospital, they literally hand you your babe and say, "be sure to burp him after you nurse." Well, okay. But I've never had a baby before, so other than swatting him on the back, just how the hell do I get him to belch?? And once I'd master the rub-and-pat, what are the other remedies to get him to, well, let's just put it out there, fart? And what can I do to prevent it to begin with, if anything? How much Mylacon is too much? What about Gripe Water or prune juice? And will I ever be able to eat broccoli or beans again?

I know that Cam isn't alone with this ailment, and I think it would be a "explosive," not to mention helpful story for new mommies! And one that you have to approach with a touch of good humor. :) Let me know if you have any interest.


The above pitch was assigned and became this story: The Gas Crisis. I've since written numerous articles for Parents - I'm working on one right now, just filed another, and have yet others in the Sept and Nov issues.

Prevention Magazine Pitch: How To Boost Your Dog's Brain Power

Dear XX:

Guess what? Just as humans prefer to exercise their most powerful muscle - namely, their brain - so too do animals. According to a recent study published in Science magazine, highly intelligent dogs have the mental aptitude of three-year old toddlers, and can understand well over 200 words.

But whether or not your dog was born a natural Einstein (really, whose wasn't?), there are definite ways to increase his intelligence, according to Dr. Stanley Coren, Ph.D, author of How Dogs Think. "There are two types of intelligence," he says. "'Fluid', which is native smarts, and 'crystallized,' which is the sum of everything you've learned. When you take an SAT test, there are measures of both, though most are the latter. They test how well you apply all of your knowledge. While you can’t change your dog’s fluid intelligence much, but you can effectively increase his crystallized intelligence by constantly teaching him new things."

In this story, we'll discuss ways - whether it is altering his daily walk route, finding new ways to communicate with him, or introducing new toys - to boost your pooch's brain power. And this doesn't just do your dog's ego good; it also helps his health. Studies show that dogs who are intellectually stimulated ward off the effects of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, also known as "doggie Alzheimer's." Finally, not all breeds thrive when stimulated, so we'll also discuss which techniques work best for which breeds.

Let me know if this is of interest. Looking forward to speaking with you soon!


This story, Brain Training, was one of three Pet columns that I wrote for Prevention in 2005.

So there you have it. Now who's got questions about the magazine query process?


llqool said...
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llqool said...

Wow! This must be a sign from Fortuna that I need to get off my booty and actively write some query letters. I have been writing some freelance articles for local publications...I have to say that I have gotten a little lazy because they give me the stories and that way I don't have to suffer the pangs of rejection. But the work is so unpredictable and I want to do *more*, so last night and this morning I began actively researching the topic. I found your blog and now I need to read all your previous posts! Thanks for all the insights! I'm so glad I found you!

I do have a question on this topic. If I have pitched various ideas to my editor, and she has never taken me up on some of them (even when I followed up with her), is it ethical to then pitch those ideas elsewhere? A friend of mine who is a journalist told me it would be "uncool" for the editor to assign *my* story idea to someone else, but is there some sort of statute of limitations on how long an editor can sit on my ideas?

And a related question, is it copacetic to take a story that you have already written and rewrite it for another publication? Just the kernel of the idea at the center of the story, not taking quotes, etc and re-using them.


Anonymous said...

IMHO, the common theme in both your novel and magazine queries is a friendly writing style. What I mean, Allison, is that you come across as knowledgeable while not trying too hard to impress. Therefore (as my logic follows) the real key to a good query is: Be yourself.

Loved both your articles, particularly the one about dogs. I have Ana -- a sheltie about to turn 5 next weekend -- who tore her ACL and underwent surgery three weeks ago today. She's doing amazingly well thanks to her underwater rehab sessions. Yes, the surgery and recovery process is almost the same as for humans. Hmmm, could that be an article yet to be written?

Enjoy the weekend...

Trish said...

Could you talk about FOB pitches and how you approach those? Samples (if not too much?)

This is the area I'm focusing on currently.

LoveRundle said...

I liked your opening paragraphs for both your query letters. The example with your son was cute.

I'm not at the point yet where I want to send out entries to magazines, but it's nice to know there is someone I could go to with my questions.

Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I have a question that I hope you might help me answer. Can I pitch a story without having the story written, or the subject on board? For example, if I would like to write a profile of someone (well-known or not) do I have to get their approval before pitching the article?

Anonymous said...


the brain train article link doesn't work.

good post, btw.
would you like to write a guest post about freelance writing for a living, while i'm away next month?


Anonymous said...

Hello Allison,
I love your candid approach to teaching others the tricks of the trade. As I read your sample query letters I was wondering if you had already established a rapport with these editors you were submitting these to because they seem so matter-of-fact, and in a conversation-style. Is it better to write this way or should you try a more formal approach the first time you query?
I would love your advice.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I just re-read your introduction to these queries and saw where you did know the editors. My question now is - could you possibly post some of your earliest queries (from when you did not know the editors at all). I would love to see how you worded your thoughts and get an idea of the tone that "sold" the editors on your idea. Thanks so much, Allison.