Hot Topic: Writing Freelance Query Letters

August 24, 2007

What’s the secret to writing for magazines, journals, and newspapers? A well written query letter! A query is a one page proposal of your article idea, sent to the appropriate editor of the publication you are targeting. Most queries are sent through email (unless otherwise specified by the publication) and are written according to a specific formula. It is important to do your research before hitting “send”. Read a few back copies of your target publication to get a feel for the style and subject matter (and word counts!). Make sure your idea would be of interest to the readership (tip: pay attention to the advertisements to get clues as to who’s buying the publication). Pay extra attention to your spelling/grammar/punctuation. The editor will be judging the quality of your writing based on the query (you can also send a file attachment with relevant samples of your writing). The exact layout of the formula is flexible, but make sure you keep all points in mind as you write your query. Remember, you’re not just selling your idea, you’re selling yourself as the right person to write it!  

Query formula: 

 First grab the editor with a snappy first sentence, then answer the following questions: 

1- Uniqueness: What is different, enticing, and new about your idea? 

2- Timeliness: What makes your idea current, trendy, newsworthy? 

 3- Slant: What is your interesting angle on the story? 

4- Suitability for publication: what is the appeal to the readership? Why this mag/paper? What is the format (profile, how-to, personal essay) and word count you are proposing? 

5- Qualifications: What qualifies you to write the piece (special connections, personal experiences)? This is where you list where you’ve been published before. If you’ve never been published, focus on how your experience makes you the one person who can write this piece and include sample writings as an attachment for the editor to review.  

Your query letter should be able to answer all the following questions:

Why is the subject special?

 Why should it be reported now?

How do I view it?

Why should this mag/paper cover it?

Why should I be assigned the article? 

I would definitely recommend reading up on freelance writing, just to get more of a feel for the business and what editors are looking for. 

Good luck!!

Sample

Dear Mr. John Doe,

What can be done to alleviate these symptoms?
Golf-O-Max is certainly one option, or you can go to Golf Town or Chuck Brown and get your swing analyzed. You can even buy your own launch monitor to hook up to your computer, and there’s always Tiger Woods 2007 for your video game system.

Still listless and withdrawn?

I put my industrial design background to work when lack of golf began threatening my marriage. My husband missed the risk, the danger factor, of real time golf. For those who cringe at the thought of a mulligan button, let me introduce you to do-it-yourself training aids. There’s the home made weighted club, engineered with pennies and plastic tubing, or the “Inside Approach” made entirely out of wrapping paper tubes. And, if you’re willing to put it all on the line for the game you love, there’s the fully functional apartment kitchen driving range. Who cares if the side effects can (and do!) include broken windows, a doorframe resembling the aftermath of a rabid beaver attack, and floor and ceiling divots no amount of seed mix can fix!

I propose a approx. 800word article that outlines ways Ottawa golfers can get their fix in March. I will include locations, pricing, and services for the “soft” solutions proposed in paragraph two, as well as instructions for brave do-it-yourselfers. The article will be humorous, but informative, and full of hilarious anecdotes from my near eviction.

I am an Ottawa freelance writer who has no shame taking her golf clubs on the bus, not just to Pineview, but all the way to Myrtle Beach! I have already written for the Citizen’s Style Weekly and am looking to share my golf expertise with your Sports readers.

Very Best Wishes,

Cymbria Wood

We Ottawa golfers are easy to spot during these last few weeks of winter. Whether in elevators, business meetings, or hibernating in the simulators at Golf Town, we all have the same tortured, desperate look. Our eyes are glassy, our bodies limp. Even the collars of our Arnold Palmer polos droop.

Dinnerware Drama

August 17, 2007

I have huge, earth-shattering, news for all you blog readers out there. I know you’re all perched on the edges of your seats in anticipation… I bought a dinnerware set this afternoon! Mind you, we’re not talking Denby here, but all the pieces do match (it’s a rustic blue earthenware style). This all got started when I opened an anniversary card from my mother in law this morning and found a rather stern letter accompanying the check. Not to be bullied, I put it aside and thought long and hard about how to pass off a restaurant and mini-put bill as a lasting domestic investment (where the letter insisted the money should go, and who am I to argue with free money). The receipt could, potentially, still be around next year around this time (knowing my sometimes less than stellar tidying tactics). And plus, wouldn’t the memories last a lifetime? 

I dropped by the bank on my way to work and had to battle with my finger at the ATM to stop from putting the full amount towards the bottomless void of our credit card (don’t worry, we writers are notorious for hyperbole). “No, no, something tangible,” I scolded myself and yanked my finger away. 

Halfway between the bank and my good ol’ retail workplace, something red and velvety caught my eye. Two antique chairs were sitting out in front of a little shop I’d never noticed before. They lured me in. I’m a sucker for anything that red and oooo that velvety. The tiny store was filled to the brim with just about everything a person could never want, old videos, eighties fashions, used exercise equipment (gross). But way in a corner, half buried under bricka-brack, was something that was waiting (for who knows how long) just for me. 

I’d better give a little back story on this…

My mother has a rather dangerous china/dinnerware obsession – she even worked a year at Mackintosh & Watts to feed her addiction! She loves the forms, patterns, and histories in each piece, and would come home with random teacups when we were least expecting it. To break a piece of china brought near the same heartbreak as the time I accidentally squirted ketchup all over one of my fathers paintings (don’t ask). Perhaps as a form of rebellion, I developed an “unbreakable” indifference to whatever was underneath my food. If it did the job, well, what more could a person ask for.

I didn’t realize how deep my own “anti-obsession” had become until one fateful family supper gathering in Rideau Ferry. “Forty-six dollars for a dinner plate!!!” I exclaimed, eyes wide, jaw nearly on the floor. Maybe I got a tad carried away, but anyways, the point was made. Poor tragic Cymbria; what kind of a wife balks at reasonably priced Denby? What if she has company over? Paper plates? (less dishes to do in any case). Well, in case you (and everyone else) haven’t noticed by now, I am not exactly a textbook wife (though I do sew a mean overcast stitch and I challenge anyone to beat my mushroom/beef casserole). I am wild woman grown in the deep woods of Quebec, a risk taker (I married my George didn’t I), and just as stubborn as that feisty Rideau Ferry boy. But all that said, isn’t it the biggest risk to leave one’s habits and prejudices, and give oneself over to a brand new outlook? That’s how we get saved. So why not take the same approach with something a little less magnificent and life changing. Perhaps, say, dinnerware?

One day, when I was very small, my mother brought home a neatly wrapped package and set it on the dinning room table. “Let me show you something,” she said. I watched as she pulled back the tissue paper and took out a beautiful shiny blue milk pitcher. It wasn’t like her usual delicate finds. The pottery was thick earthenware and the joints of the handle were strong. This wasn’t something I had to be afraid of. I could hold it and know that it wasn’t going to break in my hands. I loved that pitcher and its speckled blue glaze. I don’t know what happened to it. It’s probably buried somewhere deep in my mother’s collection, but that same sky colour has always caught my eye. 

In the corner of the dark little shop this afternoon, that same colour stopped me in my tracks. Maybe it wasn’t quite as bright a blue as I remembered, or quite so shiny, but my hands recognized the strength and weight of the pottery instantly. I bought the set on the spot; bowls, salad plates, dinner plates, and 6 matching mugs. It isn’t Denby, and I sure didn’t pay $46 for a plate (not even for the whole set!), but I’m going to love it all the same, probably even more.