Last week, I happened to be scrolling through my collection of “query letter responses” from the last few months. I don’t do that too often. Actually, I prefer not to do that too often. Staring at those rejection letters isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. Not yours either, I’d bet. So, let’s not discuss it, ok?
Instead, let’s put our heads together and come up with ways to minimize the chances of receiving them.
The Truth: There is no magic potion that will make an editor publish your work if s/he doesn’t already want to. Sorry.
You do have power, though. You are the idea-maker. Despite appearances to the contrary, you can break into the magazine industry as long as you follow through with these three keys to success.
- Choose a magazine you’d like to write for; read said magazine cover to cover; get to know the style, focus and sections.
- Come up with a story idea that fits into the magazine’s focus, and package it as completely as possible.
- Write a great query letter (and send it to the right person!).
Also, be polite and professional – yes, even when you get a rejection letter in return for all your effort.
You know how authors will suggest that writers need to read, read, read if they want to succeed? Well, it’s the same deal here. Sit down and read the magazine you’d like to write for. Some magazines feature articles written in different styles, some don’t. If you can adapt your style of writing, you’re golden. If not, no worries, just find a magazine that matches how you like to write. There are literally hundreds of options – in print and online. Once you’ve read your chosen magazine, write out a first draft of the article you’d like to propose. Does the style match? Great. Next, you absolutely must read the submission guidelines. Most magazines nowadays have that bit of info living on their website. Search it up. Memorize it. Oh alright, the last bit’s overkill.
Then, comes the fun part – the query. These are short (maybe a page at the absolute most, but often shorter) letters where you pour out your amazing idea to the editor. First things first. Please make sure you have checked and double-checked the correct spelling of the editor’s name. Also, make sure you have the right editor. Large publications will have a whole slew of editors on staff all responsible for different aspects of the magazine. If you send it to the wrong person, and that person is not too busy, your query will often be forwarded to the right person or returned to you with a note asking you to re-direct it to the right person.
All that reading you did earlier is going to come in really handy now. Your going to write the query in the magazine’s style. Write about your topic and why you think it would be a necessary addition to the next issue. Note: Magazines typically have a lead time of three months, sometimes even longer. So, if you’re reading the June issue, and your article is on July getaways, forget it. You should have submitted that one back around April. The submission guidelines should indicate the deadlines. If not, contact the editor.
End your query by thanking the editor for his or her time. Attach your résumé and samples of previously published work (according to the submission guidelines). Do not send this query. Go take a walk. Come back, proofread, then send. Writing a query, although short, can actually take days, if not weeks. Don’t hurry the process.
cold calling is never fun
With Linkedin, Twitter and all the other social media channels available, you should be able to at least make an effort to connect with the editors you’ll eventually want to approach. Begin early; build those relationships. So, when you eventually want to suggest an article idea to them, they will be able to place you, and might be more likely to consider the idea you’re sending their way.
For detailed examples and what to do if you’ve never published before, I’ve compiled a list of some websites (and one book) that I find to be really helpful.
The Renegade Writer – Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell give funny and expert advice on all aspects of the freelance writing market.
WordCount – Michelle Rafter is a business journalist who’s website is loaded with tips covering the writing process from planning to completion.
The Write Life – Writing tips and more.
Canadian Magazines – Stay up-to-date on the industry.
The Canadian Writer’s Market for Freelance Writers This book is published every year by McClelland and Stewart. It contains lists of magazines, addresses, tips and how-tos.
One last tip: If you do receive a rejection letter, don’t take it personally. Instead, bake these Bocconotti. The process is involved; but they will definitely lift your spirits.