Are you bursting with story ideas but aren’t sure how to grab the attention of magazine editors? The pitching process is actually pretty standard across the industry—and it typically starts with a query letter.
We break down the elements of a query letter and offer resources to help you craft a winning pitch. Let’s begin!
Develop the Story Pitch
A solid story pitch begins with a strong, well thought out idea. Before you even begin writing the query letter, map out the trajectory of the article from start to finish. You should have:
- A well-defined angle that informs, engages and educates the reader, as well as aligns with the brand
- Supporting research that includes trends, facts and statistics to back up why readers should care about the topic
- Expert sources that includes contact information and rationale behind why they’d be the best fit
Related: How to Avoid a Creative Rut
Do Your Homework
You may produce the most compelling article idea an editor has ever received, but it won’t matter unless your query letter falls into the right hands. Before you pitch, take care to ensure that:
- The publication is a good fit for your pitch: Go online or to the library and review at least six months of back issues to determine whether the topic is right for the magazine you’re pitching. Original ideas are great, but pitches need to follow the same strategy that the publication follows and also speaks to their specific audience. Reading through previous issues will also offer insight into the right tone of voice.
- Your article hasn’t been written in the last six months: You might have a smart idea that an editor would jump on. But if the topic has been covered within the last three issues and you can’t find an alternative angle, move on to another idea or magazine.
- You’ve got the right editor: Big consumer magazines have a team of editors. The masthead will usually tell you who is responsible for which department. A publication’s website will often have a list and contact information. If you’re not sure, it’s worthwhile to call or email someone in editorial who can point you in the right direction.
- You’ve spelled his or her name correctly: Nothing turns off editors more than the misspelling of their name. It is critical that you get this one right!
Follow Writers’ Guidelines
Most publications share writer guidelines on their websites for potential contributors. They may tell you:
- The format they prefer to receive query letters
- To whom you should direct your query letter
- Guidelines for various sections of the magazine
- Information about the reader and preferred tone-of-voice
Tell a Story
A good query letter does more than just pitch an idea to an editor—it showcases your writing skills and style. A great way to capture their attention and sell your idea is to kick off the story pitch with the lede (opening) of your article. Most powerful feature articles start with a human interest angle and tell a singular story before zooming out and bringing in the context that makes the story relatable to a wider audience. Don’t worry about opening the letter with niceties and a direct pitch “I’m writing to offer you an article idea…”) Get right into the story and make your pitch after the lede.
Make the Pitch
Once you’ve offered a taste of how the article will read, your next paragraph should be along the lines of, “Would you be interested in a feature article on how trend X is sweeping young adults—and what parents should know to keep their kids safe”? From there you’ll go into some specifics (including statistics, if appropriate) and why you’re the right choice to write the piece. Many writers use bullet points to quickly itemize what they will cover in the article, but a couple of sentences work well too.
Explain Why You’re Pitching the Magazine
Like anyone else, editors like to feel special. And they want to know that you’re targeting the pitch specifically to their readership. Sometimes it’s a nice touch to add a line or two that tells them why you think their particular target audience would want to read the article. If the magazine runs themed or seasonal issues, you might propose reasoning for why your piece would be a good fit in a special edition.
Include a Brief Bio
Finish off the letter with a few sentences about why you’re qualified to write the article. If you don’t have a lot of experience writing for magazines, emphasize your knowledge about the topic and include other writing credits or education. If you’re a veteran writer, you can list similar magazine titles to demonstrate your experience. It’s also a nice touch to include a link directly to some clips on your website or elsewhere so they can quickly get a feel for your writing.
Let the Editor Know if You’re Doing Multiple Submissions
It’s perfectly legitimate to submit a story pitch to more than one publication. But not all editors like that—they want the pitch to be exclusive to their publication and also don’t want to have to worry about the article appearing somewhere else before they publish it. If you’re determined to sell an idea to a particular magazine, it might be wise to give them a few weeks to respond and then move on. If you just want to get the article published somewhere, go ahead and send a (personalized) query to multiple editors—just be sure to let them know you’re shopping the idea around, too.
The journey isn’t over when you’ve submitted the query letter. Editors are extremely busy and may be deluged with query letters. It’s critical that you follow up within three to four weeks with a short, polite email or phone call. Simply reference the query letter, the date you sent it and follow up on their thoughts. It’s helpful to have a tracking system for query letters, like a spreadsheet or calendar to keep you organized, so you know when to follow up.
Sample Query Letters
There are plenty of sample query letters online to help you format yours. While the main elements remain the same, you’ll note slight differences depending on writing style, topic and targeted publication. See which ones work best for you:
It’s encouraging to note that, with time and practice, writing a story pitch will become less challenging and time-consuming. And once you’ve delivered on a few stories with specific editors, there’s a good chance they’ll start to assign you stories. The trick is to keep at it, master the art of the query letter, and pitch ideas that interest you and that’ll draw in readers.
About the Author: Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.