If you want to successfully sell an article to any publication, including magazines and newspapers, you must master writing query letters. Editors are usually as impressed by quality writing and good ideas as they are by credentials and publication experience. Even the most inexperienced writer can sell an article. Don't let a lack of published clips stop you.
Do your homework: Before querying any publication, there are a few basic things you should do. Make sure to read the publication in order to learn what kinds of writing the editor publishes, and so you'll know what topics have already been recently covered. Editors seek new ideas and fresh angles; you won't want to submit a query on a topic that has just been written about by someone else. You will also want to read the publication's submission guidelines and be sure to follow them, paying attention to word-count and formatting/style requirements. Study the publication for the most current editor contact information, including the editor's name and address. Editor information can change at any time, so it is best to rely on the publication itself for finding the most current information, rather than assuming the information in Writers Market or similar sources is up-to-date. Be sure to find out whether the editor prefers receiving queries by postal mail or by email.
What your query should include: Any good query includes the name of the article proposed and information about the article, as well as the proposed word count and how soon you can deliver a finished product upon acceptance. To best sell your idea, include as much captivating detail as possible in describing your article, and make sure to note why this information would be of benefit to the publication's reader. Your query letter is like a sales pitch; you are trying to sell your article, and you are also selling yourself. Be certain to include information about yourself in your query, including your credentials and/or experience, and any information relevant to establishing that you are the best person to write the piece. Your letter should be professionally written, and it should communicate in as little space as possible. Anything more than a page is too long. If you are writing via postal mail, you should include a self-addressed stamped envelope. If the writers guidelines ask for clips, make sure to include ones most relevant to the publication. If you have never been published, sending writing samples is often appropriate.
What your query should not include: It is not appropriate to make demands or negotiations in a query letter, including stating specific payment requirements or negotiating rights. If your proposed idea is accepted, you can negotiate your terms later. Most publications state their policies about payment and rights up front, usually in their writers/submission guidelines section, and these policies are not generally ones they bend. Still, the query letter is no place for such discussions. Do not include sentimental details or anecdotes about yourself in your query, both because it makes you look unprofessional and because it wastes the editor's time. You should not come off as desperate or impatient. Do not beg an editor to publish you or state that you will take your work elsewhere if you don't hear back in a certain amount of time.
Equally important to writing a query letter is having patience in hearing back from editors. The typical publication takes six weeks to respond; many take longer. Waiting is a part of being a freelance writer. It is generally not appropriate to make inquiring phone calls or to write "reminder" emails to editors. Editors are busy and do not have time for fielding pestering calls or correspondence. If an editor is interested, he/she will contact you. Keeping a log of the queries you have made can be of great benefit, especially if you are submitting similar queries to multiple publications. If you haven't heard back from an editor after six months, it is probably safe to move on. If you are rejected, don't take it personally. Simply try again with another publication.
Amy Derby is a freelance writer and self-publishing author. She is the owner of http://www.write-from-home.com , a free website dedicated to helping new freelance writers learn how to make money writing from home online.