Query Letter Tips

One of the things I have noticed is that crafting a successful pitch often presents a daunting barrier to new writers. Anxious thoughts haunt them – How can I write this so my idea won’t sound stupid? Editors get thousands of these – how can I make mine stand out? How do I sell a piece? Here is my advice:

  • Target a specific editor at a specific publication. Many publications have writers’ guidelines on their website; some want detailed proposals and others like pitches to be no more than a paragraph or two. Find out who to address it to. Sending a pitch to the wrong person wastes everybody’s time.
  • Spell the person’s name correctly (first and last name). This seems like a no-brainer, but when I was editing an online publication a few years ago, I received a pitch in which my first name was misspelled. I’m not too sensitive about that, but when I see evidence that a writer hasn’t bothered to proofread their pitch, I’m less likely to trust them with an assignment.
  • Craft the pitch. The pitch is like an audition, so it should be written in the style of a feature. It is critical to have a clear focus and to write a clear and engaging opening graf; many pitches begin the same way the article would. Use a micro to illustrate a macro, and include your POV if applicable. The pitch should answer questions, not raise them.
  • Explain why that specific publication would want your idea and what its readers would learn/gain from your story.
  • Explain how you’ll produce the story (I’ll interview…; I’ll attend…) but don’t state the obvious (such as, I will interview the person I’m profiling).
  • Why you?
  • Why now?
  • Make sure your pitch doesn’t sound like PR (I know this person really well and want people to see how great she is…)
  • Don’t promise an article that will be funny, fascinating, detailed, etc. in a pitch that has none of those elements.

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