The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Article writing - the query

A common mistake for the beginning article writer is to write a piece then try to sell it. That’s actually backwards. Different magazines have different requirements. Each magazine has its own unique voice and you have to craft your article for that publication.

Let’s say you have come up with an interesting idea. Rather than writing the article, the first step is to find publications that might want it. A common source of information is the Writers Market. Writers forums and websites often will have their own lists of publications geared toward their own specialization.

Once you’ve found some publications, look at some back issues. Many magazines will post online versions on their websites. If you can’t find an issue online, head down to your local newsstand and pick up a copy. Get a feel for how their articles are crafted. One magazine might have a formal style to their pieces, while another one prefers more folksy writing.

It should go without saying that you should also review their submission guidelines. Some magazines don’t accept freelance work or have restrictions such as requiring a certain expertise. You also can see how much they pay. Early in your career, you aren’t going to get published in the large national magazines so you may not want to waste time querying them. On the other hand, smaller magazines often can’t afford to pay much and sometimes don’t pay at all. This is not necessarily a bad thing as at least you get some exposure, but don’t spend too much time on these markets.

Now is the time to craft your query. Most magazines accept email queries, but be sure you send it to the correct email address. If you send an article query to the subscription office, it might get forwarded, but it might not. Take the few seconds to get the correct address.

Query letters are a whole subject in themselves and I will probably devote a post or two to them later. However I can give some quick advice here. The query should give a solid idea of the article you want to write. Don’t make vague statements (“Widgets are very popular”). Be concrete (“In 1995 approximately 3,000 widgets were sold in this country; last year that number ballooned to 412,000”). Tell them why YOU are the best person to write the article (“I worked for three years in widget retail”) and why THEY are the best magazine to publish it. For the latter, I like to use examples from their back issues just to show them I’m paying attention (“In September 2004 you published an article on widgets, however events since then such as the Great Widget Crisis in Boston last year have changed public perception of widgets.”) Give an idea of how long the article will be.

Send the query off and move on with your life. Start thinking of your next idea and your next batch of queries. Don’t wait on any one project.

Next post, I will talk about writing the article and the sting of rejection.


  • At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Lori Curtis said…

    Hi Andy!

    How are you? I'm actually just starting a blog about getting into freelance writing, and, being a person who's actually just starting from the very beginning, I'm finding your blog very useful!!!

    I thought I could link some of your articles to my blog, if you don't mind!!

    I'm excited to go through all of it, I'm starting at the beginning of your posts....

  • At 10:18 AM, Blogger Andy said…


    Feel free to link to my posts. I certainly hope I can keep people from making some of the mistakes common to new writers.


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