by Terrie Main
When I write a query, I'm not worried about them stealing my idea. In 30 years of writing magazine articles, I've only had it happen once, and the idea was general enough that someone else could have come up with it independently. However, I do not give a lot of details. I give a bunch of tidbits or subtopics which will be covered in the article. Just enough to whet their appetite. For me a query is five paragraphs long.
The first paragraph is the lead I hope to use in the article. This gives them an idea of my writing style and ability.
The second paragraph is a proposal statement. It is two sentences long. The first sentence is always something like: "I would like to propose an article for [title of magazine] or about [word length] tentatively titled [title of article]." The second sentence is a one sentence overview of the article. For instance an article about shyness (a topic I've written about a lot) might read. "This article would explore how social anxiety, also called shyness, can impact a business person's effectiveness and give some tips on how to deal with the problem."
The third paragraph, expands on this sentence by laying out the sub-topics for the article. I often just use a bulleted list:
This article will cover the following:
- The Liabilities of shyness in the workplace
- The types of social anxiety
- Some root causes of apprehension in business settings
- Three models of shyness
- Tips for coping with the problem
If I have photos available, I might mention it here.
The fourth paragraph contains any credentials I have either past writing credits, educational or business background information which might be helpful.
The fifth paragraph is the close where I actually ask for the assignment with a line like: "If you would like to see an article on this topic, I could provide the finished manuscript within ____ weeks of your reply." I always give myself at least a week longer than I will actually need. Better to send it in early than late.
I then send this out to as many magazines as I think would find the topic interesting. If I get more than one response, I write a different article using different research and a different slant for each magazine. That way the whole question of "How long do I wait for a reply?" doesn't matter. I just move on to my next project and forget about this one until I get a nibble.
Now, this is for nonfiction, magazine article writing. With fiction, you generally have to send in the entire story and can only do it sequentially. The same would go for fiction-like nonfiction such as personality profiles and personal experience stories.