A query isn’t just about developing a good idea and sending it to the right person, a query is designed to show your idea meets the publication’s needs and reader demographic.
Before pitching a publication, a writer has to do one very important thing – read the publication. You wouldn’t believe how many writers skip that part and wonder why their idea was rejected.
Once you’ve read the publication, go back and read it again. Most experts suggest reading six months worth of information. At the very least, look at the last three months. This will help you determine four things you need to know before you craft your query:
- Publication Tone
- Target Audience
- Type of Topics
- Frequency of freelancer use
All four of these points will help writers determine how best to craft their query. Matching the tone and audience is imperative so that the query speaks to the publication’s audience. When reading through take note of the tone. Is the letter from the editor friendly? Cheeky? Authoritative? Are the articles edgy or family friendly? Are the graphics and colors bright or subdued?
When researching the target audience, start with the media kit. The media kit tells advertisers important information about number of subscriptions, audience demographic, type of lifestyle, etc. The media kit is not enough to “get” the audience, reading the publication will help you feel the audience. Ask yourself how does the publication make you feel? This is an area where checking out the advertisers helps.
Advertisers work hard to find just the right publication for their ad dollars. Their ads are targeted and heavily researched. You can tell a lot about a publication and who they think their readers are by checking out the types and styles of advertising.
Next, study the topic. Topics help shape a publication’s tone so be sure to look beyond the cover stories. What are the regular sections? And perhaps more importantly, what topics have they covered recently? One of the biggest waste of query time and power is pitching a recently written about subject.
Finally, check for the number of freelance writers, also known as contributing writers. Actually, to be honest, that should be the first thing to check for before getting started with the other stuff. In magazine markets and writing guidelines, magazines often note that they use freelancers, but the question writers must answer is how many are used within the pages on a regular basis?
One easy way, beyond checking the contributing writers section, is to check the masthead and then thumb through the publication to see if any of those names appear. Also, be on the lookout for articles – especially regular features – that do not have a byline, often these are written in-house.
If the majority of the work is completed in-house, a writer knows they face tough competition to get their foot in the door. Plus, looking over a few month’s worth of work can also help you learn if they have a small or larger pool of regularly featured writers.
While it sounds like a lot of research for a one page pitch, it’s important to remember that each pitch has the potential to lead to more work and contacts within the industry. So before you pitch, read!
What do you do to learn more about a publication? Share your query tips!