My first non-newspaper sale was to be to a religious magazine. I wrote a query letter about how I wanted to write about new ways to honor the Sabbath in our busy lives. I planned to write about families who refused to join sports teams that practiced and played on Sundays, modern people looking to the traditions of generations past of doing no cooking or housework on that day, and ways to find a day of rest in the middle of the week for those in professions that required them to work Sundays.

Instead of giving a list of points I wished to cover, I wrote about the Bible study class I taught for years and how we learned new ways to honor the Sabbath during the course's 34 weeks of meetings as a way of selling myself to the editor. I added in something about my own busy life, and that I wrote for a few newspapers. I did not mention that I had pulled the magazine's name out of a book on markets and never heard of it before then.

I received a letter that asked me to write the piece on spec.

What I turned in and what they expected were two different things. I wrote about new ways to feel the Sabbath in your heart, and to incorporate that feeling through the week. I encouraged embracing new ways to include old ways of worshipping. The editor's response was a form letter stating that my piece was inappropriate for their magazine. Only later when I read a copy of the magazine did I realize that it was quite conservative in its approach to religion.

All this could have been averted if I had read the magazine and not just the magazine's guidelines, and if I had included an outline in my query letter.

The query letter is your sales tool. What you include in the letter should only be your best so that editors cannot turn down you or your idea. You know your own writing successes and professional background as it suits your pitch, but how much other information should you include in an outline.

For your outline, think in short, salient points. If you are pitching an article on healthful eating in the summer time, you will want to include:

Resources for your nutrition information

Nutritionists, doctors, chefs you will interview

Names and brief descriptions of recipes that will be included

If you are pitching an article on 25 tips on growing roses, include all 25 tips in their short form:

Best protection in winter,

Trimming tips,

When to fertilize

Experts you'll quote

How you'll break down the quotes: into seasonal tasks, regional

requirements, for beginners

If you are writing a query for creating a playgroup, your outline could take the form of:

Getting started – classified ads, news releases, flyers

First meeting – choose time, places, snacks or no snacks, parents night out

Sample activities – fingerpainting, making snacks, outdoor games, music

Sample snacks – cheese and crackers, fruits and dips, English muffin pizzas

What not to do – Avoid foods that can choke, sugary snacks, leaving children alone, meeting in homes that are not childproofed.

In all cases, the outline will be a part of the query. You will still introduce your topic, why this particular magazine's readers will swoon over your article, and why you are the person to write it. The outline adds depth to your query and allows you to avoid any misunderstandings that will get your article dropped. And adding an outline to the body of your pitch letter when the guidelines do not specifically request one will show the editor that you are going to be one of those blessed writers that makes life easier for editors.

Sign up now for the free ezine, Food Writing, at . Publisher Pamela White is the author of Make Money as a Food Writer available at, and she continues to teach the first online Food Writing class and a course on Query Letter Secrets.
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