In my weekly yoga class we begin by moving through some positions and stretches. Balancing poses follow. As I am longing for Yoga Nidra, our relaxation time, my instructor returns to the series of stretches and lunges that opened the class.
"Isn't it easier the second time we do this?" she asked. "The body, the muscles remember, making it possible to stretch further."
I couldn't deny it, I was able to stretch further and it felt great. It is easier the second (and third, fourth, twentieth) time.
This applies to writing as well. The first query letter you work on and submit may take you three days to research and two days to write. I remember spending an entire week on some queries pitching articles to national magazines a few years ago. I researched recipes, wrote outlines, lined up experts to interview and finally felt satisfied with my fourth rewrite of the letters. I sent them out and after they were accepted and the final article sent off, I wanted to keep up the momentum. It was hard. Just thinking about the time I had invested in those query letters wore me out. Even if I wrote one letter per week resulting in a 50 percent acceptance rate, I'd never be able to support myself with my writing.
Yet, each time I sat down to work on a query letter it took less time. It was as if the original queries were the warm-up stretching and every time after became easier to work through.
Here are ten steps to stretching your way through that first (or fiftieth) query letter:
1. Make sure your article topic and magazine choice are a perfect fit. Read one year of back issues of the magazine you're querying plus six months of back issues of competitive magazines to see what has already been published and what type of articles your dream publication accepts.
2. Find editorial staff names on the magazine's masthead. Worried that someone has changed jobs? Sign up for Media Bistro's newsletter with publishing updates and new hires. You can also call the magazine's office. Ask for the editorial office and do a quick phone information interview. Ask to whom you should address your query.
3. Write your query in a business letter format. Don't say "Dear Editor." Instead use the individual's name that you've culled from your research.
4. E-queries should also be formally written. One difference: don't put your contact info at the top. Put it at the bottom of your email under your signature and make sure you include your name; phone, fax and cell numbers; address and primary email address.
5. Draw attention to your letter by using your article title, centered, in bold type and underlined as a head (after your "Dear?" greeting.)
6. Hook the editor immediately by using your attention-grabbing introduction that you've planned for your actual article. In fact, start your letter off with your article's first paragraph.
7. With your second paragraph give an informal outline of what you'll include. Follow up with your list of recipes (if they will be included) and a brief description of each one.
8. Write a paragraph bragging on your accomplishments. "My world travels have taken me to Ukraine many times where I've studied with native cooks. For the last 12 years, I have written a weekly culinary trends article for the local newspaper and hosted a one-hour per week radio show of local restaurants. My cookbook, Ukrainian Celebrations will be in the bookstores in November, and my articles have been published in numerous magazines (feel free to list them one by one).
9. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (and include extra postage if you are mailing this close to when postage increases are expected). Conclude with a request for a response to be sent in your enclosed envelope and a heartfelt thank you.
10. Read, reread, proofread and ask someone else to proofread your letter. Add clean copies of one or two recently published articles. Mail away!
Next time, it WILL be easier to reach, reach, reach for your publishing goals.
Pamela White publishes two ezines for writers: Food Writing (http://www.food-writing.com) and The Writing Parent (http://www.thewritingparent.com), and has been published in Writer's Digest, ByLine Magazine, Writers Weekly, and teaches online writing classes from her websites.