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You have a brilliant article idea and you know just the market for it. But hold off on sending your query letter just yet.


Sending a query letter is a good way for a writer to gauge an editor’s interest in an article idea before spending hours on research, interviews and writing. It may be tempting to whittle the amount of initial research down to the bare minimum, but your query could be rejected for being flimsy and lightweight.


So just how much legwork should a writer do before sending out a pitch? JACO VAN HEMERT tells us three vital things to do before hitting ‘send’.

1. Do Research and Interviews

It’s important that you research your idea so your pitch shows the editor that you’ve put in some effort and that you know what you’re aiming for.

But how much research should you do? Should you be doing interviews with experts before pitching?

Rosanne Buchanan, editor at Health Intelligence Magazine, says that “as long as the topic has been explored, there’s no need to conduct an interview before the pitch.” But it is important that you pick at least some of your sources beforehand. Buchanan suggests that you identify perhaps three key local experts who you could approach and interview to corroborate and expand on [the theme of your idea]. This will show the editor that you know who to talk to, and that your story has some validity.

Adam Martin, a senior editor at Health magazine, in an interview on The Renegade Writer said that he was happy to see evidence of interviews in a pitch.

“If you say, ‘I want to do this great idea on body noises and I’ll go to experts at Stanford and Yale,’ well, what do those experts at Stanford and Yale say? Maybe they’ll say, ‘There’s nothing we can do about body noises.’ I need to have full confidence that the idea will pan out; if I don’t, I’m risking my career on it.”

While you might have a great idea, there has to be some corroboration for that angle. If you don’t want to potentially waste an expert’s time, but you’re not sure about the facts, follow Martin’s advice: Do a short initial interview, and return to the expert after you’ve received the go-ahead from the editor.

2. Outline Your Article Idea First 

The editor needs to have an idea of how you’re going to approach the article. So before you pitch, you need to know:

  • Your angle.
  • The structure of your article.
  • Some of the points on which you’ll be focusing.

Linda Formichelli, freelance writer and owner of The Renegade Writer suggests showing the editor what you plan to do, rather than telling them.

She says on her blog: “That means if you’re writing a pitch for an article that will offer health tips, you give the editor three of those tips, with subheadings and quotes — just as they would appear in the magazine.”

At the same time, being detailed doesn’t mean being wordy.

Freelance writer Hayley Leibowitz says it’s vital to keep the overview to the point. A query letter that is too long defies the purpose of a pitch.

3. Study your Writing Market

One of the most important points is to make sure you know the market you’re pitching to. If you’re not a regular reader of that magazine, the common advice is to read through a few copies before pitching.

“Target your article appropriately to the magazine (and readership) you are going to approach,” Leibowitz says. “Keep the style, tone, length and angle in line with what they usually print.”


About the Author

Jaco Van Hemert, writer

Jaco van Hemert is a freelance writer living in the Western Cape. He writes about issues affecting the heart and mind, and can often be found typing away at a novel in the early morning. When he’s not writing, he enjoys trying to make pizza dough, fixing his motorbike or reading.

Image Credits: Flickr.com_EspressoDom Flickr.com_Hector Alejandro