A query letter is effectively a job inquiry. Just for a moment, imagine you’re applying for a receptionist position in a large hotel. Reception work is your preferred choice, but you’ve been out of work for months — and you desperately need a job. Any job. Your inquiry letter goes on to say that if the reception position is filled, you’re more than happy to work as a swimming pool attendant… a waiter… a bar-tender… a cleaner.
You wouldn’t do it, would you?
Pitching a whole bunch of article suggestions to an editor is definitely another one of those Bad Ideas. For starters, a well-thought-out query letter shouldn’t really be any longer than a page.
Taking a scatter-shot approach doesn’t work. Editors don’t have the time (or the inclination) to wade through page after page of suggestions. And if you try cramming a variety of article ideas on to a single page, you won’t have enough space to expand those ideas into fully fleshed-out proposals.
Whether you’ve been traveling at home or overseas, you will almost certainly come back from a trip with a number of article ideas. Why do you have to send them all to one magazine editor? The more you circulate your ideas and proposals, the more chance you have of getting a commission to write the story.
If an editor doesn’t bite at your first proposal, shoot off a second one. If you’ve already got them written out, it’s generally just a case of changing the ‘Dear So-and-So.’
Before getting on to what constitutes a well-thought-out proposal, I want to show you how NOT to do it.
I’ve just returned from a trip to the Gulf of Thailand: the island of Koh Samui and the mainland resort of Pattaya. I’m hoping you will be interested in one or all – of the following ideas for travel articles:
- The 5 best spas on Koh Samui
- Koh Samui’s top 3 beaches and top 3 boat excursions
- A night at Chaweng’s boxing stadium
- Pattaya’s Naughty Nightlife
- 6 places to eat in Pattaya for under $6
I know I’ve got great stories, but what picture does an editor have of any of these activities or places? Absolutely zilch. Quite rightly, my bare-bones ideas are heading straight for the bin.
So let’s take one idea and knock it into some kind of shape. (Sorry, all you love-hungry guys… Lori flatly refuses to let me expand on the Naughty Nightlife proposal.)
Don’t eat the face mask: Koh Samui’s top five spas
Lying on a massage table in an open-air wooden pavilion, your back is getting stroked and pummeled with bergamot oil. The table has a cut-out hole for your head… designed to let you gaze down into a chalice of floating lotus flowers.
In the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Samui island is designed for hedonism. Coconut palms, white beaches, translucent seas of palest blue and if you had one treatment a day, enough top-class spas to occupy you for a month.
A 90-minute oil massage, a 70-minute facial and 30 minutes in an herbal steam room costs serious money in the States. In the Chedi Spa, this package costs 3,300 baht ($85.60). Set in lush gardens, Chedi is designed like a Thai village, complete with cascading waterfalls, lotus ponds, and a miniature rice paddy.
As well as various massage treatments, there’s an enticing selection of body scrubs and wraps: carrot and papaya, honey and sesame seed, oatmeal and yogurt. Facials are just as mouth-watering natural Thai honey, for example.
The island’s array of spas offer contrasting treatments. I would like to propose an article focusing on five spas where readers can sample these contrasts – and enjoy five-star bliss – for under $100. To illustrate, I can supply a selection of high-quality digital or 35mm slide photographs.
The spa proposal amounts to 226 words. That’s around the kind of length you should aim for. If I gave a similar treatment to my other story ideas, any ‘multiple query letter’ would run into at least 5 pages. And that’s a manuscript, not a letter.
You may be wondering why I haven’t gone into more detail about all five spas. Well, my intention is to whet the editor’s appetiteĶ spark his or her curiosity. In my experience, painting one cameo is good enough. I don’t think it’s necessary to give chapter and verse about every spa I plan to include.
A final thought. It could be that the editor doesn’t have enough space for a 1500 2000 word story on best spas, best restaurants, best hotels or whatever. But if a proposal is interesting and also showcases your writing ability, it’s very likely that you may be asked to write a shorter postcard-style/front-of-book piece.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]