Approach an editor the wrong way, and you could undermine your success from the get-go. That’s what one of your fellow readers threatened to do this week. He wrote in to ask if his “letter of introduction” would put him in an editor’s good graces. I wanted to jump through the computer to stop him from shooting himself in the foot.
I sent his letter to Jen Stevens, author of our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program. And she sent it back with the following advice for writing letters of introduction and query letters…
Here’s John’s note… and you’ll find Jen’s advice below. I took out a lot of the content because it was just too long. But here it is in summary…
Please allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is John Doe. I am 73 years of age and have operated various businesses (generally as the President of the company) during my career including a multi million dollar, Chicago based wholesale fine paper company, a 220,000 sq. ft. public warehousing business, a 400 acre vineyard and winery in the Napa, Valley, and a towing and auto service company.
In addition to this, I am a retired… [etc. etc…]
I recently decided to drive from my home in Napa, California to Costa Rica. I have no set itinerary. I have to time restraints. I have placed no limits on my investigative abilities and will follow any trail AND WRITE AN ARTICLE ABOUT IT for you if so desired.
For the last two months I have been rebuilding a 1994 Ford Explorer… [etc., etc…]
I will investigate and write about anything you wish from California to Costa Rica. My first article will be based on a comparison of the wines made in the Napa Valley with those made in the Ensenada Area of Baja California. The oldest winery on the North American Continent is in Baja. Did you know that?
Even if your publication does not feature wine articles you might like to receive a copy of this article when finished, so you can judge my writing abilities. I operated my own winery for 25 years. Just send me a reply with a big YES, and you will receive my first article.
Thanks for reading this. — John
Here’s Jen’s advice. Let’s call it…
Get Paid to Travel: Three Simple Keys for Crafting a Letter an Editor Will Read
First, you should NEVER expect an editor to give you your story idea. That’s your job. That’s what you’re paid for (that and putting your idea on paper in a readable way).
John clearly has some good ideas here, but they’re hidden in a long and meandering letter. He’d do better to keep close to these guidelines…
Get Paid to Travel Key # 1:
Don’t sell yourself. Sell your idea.
In John’s “letter of introduction,” he squanders the best real estate he’s got — the first few lines of his note. Instead of front-loading it with an idea the editor will love (and want to pay for), he begins with “Please allow me to briefly introduce myself.”
Don’t do that.
In all likelihood, the editor really doesn’t care who you are. She isn’t reading letters like this one because she’s trolling for new and interesting friends. She’s looking for articles right for her publication. And that’s what you want to give her.
Unless your background makes you particularly qualified to write a certain piece, don’t waste time talking about it. And even if your background IS important to the article, don’t bring it up until later. Sell your idea first. Then sell yourself. Use your qualifications as the clincher.
Get Paid to Travel Key # 2:
Pitch one idea at a time.
Lots of writers want to give their editor a choice because they think the editor will pick the idea he or she likes best.
Resist that urge.
One idea works better than several (or none). Suggest to an editor, within the first two sentences of your letter, one article idea that makes really, really good sense for her readers. An idea that will slide right into a specific spot in her magazine and look good there.
Get Paid to Travel Key # 3:
Make sure your one idea is as narrow, specific, and targeted to a particular audience as you can make it.
We discover way down at the bottom of John’s note that he does, in fact, have an article idea to offer: “My first article will be based on a comparison of the wines made in the Napa Valley with those made in the Ensenada Area of Baja California. The oldest winery on the North American Continent is in Baja.”
There might be something in that if he finds the right audience. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how to turn that buried idea into a nicely polished one and how to pitch it to an editor with a query letter that’ll surely up his chances of success. Stay tuned.
[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.]