Some writers spend too much time talking about themselves up front and not enough time highlighting an article idea. With that approach, you might as well ask an editor to toss your letter in the trash.
But flip that structure — highlight an idea in the first few sentences of your query letter and target it for the right audience — and you’ll immediately set yourself up for success.
Let me show you what I mean.
Get Paid to Travel: Narrow Your Idea
First, find a narrow idea and aim it for a particular reader.
At the bottom of John’s letter — which offers an editor his services as a roaming correspondent he says, “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?”
My problem with that is that while John did, eventually, pitch an article idea in his letter, the idea he pitched isn’t specific enough.
It’s not “user-friendly” enough either. A reader of travel articles wants to find out where to go, what to do, how best to discover and enjoy a place. That’s the sort of advice an editor wants to give his readers. So that’s what you have to give the editor.
John would have more luck if he framed his idea in one of these ways, for instance:
** 1) “Old World Wines: Sampling New World Pleasures in Mexico’s Baja” — In this piece he could suggest 3-5 wineries to visit and talk about the wines at each, suggesting the best ones to sample and using the more-familiar Napa wines as a point of reference.
** 2) “The Fruit of Spanish Jesuits: Enjoying the Wines at North America’s Oldest Vineyard” — In this piece he could focus exclusively on the oldest winery, talk about its history, interview the current owners, recommend the best wines, tell readers how best to enjoy the place, and maybe include a sidebar that recommends where to stay and eat nearby.
** 3) “By Car from California to Costa Rica: Five Tips for a Trouble-Free Journey” – John had also mentioned that he was driving from California to Costa Rica so in this piece he could simply offer up five lessons he learns as he travels, five things he wished he’d known ahead of time, or five eventualities he was happy to have been prepared for. This piece would ease the way for anybody who might want to follow in his “car tracks” as it were.
Those ideas are more concrete, more accessible, and therefore easier to sell.
Get Paid to Travel: Find the Right Publication
Now, the next step is to deliver them to an editor that’s looking for that sort of coverage.
John’s best bet is to look at the publications he himself reads. Would he find an article like any of those in any of the magazines he subscribes to? If so, that might be a good place to start.
Beyond that, he should search in Writer’s Market for “travel” and “wine” and see what publications pop up. I’m willing to bet he’ll find a few leads there, too.
He should read the writer’s guidelines for each publication he’s thinking about writing to as well as a couple of back issues — just to make sure those publications do, indeed, publish the kind of thing he’s proposing.
Get Paid to Travel: Craft a Letter That Makes the Idea Shine
Once he’s identified a few publications to target, he’ll need to craft a letter that starts out by pitching his idea.
Let’s take just one, for the sake of example, and pitch it to International Living. The readership there is looking for outside-the-U.S. travel ideas and the editors regularly cover Mexico. His letter might go something like this…
Dear Ms. Sheridan,
Tequila may be the drink most people think of when they imagine cocktails in Mexico, but it’s not the only refresher with an age-old foothold there.
In the Northern Baja you’ll find North America’s oldest winery and a long tradition of excellent (even award-winning) wines.
In my article “Old World Wines: Sampling New World Pleasures in Mexico’s Baja” I suggest three wineries to visit and talk about the wines at each, including the best ones to sample.
I include a suggested route to follow with a sidebar to accompany each winery stop, which includes a recommendation for where to stay and where to eat nearby.
I operated my own winery in Napa Valley for 25 years (a 400-acre expanse) and so bring my expert knowledge to this article, which will certainly entice any travel- and wine-enthusiasts among your readers.
I’d be happy to send this piece along for your review.
Now, there are plenty of other ways to approach a query letter. In fact, I outline five ways here: http://tinyurl.com/39zbfe.
But whatever approach you take, remember: You lead with your article idea. And that article idea must be narrow and aimed at a particular reader.
[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.]