Getting Published Using a Cereal Box and a Tube of Toothpaste to Improve Your Query Letters: Part 2
In 16 words, here’s how to persuade anybody to do almost anything: First, hook their attention. Second, show them a benefit. Next, prove your credibility. Last, urge a response.
What’s that got to do with travel writing?
Well, first… think about this… every travel article you write IS about persuasion. You want a traveler to think so highly of your advice, he or she is willing to act on it.
But second, because that simple persuasion formula can also help you write powerful query letters to travel-publication editors.
First, hook the editor’s attention. Second, show him (or her) how the article you want to write will benefit his readers. Next, prove you can do the job and that the story’s a good one. Last, encourage the editor to act on your offer.
Not so tough, right?
And there’s a reason this works. See, that same basic formula is one that’s highly developed and tested in the world of sales-letter writing, where persuasion is key.
It’s also the formula the top copywriting school in America — the American Writers & Artists Institute (AWAI) — teaches every single writing student to master.
They call it the “secret architecture” of persuasion. And today I’m going to encourage you to use it to help establish yourself as an effective travel writer.
Let’s take look at this in detail:
Four Steps to Perfect Persuasion
To make this secret architecture of persuasion even easier to remember, you can break it down into four parts.
For obvious reasons, the writers who know this technique call it the “four P’s.” Let’s see how you can use it with a real writing example.
This time, let’s imagine you’re writing a travel article for young parents. Your aim, for this piece, is to prep new parents for traveling with baby… by sharing the kinds of secrets that only come with experience:
PART 1: PICTURE — How to Write a Word-Image That Resonates With Your Reader
“It’s 5 am. George and Maria are in a Chicago hotel room. For the third night in a row, they haven’t gotten much sleep. Neither has their restless newborn.
What they don’t know is that it actually IS possible to calm a baby to sleep in strange hotels. And on trains and in car seats. In planes… and more. I’d like to write an article for your magazine that shows them how…”
Notice, now we’ve incorporated an actual mental image into our hook opener.
Even though it’s a “picture,” we didn’t load this example up with details. We didn’t have to. Because it’s already enough — with the names, the city, the time in the morning, the restless newborn — to ring true to new parents.
If we imagine it’s written for a family-travel or parenting magazine, it’s not hard to see that the editor would find something here worth sharing with his or her readers.
Even better, the image also sets the stage for a fat, juicy “Promise.”
PART 2: PROMISE — How To Make Your Article Idea Feel More Valuable To Editors
Our sample letter could continue:
“There are six sleep-inducing techniques your readers can use. None of them involve letting your baby ‘cry it out’ or irritating fellow passengers or hotel guests. And it doesn’t matter how young your baby is. These techniques work.
“The article I’d like to write for you will go into detail about these techniques. I’ll also share several other little-known secrets for changing and breast-feeding in public places, where to find baby food in semi-remote places, and more.”
Here’s a tip: Articles are much easier to sell to editors if they promise to do something valuable for the publication’s subscribers.
Put in another way, focus on the benefits, benefits, benefits. AWAI teaches sales copywriting students that “benefit is king.” In travel writing, exactly the same is true.
Readers are more interested in reading something that’s clear on what the piece offers for the effort and time required.
So when you’re writing your query letter, you’ll need to focus clearly on that benefit too. Be very specific. Study the magazine. Read its table of contents. As much as possible, look to build on the kinds of benefits the publication already offers readers.
Not the same benefits, but bigger benefits. The closer you can match the needs of the subscribers, the more likely your query letter is to succeed.
Since the query letter is short, you won’t have a lot of room. So focus most on one big key benefit offered by your article. When you’ve got that nailed down, you’re ready to focus on “Proof.”
PART 3: PROOF — How to Get an Editor To Have Faith In Your Ideas
Great ideas have an emotional appeal. But once you’ve got that, then you need proof to help validate those ideas.
By proof, I mean two things.
First, you need to prove the article idea itself is a good one, with lots of depth and lots of value. Second, you want to prove to the editor that you’re the write right person to write the article you propose.
It’s all about building credibility.
All you need to do is show a little of your hand. Show that you’ve been to the places you’re writing about. And that you’ve tried or have interviewed people who have tried the thing you’re recommending. Show a little of the work you’ve already done to come up with the article idea in the first place.
For instance, share local stories about the place you’re writing about. Show stats that you’ll use to draw your conclusions. Mention your local contacts. If you’ve already interviewed anyone, name them. If you’re about to interview someone, name them too.
Here’s something else about credibility and writers. You need good credentials not just to keep your target reader reading. But also, you’ll need credibility to convince editors you’re worthy of the writing assignment too. Prove to the editor, in other words, that you’ve got something really worth writing about. And you’ve done all of your homework.
If you’re a published travel writer with a lot of clips, it can be a breeze. If not, however, there are other ways to increase editorial confidence and up your own credibility.
For instance, if you’ve been to the place you’re writing about… or if you have personal or professional experience related to your story… share it.
DON’T tell your life story. Just include the details that relate directly to the story you intend to write. And please, please, please… show that you’ve studied the publication and its readership (if you haven’t studied the publication, by the way, don’t bother to write the query).
Look for past articles they’ve run on similar themes. Show how your article further develops that theme. Study the style. And the editorial strategy.
Do the editors usually buy short pieces? Vignettes? Long essays? Aim for filling the editor’s needs.
You can cheat on this just by checking “Writer’s Market” or similar sources, where editors tell writers exactly what they’d like to receive.
Last but not least, you’ll close your query letter with a well-crafted “Push.”
PART 4: THE PUSH — How to Coax Prospective Editors to “Seal The Deal” And Buy Your Piece
Great Escape Publishing teaches amateur writers that every good letter that sets out to persuade has to close with a powerful push that “closes” the deal.
Every query letter needs a push close too. This is the part where you let the editor know how he can accept your offer to write an article.
The call to action can be as simple as a polite, one-line request…”Thank you for your time. If you’re interested, I’ve enclosed a self-addressed postcard for your convenience. I look forward to hearing from you.”
That’s it. You’re done formulating an extra persuasive query letter pitch. By the way, in your query’s close, DON’T talk about fees. Much as you might want to, that conversation doesn’t come up until AFTER the editor has agreed to publish your travel article.
But wait. There’s more.
Here’s one more last ‘extra’ editor persuasion technique…
An Extra “Push” Most Writers Overlook
The power of hidden persuasion is in the sum of the parts, not each part taken by itself. And you need all the pieces to make it work.
That said, there is one little stand-alone device many query-letter writers overlook. And it’s a pity. Because this little device can be the second-most read piece of your entire letter.
What is it?
It’s the post-script. The P.S.
What can you put in a query letter P.S. that will boost your success rate? Plenty.
Re-emphasize some greater aspect of the service your article will do for the travelers who read it. Mention a twist about the subject you’re covering… maybe some news event that makes your trip coverage more relevant… or an extra statistic that shows you know something about the travel opportunity other writers might have missed… you can even mention another of your own writing qualifications relevant to the piece you’re pitching…
You can be creative here.
One good rule of thumb however: keep it short. And remember the goal is to push the fence-sitting editor to go back and reconsider your proposition.
[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.]