I needed a pair of boots I could wear to walk the kids to school — our winter is pretty snowy here in Colorado at 6,000 feet. So I went shopping…
Before I go on, I should tell you two things: a) I don’t like to shop and b) I’m picky.
First I looked online, but I couldn’t tell from the pictures if what I saw there was really what I wanted. I idly browsed, hoping something would strike my fancy. But I never bought.
Then I went downtown and ducked into a little boutique. Their selection isn’t big. (The whole shop is about 14 x 30 feet.) But they always carry the kind of things I like. Sure enough, I found just what I was after. Within 20 minutes, I was back on the street, boots in bag. Smile on face.
I tell you this because an editor looking to buy a story is a lot like me trying to buy boots. She doesn’t want to look too hard. And she’s got a pretty clear idea about what she’s after.
One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is that they don’t show an editor that what they have for sale is, in fact, exactly what she’s looking to buy.
They tend to say, in effect, “I have this story… maybe you’d like it.” And the editor reacts — as I did looking for boots online — with glazed-over eyes. She doesn’t want to have to figure it out. So she moves on.
Better to use the approach the small boutique employs. Show the editor that your story is “her kind of story.” Make it easy for her to see that what you have is what she’s looking for.
How? Two easy steps…
STEP 1 — Make sure that your article actually IS what the editor wants.
Read a few back issues of the publication. Do they publish the same sort of article as the one you’ve written?
Search the publication’s website to check if they’ve run a story on the same topic recently. (If they ran one three months ago, she’s not likely to buy yours.)
Look for a specific “department” in the publication where your article would make the most sense.
Read the writer’s guidelines carefully… you’ll find lots of insights there about what an editor is looking for.
Once you’re confident that the article you’re offering is exactly the sort of thing this publication likes to print, then…
STEP 2 — Show the editor that what you have fits her needs exactly.
Your query should illustrate your abilities as a writer. So give the editor a taste of what your story is like. Consider opening your query with a few sentences from the lead of your article.
Include a sentence or two after that about how your article will meet the editor’s needs. In other words, answer this question: In your article, what’s the benefit to the reader?
For example, if you know the publication runs how-to pieces on a travel theme and you have an article about “repositioning cruises,” then don’t just say in your query, “Would you be interested in my article on repositioning cruises?”
Instead, say something like, “Your readers can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars by cruising during those times of year when cruise companies are “repositioning” their ships. A ship that’s in Alaska in the summer, for example, might be cruising along the California coast or through the Panama Canal in September and October en route someplace new. These one-way cruises can be a real bargain. Transatlantic routes can go for as little as $599.”
At our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Chicago last month, I showed our attendees ways to “work smart” — ways they could avoid the mistakes so many freelancers make and get the greatest return possible on the time they spend traveling (and writing about their travels).
These two steps I talked about here, they fall into that “work smart” category. Neither requires that much effort on your part. A small investment in time up front. Yet lots of writers don’t bother with them.
If you do… you’ll immediately set yourself apart. Like that small boutique selling just the boots I wanted… you’ll be peddling just the right story to just the right editor in just the right way.
[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.]