I must have been completely off my head when I decided to use the pen-name ‘Steenie.’ Few editors or readers seem to have a clue what gender I am.
(Let’s set the record straight here — I’m female. When I chose the name Steenie, I definitely did not realize that it first appeared in the 17th century — it was the nickname of George Villiers, the gay playmate of King James VI of Scotland.)
The question of how to address an editor of dubious gender can be tricky. I know an Adrian and a Micky who are both women… and a Jocelyn who is a man.
Everybody has heard of Hillary Clinton — but the U.K. has a male politician called Hilary Benn. The same applies to the name Lyn — it can be male or female.
Foreign names? Don’t even venture down that route if you want to stay sane.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Boris is a man, but you could spend hours trying to figure out if Andrea and Piers are he’s or she’s.
Thankfully there’s actually a simple way around this: Rather than go down the Ms/Mr. route, address the recipient by his or her full name, i.e. Dear Steenie Harvey.
And while we’re on the topic, here are a few more tips you should keep in mind when you’re addressing an editor…
There is no standard format for writing perfect query letters. How effective your letter is will depend in large part on the subject you choose to write about. (In other words: Have you effectively targeted your audience?) But no matter what article subject you’re proposing, take heed of these points, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of success:
- Be concise — keep your query letter to one page.
- Address the editor by name. It will be in the magazine or the writer’s guidelines. If you’re unsure, phone the magazine and ask who queries should be sent to. Use “Dear Editor” only as a last resort. Once I know an editor, I always address him or her by first name, but on initial contact use Ms. or Mr. So-and-So. Or, as I said up top, if you can’t discern the gender, say “Dear Lyn Smith.”
- Be specific. A proposal on a round-up of London’s best street markets has more chance of success than a proposal on “the sights of London.”
- State your idea clearly — and in such a way that you show the benefits for the reader.
- Don’t be shy. If you have expert knowledge of a subject, say so.
- Never be apologetic or stress your lack of experience. You’re a freelance travel writer, not a “novice writer.”
- If you’ve already had an article published, tell the editor as much. Samples of published pieces are called “clips,” and you may want to send some. (Send three at most — and, obviously, choose the most prestigious.) The fact that another editor has published your work gives you status and credibility.
- If you’re sending a query by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. If you’re approaching a foreign publication, include an IRC (International Reply Coupon). These days, though, most publications have gone to e-mail. It’s easier all around. Just make sure you include on the bottom of yours your email, mailing address, and phone.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’ve been to one of our live travel writer workshops, you know that freelance travel writer Steenie Harvey is an absolute riot! Her presentations — an entire day of tricks for charming editors and landing the best assignments — not only keep students laughing (nearly to the point of tears on occasion) but they also drive home some really important lessons about dealing with editors.
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.]