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Compelling Query + Cheeky Topic + Excellent Writing = SOLD!
by James E. McWhinney

To make my first sale, I did almost everything wrong. I queried a publication I had never seen, much less read. The topic was a lifestyle I do not share. My query was a two-sentence e-mail that made no reference to why I was qualified to write the piece or why the topic was timely. I wrote the query in the middle of the night after a 16-hour day. After the editor responded, I had to order a copy of the magazine via overnight mail. Of course, as a wise editor recently told me, "You must have done something RIGHT or you couldn't have gotten the assignment."

What I Got Right

The first thing I did right was try to make the sale. Encouraged by a professor in a magazine writing class I was taking, I made up my mind to try and get published. The next thing I did right was to subscribe to Writers Digest. The most recent issue was in the mailbox when I got home from class late one night. Like other publications, Writers Digest features market listings. When I came across one listing for a magazine looking for articles about nude recreation and travel, I sent off a quick e-mail.

To sell any story you need a compelling query letter. My query was only two sentences long, but it hit home. It read: "Gunnison Beach, located in Sandy Hook National Recreational Area in New Jersey is the largest clothing-optional beach on the East Coast of the United States. My article, Naked in New Jersey, can be ready in two weeks". Despite its short length, my query demonstrated my knowledge of the topic, provided a catchy title and provided a date by which I could deliver the story. The editor responded positively and I wrote the article.

While this was my first commercial sale, I am a professional writer by trade, so my editorial skills enabled me to write the article with an acceptable level of editorial professionalism. The article itself demonstrated my advanced understanding of the topic, including the crowd the beach attracts, the antics that occur in the off-season (the lifeguards are gone after labor day) and the variety of recreational opportunities the beach provides. While I do not participate directly in those activities, I am a long-time surf fisherman, and the fishing beach at Sandy Hook is located next to the clothing-optional beach. During several year of fishing trips, I have learned enough about the clothing-optional beach to write about it competently. I also called the park office and interviewed a ranger to specific and accurate details about the size of the beach, number of parking spaces available and the number of people who use the park and the beach.

The article was published in the Fall 2002 edition of Naturally Nude Recreation and Travel. The magazine is distributed to an international audience of subscribers and is also available at Barnes & Noble and other major bookstores. Payment for the article was $105.00.

If you want to increase the number of articles you sell, you need to repeat everything I did right-and learn from everything I did wrong. To get started, you need to study the market, and know your topic. Before you send a query, you should read the publication you are targeting, and you should write the query when you are wide-awake. The query should be written to grab the editor's attention and demonstrate not only why the topic is timely, but also why you are qualified to write it. When it comes to making the sale, you not only have to make an aggressive effort to get the assignment, but you've got to do more right than you do wrong.

© Copyright 2003, James E. McWhinney

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