Posted by & filed under Podcast.

For more about how you can get started with travel writing today, visit:  

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?” — John Wooden

What is a query letter?  It is the e-mail you send to pitch your story ideas to an editor – and, it is one of the most important parts of travel writing.  

When you pitch your ideas, there’s a big pool of freelancers out there who you are competing with, but there are very few of them who do query letters correctly.  People who follow the advice of our programs land in that very small percentage of people who do it right.

Kyle Wagner started as a food critic and later moved into travel writing.  Eventually she became the travel editor for the Denver Post where she spent over 10 years.  Today she is freelancing and loving life.  Here are Kyle’s dos and don’ts about query letters from an editor’s point of view:

  • Editors get a lot of queries so the subject line is important. You want to grab the editor’s attention right away or your query won’t be read. 
  • After a great subject line, the first couple of lines are key. Give them a sense of what you want to write about.
  • Know the publication and the types of destinations it covers. For example, at the Denver Post Kyle often received pitches for stories about Maine, but she rarely published anything about Maine.  It was not easy to get there from Denver and most of their readers would never go.  Instead they focused on places like Mexico and Hawaii – both had direct flights from Denver. 
  • Check the publication’s archives – has the destination been published recently? Most publications wait a year after a story so it’s key to check and see what has been published recently.
  • Writer’s submission guidelines are written by the editors to help freelancers figure out what they are looking for. They are usually specific with details like how many words and how to send the story.  Many publications post them online.  If they don’t post them, e-mail and ask for them.  Follow the guidelines.
  • Keep the story as the focus and don’t be too familiar – editors aren’t looking for drinking buddies. They are looking for good stories that are well-written.  
  • Use e-mail – no one will ever open snail mail.
  • Don’t list the famous people that you know – editors don’t need to know who you know and they really don’t care.
  • Don’t turn the query into a resume listing everything you have ever published and where. Yes, you may need to provide a link to previously published clips or information about yourself at the end of the query, but don’t start out with a resume.
  • Don’t send more than two ideas in one query. Focus on your best idea.  Where is the story?
  • Don’t forget to use spell check – if you can’t get through a query without using good grammatical skills and without misspelling words how can you write an article?
  • Don’t send large files of high res photos – if they want more, they will ask.

There are a lot of bad query letters out there and you don’t want to be part of the “bad query” files.  The biggest thing you can do is to follow the writer’s guidelines.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else says and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.   What matters is what the publication has said to you about how they want to be approached.  Stick with what your targeted publication wants.

In a pool of 200, five people are going to do it right and have a unique idea.  You want to be part of that five.

For more about how you can get started with travel writing today, visit:  

Listen to a new podcast every Sunday in iTunes by subscribing for free here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *