Pimping The Goods
by Ian Birnbaum

Over the last few weeks, I've been moving along through the process of getting a piece of writing ready to get published, on a freelance basis, in a magazine. Though I took a break last week, this week I'm finishing the real deal: "Celebrity" will be mailed by the time you read this column. After a lot of editing of the piece and torturing of myself, I've decided to just send it in and see what response I get. I might get published, I might not, but at least the piece will be off of my desk for a few weeks.

The final hurdle in the freelancing process for me to discuss here is query letters. Query letters may also be referred to as cover letters, but either way you're always trying to do the same thing: pimp your writing. No matter how sexy your writing may be, a potential buyer must first be wooed by the claims of a flashy salesman in a fur coat, assuring him that your curves are the sweetest available for any price. He must reach out and prey on the secret desires of an editor to read something new - "hey, man, you looking for a good time?"

literarypimp2.jpgI may have carried that analogy a little too far.

Nevertheless, your query letter must be your sales pitch to any prospective market. A successful salespitch has a few common elements:

1. Know your market.
Explain to the editor you are contacting why, exactly, your story is perfect for his magazine. Is it a theme that you know his readers will enjoy? Is it a brand new theme that is presented in a way that his readers might find interesting? Prove to the editor in the first couple of paragraphs that you aren't submitting your piece to everyone with a business card and he's not just a random shot in the dark, even if (ESPECIALLY if) he really is.

2. Introduce yourself
Show that you can write and how you got to be as good as you are. If you have been published before, mention that you have and where. If you haven't, don't mention it. Don't brag, but showing that you have experience may save your story from ending up in the recycling bin unopened. If the market you're selling to welcomes new writers and you are an unpbulished rookie, go ahead and mention that you're selling to them because of their history of giving new writers a chance.

3. Be professional
Address the editor by both names, or Mr. Smith. Write like you would speak in an important meeting or a job interview.

When you've written and edited your query letter as well (you don't want to sink yourself with a typo in the introductory letter), put both the query letter and your piece in the mail and wait the sometimes very long wait to hear back from the editor.

Because it can sometimes take so long between mailing a piece and hearing (anything) back from an editor, it is sometimes best to mail to several editors at once, especially if your piece is timely. I'll be writing more pieces and sending them off while I'm waiting to hear from the magazine that "Celebrity" is going to, but for the next few weeks this column is just going to be my personal playground. I'll clue you guys back in when I've been notified of "Celebrity"'s fate.

Wish me luck - and Godspeed, Celebrity.

Good Luck, Ian! Archives


Nice article Ian. I'm going to get in contact with you sometime in the near future--I have a few of my own submissions I'd like to send out.


Thanks Uber -- you have my email from the Group LNTs, feel free to hit me up.


Yeah, this has been a great series. Thanks and good luck with Celebrity, dude.


I came in on the end of this but what magazines are you looking to get published in?



Anything. Everything.

I'm sending celebrity off first to a magazine called Brutarian which has a listing in Writer's Market. I'll also look around and find a couple of others.

I'm going to see if I can't find a small travel mag to get last week's piece re-ran in too.


good luck man. You sound like you have a wealth more knowledge than most people on the subject.


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