Since I am part Irish and it's St. Patrick's Day, I have to write about luck. But leaving our writing to luck is not a good strategy if we want a successful freelance career. Sure, there are those lucky few, who seem to just sort of wander into an on-going assignment with National Geographic or who just happen to query People magazine and get an assignment to interview Tom Hanks. But usually writing does not come down to luck, even on St. Patrick's Day. So, how can you get your query letter out of the slush pile and into the hands of the right editor?
The secret, which has nothing to do with luck, is not even that hard. All you have to do is find the name of the editor, who would most likely publish your article in her section of the magazine. For smaller mags such as Missouri Life, this would probably be the managing editor or sometimes the associate or submissions editor. For a larger publication such as Vogue, many of the individual departments, such as Beauty or Health, have their own editors.
The easiest way to find the name is to see a copy of the magazine. This is recommended, anyway, before you query the editor. Go to your local library, view a copy online, buy one at a book store, or send for a sample copy.
Once you have a copy, then look at the masthead. You will see the names of the editors and their job titles. Find the editor that fits your submission and send your query directly to them. If Nancy McFarland (had to pick an Irish name :) is the Health editor and your article is about a new exercise plan, then start your letter: Dear Ms. McFarland. When you address your envelope, put Nancy McFarland on the top line and the magazine name and address below. One way to end up in the slush pile is to address your envelope to Submissions Editor. (You can also use the Web site, www.mastheads.org , to view the masthead of many magazines.)
Some words of caution: If you are looking at a huge magazine such as Family Circle, do not send your submissions to the top editor. She is in charge of the entire magazine, and usually, her associate editors or department editors bring her ideas they love from the query letters they've read. Address your letter to one of them. Going straight to the top is not always the way with query letters.
If the name is gender neutral such as Riley or Kelly, don't assume the editor is a woman or man and address the person with Mr. or Ms. In these cases, I address the letter with the editors first and last name such as Dear Riley Smith. I've also heard of writers, who have called the magazine and asked if the editor was male or female. Writers also call and confirm the person still works there. I've never done this personally, but I do know a lot of successful writers who have. Don't ask to talk directly to the person. That is the kiss of death. Just ask the receptionist your question.
I also double check the name on the publication's Web site if possible. Most print publications have a Web site, and sometimes, names and email addresses of editors will be listed. This is only a tool for double checking. I do not email my query to the editor unless the guidelines say I can. I also use the Writer's Market guide to double check editors' names. Sometimes, the market listing will be specific and tell the name of the acquiring editor, but I like to check this with the Web site or masthead. Market guide listings are sometimes written a year in advance, and in the publication world, people change jobs often.
However you do it, find an editor's name before you address your query letter. This strategy gets you one more step closer to publication without relying on luck.