The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Selling the Fruit of Your Labor

By Lori RussellLori Russell

There is nothing better than sampling the sweetness of summer’s first strawberries at a farmer’s market. But with several stands selling their berries, how do I decide which one to buy from? Give me a grower who knows her stuff, who can give me the details about where and how that little bit of heaven is produced and maybe a recipe to showcase the bounty at its best, and I’m ready to plunk down the cash. If she really knows her stuff, I’ll probably even ask her to throw in an extra pint.

The one-page query letter is the free sample in the farmer’s market of profile writing. Do it well and you make the sale.

Before you put your sample out there, you need to know your customer (also known as the editor). Grab a copy of the publication you want to target along with its writers guidelines and editorial calendar and read them. The calendar will tell you how far ahead to pitch your profile and the guidelines will tell you what type of “produce” the publication is looking for. Check the magazine’s website, or look in the “contact us” section. No luck? Call and ask for a copy. Resources like Writers Market also list information for thousands of publications.

While a strawberry grower showcases the uniqueness of her operation and her berries, she does so within the expected form of the market-setting it out in a beautiful basket in her stall rather than lobbing her fruit at passers-by from the bed of her pickup. So too must the writer practice and perfect the “right” form of a query letter to entice an editor to bite-and then buy.

Right idea – The first paragraph of your query is a tasty sample of your subject known as the hook. Designed to catch your customer’s (editor’s) interest in your profile subject, it is similar, (and often the same) as the opening paragraph in your article.

Right style – The second paragraph tells the who, what, where, when, why and “who cares” of your idea. It is written in the style, tone, and voice of the customer’s publication.

Right publication, right time – Paragraph three shows your customer that you know what he likes. What section does the profile belong in? How long will it be? Why is this profile perfect for the magazine? Why now?

Right person – In paragraph four, explain why you are the best person to write this profile. Include relevant writing and personal experience. List websites or mention the clips you are including with the letter so the editor can read your work.

Right closing – Be sure to thank your potential customer for his time and consideration.

Write your query, let it ripen for a day, then reread it. Have a writer friend sample it. Consider how you can make your product even better. After washing your fruit carefully (check for grammatical errors and that the editor’s name is spelled correctly), send it out to be sampled.

Assignment: This month, learn everything you can about two potential customers. Obtain a copy of their magazines, writer’s guidelines and editorial calendar. Now pick one of your fruits (profile ideas) and write a letter to each of your customers.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

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