Several posts ago, I provided an LOI ("Letter of Introduction") template. Using templates saves you time, but what do you do when you don't have your own yet? How about borrowing one of mine?
The query below netted my first assignment for Runner's World. [My comments are in blue.] This is a good example of how to take an event from your own life (a traumatic one, actually!) and turn it into a money-making opportunity. If only all concussions could be so lucrative:
Last month, I was in Madison, Wisconsin to teach a weeklong workout. Madison’s a great town to run in, and one gorgeous evening I headed out for an easy five-miler. The run was awesome—I felt well-oiled, relaxed, and unstoppable. Two blocks from my hotel, I picked up the pace. I was running hard as I sped down the slight decline of Langdon Street. I was flying! And then suddenly, I really was flying—literally.
I’ve tripped and fallen many times before (I’m a bit uncoordinated), but this time I fell so fast I couldn’t get my hands up to catch myself. I broke my fall with my head. By the time I limped back to the hotel with a bloody, egg-sized lump on my forehead and a nasty case of road rash, my vision was blurring. At the emergency room, I learned I’d suffered a mild concussion. I was lucky—as the ER doc told me, it could have been much worse. [I've used a two-paragraph lead here--I could have crammed it into one, but I wanted more room to up the drama.]
Runners occasionally take spills that produce far worse than a scraped knee or a twisted ankle. In fact, seven million Americans a year seek treatment for sports-related injuries, more than one million of which involve the head or neck region. Head injuries are particularly troubling as they tend to be more severe than other sports-related injuries. Their effects can also last for months—even a seemingly mild bump can cause brain injury and lead to post-concussion syndrome which includes symptoms like poor memory, headaches, dizziness, and irritability. [Note my use of statistics--I've done my homework to show why readers will be interested in this topic.]
My article, “Head First,” will explain the risks and symptoms of head injuries and describe how to reduce the chance of experiencing one while running or doing other activities. (In my case, I had several factors working against me: I was running downhill, on a brick sidewalk, in fading evening light—all of which made me more likely to stumble.) I’ll interview several respected physicians about the dangers of head injuries; a sidebar might include a list of the sports most likely to cause a head injury. While I estimate a length of 1,000 words, that’s flexible depending on your needs. [Here I've fleshed out the story a bit more, and told her who I plan to interview. I could have listed a head injury expert or two, but I have included a possible sidebar and word count. The story wound up being assigned, not on the topic of head injuries specifically, but on injuries runners experience during runs and how to treat them.]
Interested in this story for your “Warmups” section? I’m a long-time runner (marathon best 3:26) who’s been a fulltime freelancer for more than seven years; during that time, my health, nutrition and fitness articles have appeared in 50 national magazines including Self, Shape, Health, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Continental, and Marie Claire; I’ll be happy to send you clips via snail mail if you like. [I've suggested the section of the magazine to let her know I've read it. And as a long-time runner--note my brag about my marathon time!--I've got personal experience the topics she covers.]
Jane, I hope you’ll find this important topic appropriate for an upcoming issue of the new-and-improved Runner’s World. Please let me know if you have any questions about it. [The magazine had just undergone a redesign! See how I let her know I'm aware of that?]
This query is a good format to use for first-person leads. For other query samples, check out Six-Figure Freelancing or Ready, Aim, Specialize, both of which include lots of sample queries written by me and other freelancers.