Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Key to Website Traffic - Content, Content, Content

 Many people seem to think that the key to building traffic at their site is to be found in getting listed in all the top search engines in the top 10 of each engine. Or they think that having banners all over the Internet will just draw people from everywhere. Certainly, advertising and promotion are helpful, but I'm afraid this is not "field of dreams" if you build it, you have no guarantee thy will come just because it's there and they know about it. They will only come if the content is interesting to them.

Think about it this way, a business opens up in a high traffic area of your local mall. You go by the mall looking for, say, new clothes. The new store sells buggy whips. Do you go into the store just because it is on the mall? Probably not, unless you are in the market for a new buggy whip. Considering how many buggy's we have around, it is unlikely that store will last long regardless of it's high traffic location.

So it is with a web page. You have to offer compelling content to draw visitors in the first place, and to keep them coming back again.

One of the keys to good content in any type of publishing is summed up in a simple statement "Find a hole and fill it." For instance, I saw a need for an on-line daily devotion about six years ago. At the time no one I knew was providing one. I had been delivering one via e-mail for two years, then I started posting it on my web site eventually we added Bible studies and other materials and soon the website was drawing more than a half-million hits a year.

In creating content you really need to think like a web surfer. A lot of people create web sites thinking "This is what I want to put up on the site." What's wrong with that? Nothing, if you are planning on being the only one to visit that site. But if you want to attract people to your site you have to think like the Web Surfer you are trying to reach. Like I tell my magazine writing students "Think about the reader first, last and always. " So, don't think about what do I want to say. Think about how do I get them to listen.

The first rule in creating compelling content is that you have to clearly identify who you are trying to reach. If you say, "Everybody," then you are sure to fail. You need to have a clear target audience. The better defined your audience the easier it is to reach them with your message and to draw them to your site.

 So, if I have a commercial site trying to sell computers, who are the likely folk to come by? Well, they will fall into two categories: people who have their own computers (the majority) and those who use someone else's computer. Since the largest number of people fall into the first category, then I might target that audience. Now, I ask myself why would someone who already has a computer want to buy another. The answers are (a) The computer they have is inadequate for what they need. (b) Their computer is out of date and needs to be upgraded. (c) The person is a tech-head who always wants the latest in computer technology (d) The person is in charge of purchasing computers for a business and wants the best product at the best price. or (e) The person wants to buy a computer as a gift for someone else. You could target any of these markets. But let's say we are going after categories a and b. The computer is inadequate or out of date. If you create a web site with a lot of forms, frames, graphics, and flash and other bells and whistles, they will exit your site before it even loads and forget about oming back.

In your advertising and search engine descriptions, you need to get across the idea that one cannot stand still with technology. You could focus your advertising on Classified ad sites and swap meet type of newsgroups that allow advertising. You could also post notices around a local college or buy advertising in the college newspaper pointing the students to your site.
All of these would keep the focus on the needs of the market you are trying to reach. If you wanted to reach one or more of the other markets you should start from scratch with a new web page and new promotion geared toward that market. 

 Yes, it's a lot of work but to draw people to your site you have to be constantly working on your content. 

Marketing Secret: Find the Hole and fill it

In 1972 Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote a classic book about marketing entitled Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. In that book they set forth a key to successful marketing: Find a hole and fill it! What they meant by this was to identify a consumer need and “position” your product as the perfect one to fill that need.

A good example of this is Arm and Hammer Baking Soda.  How many boxes of baking soda did you buy this last year?  How many of them did you use for baking?  Probably, not many.  In all likelihood you used them to deodorize your refrigerator or possibly litter box. 

A few years ago, someone discovered that an open box of baking soda in a refrigerator cut down on odors. Eventually, someone at Arm and Hammer (or more likely their advertising agency) caught on to this idea.  They began to create an ad campaign around the purchase of baking soda for your refrigerator.  Sure, there were other products that would do the same thing, but eventually, in the public’s mind Arm and Hammer was THE refrigerator deodorizer.  Today, you can even buy boxes of Arm and Hammer made for the refrigerator.

Some marketing genius identified a consumer need – stinky refrigerators – and recognized that their product could fill that need.  A targeted campaign turned “baking soda” into a natural deodorant.  It was “re-positioned” from something used in baking to something used to make things smell nicer.

Take a look at your product line.  Is there a need that is going unfilled in the marketplace that your product could fill, even if that is not what it is designed to do?  Even more to the point, is there an unfulfilled need that you could develop a product around. 

In this regard e-books come to mind.  What is it that visitors to your web site might need or want to be able to do that is not addressed by other books or e-books on the market?  Can you write it or find someone to write it for you?  Then you might have a winner.

So, keep your eyes open for “holes” in the marketplace.  When you find one, fill it, and you will be successful.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Write a News Release

A few years ago, I edited a small science fiction magazine. I got lots of news releases, and I loved it. Any editor who tells you they don’t need PR “flacks” is just posturing for his or her colleagues.  News releases give us leads for stories, basic information, and, when they are well written, the stories themselves.  Editors will love you if you can give them those sorts of stories.

When I was doing PR for a college, I could just about guarantee my press releases would be published as-is, and editors would contact me for news leads.  However, to develop that type of relationship with editors, you have to write news releases from the editor’s point of view.  So, what makes the irresistible press release?

Journalistic Style.  A news release is first and foremost a news story.  That means it must have news value and be written in journalistic style.  The story needs to be an objective reporting of what is happening and not an advertisement for your book or event.  The editor isn’t invested in helping you promote yourself or your product.  Her job is to inform her readers about things she believes will be useful to them.

Too many releases I get are nothing less than sales pitches for the book.  In fact, the cover letters also say how they want to promote THEIR book or THEIR event.  It is assumed that my publication exists solely for the purpose of promoting them.

Go through your release and cut out all qualitative adjectives like “great,” “wonderful,” “valuable,” “fast paced,” “exciting,” etc.  Also cut out phases which belong in a book review rather than a news story like “a good read” or “a big thumbs up.”  Editors don’t want to be told what to think about the book or event.  They want the facts.  And, in case you don’t know it, “a good read” is not a fact, it’s an opinion.

Remember the 5 W’s and H of journalism when writing your release: Who, what, when, where, why, and how.  Answer those questions for the reader.

Journalistic style also follows the “inverted pyramid” format.  While many newspapers and online publications have modified this style, it is still a useful one.  The inverted pyramid begins with the most important information and ends with the least important.  The fact that Jennifer Author will be speaking to the Madison book club on February 15 at 7 p.m. is important and belongs at the top of the release.  The fact that she lives in Fresno with her husband, two kids and a dog is not so important and should appear later in the story. Many people only read the first few paragraphs of a news story, so get out the important information in those paragraphs and provide additional information at the bottom.

Quote Yourself.  Quotes add flavor to the story.  Let many of the facts come through in quoted material.  But be careful that you don’t do the “hard sell” just because it’s contained in quotation marks.  Use quotes to tell about your motivations for writing the book, some details of what you will be discussing at the lecture, or your experience with the topic.

Avoid “Insider” Language.  Since mine was a science fiction e-zine, I got a lot of releases referring to “spec-fic.” As an editor, if I’m not familiar with the genre, I’m left scratching my head saying, “What is ‘spec-fic’?  Fiction sold on speculation?  What does that have to do with anything?”  Even colloquialisms that are probably understood like “sci-fi” are better spelled out.  It’s just a little too casual and sounds more like a blog post than a news release.

Check the mechanics. I have to admit this is one of my failings, but I’m getting better since I have to do this now.  If you make an editor work to hard fixing  your spelling, punctuation and grammar, then he or she is likely to say, “That’s too much work,” and file it in the refuse bin.

Get to the point. Fiction writers especially seem to take forever to get to the point in their news releases.  They set a scene or give a character sketch at the beginning of the article.  As an editor, I’m wondering, “What’s the point?”  I don’t care that the author’s room is decorated with Garfield memorabilia.  I want to know what’s happening or going to happen.  You should get to the point in the first 25 words or less: “Jonathan Writer, author of She Lost Her Way, will be the featured speaker during the 11 a.m. service, May 14 at First Community Church.”  This isn’t easy.  It took me about 10 minutes to write that sentence and get it under 25 words.  But in that one sentence, I have everything I need to know about what it going to happen.

Condense, Condense, Condense.  Remember, book authors, you don’t have 100,000 words to tell your story in a news release.  You have 200-300 words.  Make them count.  Cut out almost all adjectives and adverbs,  Cut out every glowing praise for the book.  Cut out phrases when a single word will do.  Cut out everything which is not relevant to the event.

One place most writers can cut is in their personal biographies.  Unless it is relevant to the book or lecture, leave out family information.  The fact that Mary Physicist is married to Jacob and has two sons Fredrick and Jason is irrelevant to the story about the release of her first Science Fiction novel dealing with time travel through black holes.

These are just a few tips to help you write a better news release and increase your chances of actually getting it published.  Basically, it just comes down to one tip: Think like an editor with a readership to serve and not a writer with a book to sell.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Bible Study: The Adoption of Sons - A Historical Perspective

"To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" Galatians 4.5.

In the modern world adoption is a complex, bureaucratic maze of paperwork, inspections, character and criminal checks. The most frequently heard word from adoptive parents-to-be is "frustrating."

In contrast, adoption in the Greek culture that Paul addresses in Galatians 4.5 was a simple, joyful celebration.

There were two basic methods of adoption in Greek society. In the first, a parent who could not keep a child or who did not want the child would take and place the child on the steps of the temple. If someone saw the child and desired to adopt him or her, he would pick up the child and say in a loud voice to all around, "This is my child. His name will be ___________. He will be my son. I will be his father. All that I have is his." He would then take the child home and have a great feast of rejoicing over his new son. Of course, children who were not adopted or taken to be raised as slaves in the temple died of exposure. So, this loving Father not only gave a child a home, he also saved his life.

We can easily see the similarities of our adoption as children of God. He saw us as orphans, dying in our sins. He reaches down to us and saves us, but not to be a slave but to be an heir.

The other way a man would adopt a child would be to take a slave, usually a young man who was a trusted servant. He would offer sonship to the slave. If the slave accepted, the father would choose a time for a feast and at the feast in the presence of all his neighbors and friends proclaim that this person who was his servant would no longer be a slave, but would be his son. In addition, some historians believe, that after this proclamation, the newly-adopted son would cry out "Abba, Father" (Abba literally means "Papa or Dad") and embrace his new father.

Notice verses 6 and 7 "Because you are sons God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."

I don't know about you, but that causes me to sing and shout and dance a little. I who was once a slave to sin and headed toward death, am now made alive, but also I am made an heir of one who is much greater than any earthly nobleman. I am an heir of God and I am promised even greater things to come.

"Beloved, now we are the children of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." I John 3.2.

Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Family Matters: Balancing Family and Writing

Okay, this is a tough one, I admit, but we might as well attack it head on. Sometimes the biggest distraction we have in our lives from our writing are the ones we love the most. Between soccer practice, recitals, "date night", school, church, club functions, family matters can take up a bunch of time. However, there are ways to stay a loving spouse/parent/daughter/son/sister/brother/aunt/uncle/grandpa/grandma/cousin and still find the time to write.

1.Love does NOT mean never having to say "no." I know this may come as a shock to some of us who take the phrase "Family always comes first" a bit too literally. Truth is, that there are times when family does NOT come first in certain practical matters. You go to work everyday, and if Jane calls up in the middle of the work day because Jimmy is "looking at me," you will probably tell them that it's okay for him to look at her and to only call at work if something happens involving people in uniforms. You won't rush home to check out the offending look.

Saying "No" or "Not now" are part of any parent/spouse/family member's vocabulary for a large variety of things. You can use it for writing as well.

And, it is good for children to learn they cannot get everything they want when they want it. It is part of learning about the world, deferred gratification and setting boundaries.

2. Negotiate Writing Time. Sometimes we have problems with others we live with because we don't communicate. If we have a nice family dinner, watch a bit of TV, and right in the middle of a family night, I get up and walk out to my room and start typing away, I'm probably going to offend someone. However, if we set down as a family, and especially setting down with a spouse, and have a discussion about needing some time everyday or every few days to write, and working out a schedule together, things will go more smoothly.

Just a note here. If you have yet to publish anything or you publish sporadically, don't talk to your spouse about it like a business. You can do that when the time comes that you have enough publication going on to quit your job, move to the Bahamas and sit on the beach drinking lemonade and typing up your next best seller. Non-writers do not understand our own sense of mission and the importance we attach to writing. Instead deal with it like an enjoyable hobby, and a fairly inexpensive one. That's something people can understand. Doing something recreational like watching or playing sports, scrapbooking, music, flower arranging, fishing and hunting, hiking or marathoning is something they can understand.

Of course, negotiations means giving as well as taking, so you might have to let him have his sports package upgrade or for her to go to that church women's retreat. Remember, if you are asking for some "me" time to write, you also need to give some "him/her" time to do some things as well.

3. Set limits on your writing. If you negotiate an hour a day Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7, don't take two hours. If your family knows you will be writing until 8, then they can be more willing to wait to talk to you than if they don't know when you are coming out.

I had an online student (who had the same problem with family interrupting her studies) who put a sign on the door of her office at home, "Mommy is in class. She will be out at 7". They discussed it in a family meeting and they were to treat is just like she was at school during that time. Nothing short of an actual emergency (something involving people with uniforms) would interrupt her work.

She said that having a set time helped. Admittedly, everyone was standing at her door with every issue they wanted to discuss at precisely 7, but it gave her time to study.

I do know some of can get carried away with our writing. The time can fly by. I found a wonderful little program. It works with Windows and Linux. It's called Workrave http://www.workrave.com . You can set a time limit and the program will lock your keyboard after that limit for a set period of time. It's a great way to remind you to take a break. In fact, it even has a rest break function that includes exercises for you to do to reduce the stress of working online during the break. But as a reminder that you have been working too long and it is time to leave the computer, it's great.

I also use it for power writes.

4. Family Time Multi-tasking. Okay, I don't have kids, but my sister had eight. She said she had my kids for me, but I never came to pick them up. But I have picked them up many times when my sister's car wasn't working, which was most of the time when the kids were growing up. I took them to sports practices, school and church functions, play rehearsals, proms, even on dates.

That meant I spent a lot of time in my car waiting for them to eventually say good bye to their friends and get back to the car. I took a book with me on those occasions. You would be surprised how much reading I got done. Now, I would probably take my computer and do some writing. Or you can print out your recent work and do some pencil and paper editing.

5. Engage them in the writing. You know, writing can become a family activity. Often you can make your family your helpers in a project. Look for ways to engage them. You can ask your spouse to read and critique your work. (Just remember to keep things in perspective. Don't get mad about a critique you would take easily in a writing group.) If you have a spouse who is good with grammar, spelling, etc. You can say, "You know, I could use some help. You are much better at grammar than I am, could you look over this chapter?" Now, don't do this when they are actually engaged in something else. Remember the idea about "me" time working both ways.

If you have children of the age you might be writing for, you can use them as a live in focus group. They can read the story or if too young to read, you can read it too them. Watch their reactions. Ask them specific questions about the characters and story. Don't ask, "Did you like the story?" They will try to please you and say "yes." Ask instead, "Did you know what Joe was going to do at the end of the story?" "Have you ever felt anything like Mary felt?" "Did this remind you of another story?" As they talk about the specifics of the story you can catch on what they might have liked or didn't like.

Of course, the most "honest" audience could by your teenagers. If you are writing a story, though, which includes teens (even if the story is not for teens specifically) ask your teen to see if the teenagers in the story are realistic and, if not, how could you make them more believable.

In each of these cases, you are having family time and writing time at the same time. You are also helping your family understand through participation your passion for writing.

What are some ways you use to help balance family, work, social activities and writing?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fifteen-Minute Writes (Some of Which Might Even Apply to Your Work-In-Progress)

Many of us don't have an hour a day to write. At least we don't have it all at one time. Some of us have lots of time on one day, but not much on others. Nevertheless, most of us have short periods of time we could spend writing or at least preparing to write.  I sometimes call this “Writing in Waiting” because much of it can be done while you are waiting for something like waiting for a doctor's appointment, waiting for the kids to get out of soccer practice, waiting for your flight, waiting for a business appointment or just waiting for Godot. All you need are a pad and a pen and fifteen minutes. Of course, if you have a laptop or mini-laptop with you all the better.

Character Dossiers

Character development is arguably the most important aspect of fiction writing. Even plot takes second place because the plot is simply a series of actions taken by the characters. If those actions are inconsistent with the characters, then the plot seems contrived. That means you need to know your characters inside and out. One way to do this is to create character dossiers. In a notebook simply put the name of the character at the top and then write down basic information about the character. Start with physical appearance: hair, eyes, height, weight, physical defects, strengths. Move on to mannerisms both physical and verbal. Then jot down information about their goals in life, their fears, and those things which stand in the way of them achieving their goals. Jot down what they were doing a year ago or two years ago. Put down small details like favorite food, color, style of clothing, etc.

Outline Scenes

A story is a series of scenes. Most of us have a vague idea of what is going to happen in select scenes in our heads. We might not have all the details, but we know essentially who is involved the start and the outcome. One of the difficulties, though, in planning is that sometimes these scenes come out of order. So, here's an idea. Keep a bunch of 3X5 file cards with you. When you have a few minutes, take out a file card and jot down these notes about the scene:

How the scene starts
How the scene ends

For instance, here's what I might write for my work in progress.

Setting: Cavor's Restaurant
Characters: Carolyn and Michael
Beginning: Discussion how the killer is evolving
End: Call saying that the Judge in Aldrin Village has been murdered

The Worst Thing

When everything goes right for your main character, your story becomes boring. So, during a fifteen minute break, review where you have arrived in your story and ask, “What is the worst thing that can happen to my characters right now?” Write a short paragraph or two describing it. You can flesh it out later when you have more time.

Main Points

In writing nonfiction, you usually have the article or chapter divided into a series of main points. Jot these main points down on cards. One point per card. Take the cards with you, when you have five minutes list the ideas you want to express under one of those points.

A variation on this exercise is to take 15 minutes and just write that section of the article or as much of it as you can in that time frame. You would be surprised how much writing you can get done in just a few minutes.


This is a perfect 15 minute exercise. Simply sit down with your computer or a pad and pencil and write down whatever comes to mind about your work in progress. Don't worry if it is orderly or not. Just write in stream-of-consciousness fashion about it. Later in the day, take another 15 minutes to repeat the process. Then do it again at another time during the day. By this third time, something will start to take shape you might be able to incorporate into your work.


Everything in your story has to take place somewhere. This is a simple fifteen minute exercise. Close your eyes and see the setting. Then open them and write a 100 word description. If you want to make it more fun describe it like you were writing a travel brochure or a real estate ad.

You don't have to spend a lot of time writing to get work done. These are just a few fifteen minute exercises that can actually help you write your work in progress.

Do you have any other short exercises you can think of or have heard about? Share them with us on the discussion board.

Learn More about time management techniques in a time management for writer's workshop to be offered by EducationWantsToBeFree.com in September. Watch this blog for details.

Jumper Cables for the Mind: Dealing with Writer's Block

Okay, most of us face writers block at one time or another. We sit staring at the computer screen, our fingers hovering over the keys, but seemingly suspended in space wondering what to write. Here are a few ways to beat the block:

Writing Prompts

Keep a collection of writing prompts handy. Sometimes all you have to do is get writing about anything to break the creative logjam. Keep a bunch of silly ones around as well. Sometimes writing about what kind of monster you would be if you could be a monster or what you would do with the gift of invisibility will be enough to get those creative juices flowing. For a bunch of writing prompts go to CreativeCalisthenics.com.

Word Association

Sometimes, if I'm slow to start, I'll play the word association game. The way it works is that I will type a key word relevant to the topic of the article or scene in a story. Then I write down the first word that comes to mind after seeing that word. Then I write down a word suggested by the second word and so on until I shake those creative thoughts loose.

The Dramatic Quote

Simply write down the most dramatic quote you found in your research. Use this quote as your lead and ask, "What comes next?" Even if you don't use the quote as your lead in the final draft, it can get you writing.

Understand the Block

Resistance always has meaning. One way to approach a writer's block is to find the meaning behind it. Open a new file in your word processor or take out a notebook and begin to "interview" yourself. Ask, "What am I afraid will happen if I write something?"

Very often, our fears keep us from being truly creative. We have those voices of others who laughed at our dreams of writing, belittled it, or patronized us when we brought it up. Maybe we believe that what we write down will be "wrong." Maybe we are afraid of the responsibility of people reading our words and taking action because of them. Once you understand what those fears are, then ask yourself, "Are these fears real and, if real, are they significant?"

Write about the Block

Just begin to write about being blocked. You can simply stay "in the now" and write, "Okay, I'm sitting at the keyboard. I don't have anything to say. I've got writers block. I wonder why they call it a block. Is it wooden and square with a letter on the side of it? I liked playing with blocks as a kid..."


The more you think about the block the more blocked you will become. Therefore, one good way to beat the block is to do something entirely different from writing. Physical exercise or doing mundane chores are good diversions. Work out, take a walk, mow the lawn, do the dishes, or vacuum the floor. Don't think about the paper or writing at all. That way you can come back to the writing with a fresh perspective.


Sometimes the best way to overcome writer's block is to simply lie down on a couch and clear your mind. One good way to do this is to imagine in your mind a peaceful scene. It could be an ocean shore, a meadow, a woods or mountaintop. It doesn't matter as long as it is peaceful to you. Soft music can help as well as relaxation tapes.

Switch Writing Instruments 

Each of us composes our manuscripts in different ways. Some writers like to write out the paper long hand and then transcribe them on the computer. Others, like myself, compose at the keyboard. If you compose with pencil and paper, try using the computer. If you compose at a keyboard, try writing long hand. Sometimes switching writing instruments will be enough to shake loose those creative cobwebs. Sometimes, I'll switch between typing on the keyboard to using voice recognition software. Hearing the sound of my voice can be enough to give me a fresh perspective on what I'm writing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Writing the Five Paragraph Query Letter

Welcome to the Education Wants to Be Free Blog. This is provided as a service of EducationWantsToBeFree.com, an online learning space featuring free and low cost online enrichment courses launching in September 2011.

You can subscribe to this blog by email which will help keep you informed of new activities on the website as well as giving you short lessons on a variety of topics like today's on "Writing the Five-Paragraph Query Letter."

The beauty of nonfiction writing is that you can sell your article, or at least generate interest in it before you even begin writing.  In fact, most professional writers do not begin writing until they receive an assignment or an expression of interest from an editor.  The vehicle they use for this is called the query letter.

A query letter has two distinct purposes.  First, it is intended to sell the article idea and, secondly, it is to sell you as the one to write the article.  So, you need to make the idea appealing and demonstrate your own writing ability.

Writing the query letter is relatively simple. Now, don’t let the word “letter” fool you. This is not your typical business letter.  The query letter is more of a proposal with a salutation.

When I write a query letter I follow a strict format.  That format has five sections. (Form 4-1)   Each section is usually one paragraph long.  Let’s take a closer look at each part of the query letter.

The Lead. Your first paragraph should sell the editor on your writing ability.  Most importantly it should sell her or him on your ability to engage a reader’s attention.  I use the lead I plan using in my article. So,  when I was trying to sell an article on shyness, I used the following lead for my query and for my story:

Sarah was always shy even as a child.  But when she became an adult the shyness became more intense.  She became a virtual prisoner in her own home.  She could barely speak to anyone.  When she had to she avoided eye contact, spoke only a few words, and got away as soon as possible.  Sarah’s problem, though extreme is not unique. More than four out of 10 Americans consider themselves shy in general, and a whopping 93 percent of us say we are shy in at least one social situation.

The Proposal Statement.  For me this is a two-sentence paragraph which has as its purpose to propose the article and to give a one line description of its theme.  The first line always has the same structure: “I would like to propose an article for (Magazine Name) of about _________ words,  tentatively titled ________.”  The next sentence is a one sentence description of the purpose of the article.  So, my shyness query went this way:

I would like to propose an article for American Way Magazine of about 2000-2500 words tentatively titled “Don’t be Shy.”  This article would focus on the problem of shyness and  give the reader helpful tips in dealing with their own timidity.

Prose Outline.  In this section I simply list the main points I plan to cover in the article. I might do this in a single paragraph for with a bulleted list.  Either way works.  The main thing here is to give the editor an idea of what you plan to cover, plus tantalize her or him with some interesting points.  Again the shyness query provides a good example.

This article will explore the  extent of the problem and some of the liabilities of dealing with shyness.  It will look at why shyness counselors prefer to speak of models of shyness rather than causes.  The article will look at how physical anxiety, negative self talk, and lack of social skills all contribute to the problem.  Finally, the article will provide tips from the experts on overcoming shyness.

Credits. (Optional) If you have any credits you could list them here.  Credits would include publishing credits as well as educational background, occupation or anything which might help sell the editor on you being able to handle the assignment.  However, if you are just starting out, just skip this step.  Here’s what I did for the shyness piece:

By way of introduction, I have a masters in Speech communication and have written a number of articles for a variety of magazines including Pentecostal Evangel, Youth Leader, Business Times, Woman’s World and Christian Home among others.

Closing Statement.  Personally, I use the same closing statement in every query letter.  For me it goes like this: “If you would be interested in seeing an article on this topic, I could provide the finished manuscript within ___ weeks of your reply.”  I give myself a week longer than I think it will take to research and write the article.  This statement is more positive, than “Can I send the article?” It implies more confidence without sounding arrogant.