Got a great idea for an article? Think it would be perfect for a magazine? If you want to get your article published – and receive payment for it! – you’ll need to craft a query letter that sells.

A query letter should be designed to grab the editor’s attention, convey your professionalism, and sell your work. But it requires more than slapping together a few sentences, sending out the letter and hoping for the best. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a query letter that will get your work noticed:

Step 1: Address it to the right editor. This is a common mistake made by a lot of beginning writers. Do not address your letter to the editor at the top of the masthead. Instead, look for the editor that focuses on your particular topic. If your article is about the common mistakes made by people who exercise, for example, look for the “fitness” or “health” editor. And remember: If you can’t determine the gender of the editor (so you can address the letter to Ms. or Mr.), a quick phone call will get you the information you need.

Step 2: Start with a hook. At some point you’ll want to introduce yourself – and your qualifications – in the letter, but the beginning is not the right place. Instead, start with a paragraph that will encourage the editor to read more. It should be the same kind of hook you’d use to begin your article. For example, something like “Eighty percent of people who exercise don’t realize they’re making mistakes at the gym. But those mistakes are easy to correct!” is better than “I’ve published five articles about fitness and health in national publications.”

Step 3: Explain why the topic is relevant and important for the publication’s readers. The editor won’t want your article if the topic isn’t relevant to their target demographic. Discuss the reasons the publication’s readers will find your article interesting. Mention any recent news or studies about the topic, and why it’s particularly newsworthy.

Step 4: Outline your article. Be brief, but offer a quick overview about your article’s contents. Mention any tips you plan to include, as well as experts you might interview for the piece. You might also want to describe the format you plan, such as a bulleted list of tips, or a story about your own personal experience.

Step 5: Describe your qualifications. Tell the editor the reason you’re the perfect person to write this article. Perhaps you’re also a personal trainer, and you see your clients performing the same mistakes over and over again at the gym. Or maybe you have expert research skills and contacts in the fitness industry. This is also the time to mention any previous publication experience you possess, particularly if it’s relevant to the topic of your article.

Step 6: Close with appreciation. Thank the editor for taking the time to review your letter and consider your article. Stick with something basic, like “Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”

In all other ways your letter should be completely professional. Format it like a business letter (with the editor’s name and address in the upper left corner). Single-space your lines, but use double-space between paragraphs. Use professional paper (letterhead if you have it) and make sure it’s clean and crisp. Depending on the publication, you may choose to send the entire article or enclose a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE).

If you’re just breaking into the freelance writing business, you may want to read my article Avoid These Four Common Mistakes To Break In