For any reader who hasn't entered the national print magazine realm, here is a copy of a query that I used to publish an article in Pregnancy Magazine. Below the query I will note the essential items you should include. (Link to larger version of query letter.)
A: Don't skimp on addressing your letter properly. Use the correct editor's name. Make sure you have the correct department editor, the most recent editor (they move around all the time), and double check the spelling. You can often find the most updated information on the magazine's website.
B, C: Investigate the magazine. Read several recent copies to get an idea of the layout, tone, target audience, type of articles they include, and what sections you could contribute to. Then pay attention to the general word count of that section. Make sure you note in the query where you think your article would fit and the expected word count of your article. You should also check on-line for the magazine's "Submission Guidelines." Follow Them!
For even better success, try and find the magazine's most current "Editorial Schedule," often found in the advertiser's section. This will give you a good idea of what subject matters the magazine is covering and on what months. Keep in mind you must query several months (I suggest six months) ahead. Editors want magazines ready and on the shelves slightly early. Add in layout and design, printing, distribution, not to mention discussing your query, finding a spot for it, preparing a contract, allowing time for you to write it, a first edit, fact checking, your revision, final edits, etc., and you'll understand why they work so far ahead. Whew!
D: Suggest a working title, even though the magazine probably won't use it.
E. Let the editor know exactly why this story fits the magazine. You article should hit the target audience, fit the editorial schedule, magazine layout, be timely (perhaps a new study), and somewhat unique (even if it's a new twist on an old subject). This is a great time to include a simple statistic or study--one or two sentences at most, with attributions that express WHY the news is exciting, relevant and important.
Important tip: Write in the same tone used in the publication. A casual magazine is different from a scientific journal. Some magazines use conversational tones, some flirty, etc. Carefully mimic the tone in your paragraph.
F. Briefly include the basic points you will cover in your article. Be specific and to the point. Make sure they are relevant and informative (so the editors clearly understand the article's direction).
G. Note who you plan to interview and where the statistics/facts will come from. If you want to be considered a serious writer be sure to go straight to the best source for information (the doctor in charge of the study, a government research organization, etc.). Also, plan to make careful notes and documentation. You'll need them if your story is accepted.
H. Include your experience. Link your blog address or send published clips (articles). It's not as hard as you think to obtain clips. Start small with your local newspaper. Offer free articles on local activities you're interested in. Publishing is like climbing a ladder. You start on the low rung and work your way up. Eventually you'll have several clips.