How to Write the Perfect Query Letter - Sample Included

Dedicated to the Reformation of B.T. Evilpants

Awhile back, Mr. B.T. Evilpants requested this hub on How to Write the Perfect Query Letter.He was going through a rough time, coming down off of butter tarts and mending his evil ways. All he asked for was a bit of direction so he could turn his attention to some cathartic writing. I let him down, folks.

It has taken me a couple of months to fit this hub into my schedule, which has given B.T. too much time on his hands. Now, thanks to me, he is trying to take over the world. Last I heard, he was running for presidency of the United States. What's next?

It is my hope that this hub does not come too late. My wish is that there is still time to save B.T. from himself and the world.

On second thought, maybe it's the other way around. :)

Love ya, B.T.!

What A Query Letter Is

Essentially, it is a business letter meant for pitching a story idea to an editor. It is an important selling tool for a writer's work.

When you query an editor, it is with the intent to spark enough interest that he or she will ask you to submit your manuscript. In other words, buy your writing. As a query letter is the first impression you make with a publisher, your writing needs to be tight, to the point and well, interesting.

Queries are typically used for selling newspaper and magazine articles, as well as non-fiction books. As my background is in article writing, I'm going to stick with that for the duration of this hub.

As a freelance writer, you are your own public relations department, unless you've achieved superstardom and have an agent and publicist. If you have, please be kind when leaving comments here.

Those who have not yet evolved to that level (that includes me!), have to sell and promote their work, and themselves as writers. That is part of a good query letter's job. Your query has to sell your story line, sell your writing, and sell you. You have one page to do it all. In just a few paragraphs, you're going to introduce yourself, pique an editor's interest about your article, and convince that editor that you're the one to write that riveting story.

Components of a Perfect Query Letter

  • Page format- use a good grade of white paper. Typing should be single spaced with 1" margins. Choose a clean font that's easy on the editor's eyes. I prefer arial, 12 pt. Steer away from fonts with serifs.
  • Header - the top will have your contact information, date, who you're addressing the letter to...regular stuff. One important note - address the editor by name. Take great pains to get it right. Editors come and go. Call the publication if need be, and ask for the current editor's name for the department you are submitting to.
  • Opening - make it compelling. Grab your reader's attention and draw them in to find out more. You can use an intriguing fact about your article idea, or part of the actual story, if that works.
  • Body - this is the meat of your query, so pitch it well. Don't give away everything, but note a few details of the piece that you're proposing. Maybe include some facts, who you'll interview or a funny little story that's relevant. Convince the editor that they need what you're offering.
  • Extras - if you are offering to supply photos or artwork with the piece, be sure to note them.
  • Close the Sale - don't leave the letter without asking for the assignment, and thanking the editor for their time.

You will need to include your most appropriate clips (sample published writings) with your query. If you have never written on the topic you're pitching, send a clip of something you've done that shows the caliber of your work. Also put a self-addressed stamped envelope inside the envelope you're sending off to the editor. That is the only way that you will likely receive a response if he or she decides not to buy your article. It's okay to fold it up to make it fit. If the publication can't use your pitched idea, the editor may take the time and trouble to steer you to a different publication or give you feedback on why they didn't buy your work. If that happens, make sure you take the time to send a thank-you. No excuses, do it. Remember, you're the pr person on your team and the editor is under no obligation to help you that way.

If the editor likes what you have to say, they will probably call or email you and discuss the details of moving forward.

Note that during this process compensation has not been discussed. That's how it should be. DO NOT talk money in the query letter. If you've done things right, you already know how much they pay (or have an idea), know how long you're going to have to wait for a response, and whether or not you get paid upon acceptance or upon publication. You also know what rights they're buying.

You know the editor's name, the type of advertising they run, their audience, the type of work they're looking for. You know all of this because you carefully read the publication's back issues and their guidelines. In fact, you probably even know what their readership is and what percentage of their publication is freelanced out because you looked it up in your copy of Writer's Market, or a similar publication.

Okay, not fair! I've told you at the end instead of the beginning. Fact is, I didn't want to scare you. Sending out your first query letter is tantamount to opening your trenchcoat and exposing yourself in public. I promise you, that if you take that first brave step, then the next and the next, it will get easier.

If you ask me if it ever actually gets easy, I can't answer. I still get stage fright when risking rejection, still feel elated when a submission or article is well received. Seeing my work in print is just THE BEST! It evokes such indescribable joy in me.

[In the sample of my query letter below, you'll note the absence of an email address. Check the date and you'll understand. I haven't done business via snail mail in a long time, and I remembered that the magazine bought that story, hence it's the one I grabbed for illustration purposes. If I was writing it today, I would probably make changes.]

Query Letter That Got Me A Magazine Assignment

Keep Querying and Submitting!

Again and again and again...
Again and again and again...

Wishing You Many Acceptance Notes & Calls!

Nothing Left To Do But Do It

Do your best writing while crafting your query. Write tightly and well, polish it until it's as perfect as you can make it. Add your clips and SSAE, take a deep breath, and drop it into the mailbox, or push the 'send' button.

Once you've done that, take a moment to realize the importance of what you've just done - taken that first big step - then do it again, and again, and again. Keep reading the type of publications you're interested in writing for, learn as much about them as you can until you feel you know them. Come up with fresh ideas and angles, and keep submitting.

Once you've sold a piece to an editor, it is easier to sell more to that same editor. They've worked with you, know your style and whether or not you meet deadlines. I always found that beating deadlines made me popular with the editors that I worked with.

If you should happen to receive a rejection letter, don't fret. Every writer has. If it offers constructive criticism or suggests another place to send your work, consider it and thank them. Then get your butt back in the chair and start again.

It's a simple rinse and repeat process for as long as you want to do it. Personally, I find it can become addictive. In my profession, that's a good thing.

Very best of luck to all you brave writers who face writing and submitting your first query letter.

A personal note to B.T. - why not pitch some articles on how to the run the country, or the antics and hijinx of your new government staffers. I'll be happy to grant you an interview, and I'm sure that the rest of your cabinet would be happy to be article fodder for you. Perhaps a nice investigative report of corruption in your new administration? What ever you do, good luck!

First Timers

Will you actually submit your first query letter?

  • Yes, I'm pumped...or at least willing to work past the fear
  • No, I just can't! I'm not ready, don't make me!
  • I might. Maybe. I'm thinking about it, but no promises
See results without voting

Join Us

Come and be part of our nurturing writing community. Sign up for your own HubPages account and publish your work for others to see. You can even use your Hubs as sample clips when querying online publications. Publishers will be able gauge the caliber of your writing and you'll be making a bit of extra money at the same time. Can't beat it!

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Comments 64 comments

02SmithA profile image

02SmithA 8 years ago from Ohio

Nice hub that I need right now. I have worked on query letters but have yet to submit my first.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Oh 02SmithA, you must submit!! You can't get an assignment unless you do. Kinda like not winning the lottery because you didn't buy a ticket.

I'm rooting for you!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Nice work, Shirley. Any writer who follows your advice will be well on the way to getting published. Every publication needs quality articles on a regular basis. Writer's Market is a wonderful publication that's especially helpful to new writers. I'll be on the lookout for any new political forays from B.T. Evilpants.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank-you William, I'm honoured!  Aren't you one of those that reached superstardom?  I believe so.

I love Writer's Market. I can sit and read it like other people read paperbacks. That may make me a bit of a freak, but it makes me happy.

You probably should be on the watch for B.T.'s writings.  He may try to drag your name through the mud, considering he's an opponent of yours in the running for the presidency.  Hopefully, it's all amicable and no one's reputation will get sullied because a jackalope's blood sugar dropped while going through butter tart D.T.'s.

Thx again, William.  :)


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

Very informative hub and I am sure some people will be able to use this when it comes to needing a reference for writing a letter of inquiry. I hate writing letters to companies, but what has to be done has to be done.


Kylie Doak profile image

Kylie Doak 8 years ago from Australia

Hi Shirley.

Excellent information - thanks for sharing :)


ajcor profile image

ajcor 8 years ago from NSW. Australia

Thank you Shirley - most helpful information. cheers


regtroye profile image

regtroye 8 years ago from rtauzen@yahoo.com

Shirley's right! Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain. Very valuable contribution Shirley. I hope the aspiring writers follow you closely.


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Good hub, Shirley.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

SweetiePie, Kylie, Ajcor, Regtroye, Constant Walker - thank you all for your kind comments.

I do hope that those who want to take the plunge will benefit from this hub.


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 8 years ago from Hell, MI

This is the one I've been waiting for! Thank you!! As soon as I figure out who would be interested in the writing of a simple Jackalope, I will be getting rich! Maybe I'll even let Torpey win the election, while I go on to greatness in other venues.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

I'm sure there are a lot of publications that would clammer for a chance to buy your writing, B.T. Check your Writer's Market. :)

William will be relieved that your interests have veered into another direction, although life may be a little duller without your feisty competition.

Good luck, B.T. Let me know if you need any help. It must be murder trying to write or type with those paws.


rmr profile image

rmr 8 years ago from Livonia, MI

I doubt if I'm polished enough to take that step yet, but I am curious; what approach would you take if you had yet to ever be published?


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

The one I actually did take.

I sat down at the pool, wrote an article that was in my head (see my 'Stair of Despair'), wrote a cover letter query (same technique as above) and mailed it off to the London Free Press.  A month later, I got a call at work from the editor informing me that they wanted to run it.  I made $100 in 1992 (I think '92, not sure) for it.

I had never done anything like it, didn't know if it would work, just decided to take the chance and see what, if anything, would happen.

I'd be willing to bet, that you are polished enough.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, RMR.


rmr profile image

rmr 8 years ago from Livonia, MI

Kind of you to say. At the moment, my vote is cast for option #3 in your poll. I do have a couple of ideas to shop around, though. If I get a job out of it, I will personally bake you some butter tarts!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Yay! I'll count on getting those butter tarts!

If it's just fear that's stopping you, DO IT ANYWAY. Seriously. Take the chance. If you need some help, just let me know.


qlcoach profile image

qlcoach 8 years ago from Cave Junction, Oregon

This is a wonderful and helpful hub for everybody who takes writing seriously. Thank yo so much for sharing it. I want to invite you to post a link and sample of it at my online club: http://www.squidoo.com/groups/publishingclub. Sincerely: Gary Eby, author and therapist.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank-you, Gary! Thanks also for Squidoo invite. I'll be taking you up on your kind offer as soon as I figure Squidoo out. Hopefully, in the next day or two.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

So helpful Shirley! Thanks so much for sharing this. I have written a few query letters, but they just never feel right to me. I'm always looking or ways to improve.:)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Excellent advice, well written and very upbeat. I hope you have pushed some people over the edge to try for the first time. You are so right about how it feels to stuff that first one in the mail (actually I am a total mailbox stalker, always waiting for responses. It's actually fun... flipping through the mail with your heart racing, looking for that telltale envelope with your own handwriting on it lol).

I would even add that people should save their rejection slips, hang them up as a badge of honor, like war wounds. I framed my first one. Rejection letters don't mean your writing sucks, they just mean you are actually working on becoming a writer. This hub is awesome and people should take your advice and just do it! Great work.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank-you, Amy Jane.  Your queries are probably better than you think they are...we tend to be the toughest critics where our own work is concerned.  Try setting it aside for a couple of days or weeks, then go back and read it with a fresh eye.  You may be surprised how good it is, or see immediately what it needs to be perfect.  Good luck with your submissions!

Shadesbreath - thank-you so much!  I too, really hope some will take that first brave step.

Oh, the memories of watching for the mailman and rifling through the envelopes to see if there were any from publishers!  That was pre-internet, of course, so a correspondence could be an acceptance.....I always hoped it was an envelope with someone else's handwriting.  :)

Not all rejections are because of poor writing.  Sometimes, the pitch just isn't a fit for other reasons or yearly scheduling.  Often though, the writer has not done their homework and has submitted to an inappropriate market.  There's a remedy for that....actually, it's preventable.

Thanks again, Shadesbreath!  Hope you're getting lots more acceptances than rejections.  Happy querying!


entertaininstyle profile image

entertaininstyle 8 years ago from Southern California

Great Hub Shirley! Thanks for the sample, it really helps cement the hub.


pgrundy 8 years ago

What a great hub! I have been thinking about venturing off the internet, but fear the constant rejection that comes with that. I've gotten used to the near-instant gratification of online writing, but I think if I tried more paper-print publications I'd make more money (if I could sell anything to them). Thanks for a really helpful, hands-on hub.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Hi Entertaininstyle - thank-you very much. I hoped that including a successful query would be inspiring to someone, or at least offer some clarity.

Pam, you are a great writer and have nothing to fear. Why do you assume constant rejection? I seldom got rejection letters, and when I did it was my own fault for not understanding the publication better. Start out with safe markets that you KNOW print the type of writing you produce. Then move on from there.

Yes, it can be more profitable. In the instance above, the magazine not only paid me very well, they also covered all my expenses. Also, I cannot stress enough the thrill of seeing your work in print! For me, anyway. That has never left me, don't know if it ever will.

You know, writing about this has made me miss the print world. I've decided that I'm going to mix it up a bit and do some of both kinds of submitting - online and offline.

Good luck, Pam. Try it, please.


pgrundy 8 years ago

Wow, now you're getting me fired up, Shirley! As I think back on it, the last time I tried this (it's been over five years ago) I really didn't get much in the way of rejection, and you're right, it's fun to see your name in print! Gosh darn it, I'm a gonna do it! I'm psyched now!

Seriously, I'd like to get some paper publications under my belt so I can approach an agent (or a publisher directly) and a write a couple of books before I croak. This is very encouraging and helpful. Thank you again!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

YAY!!! I'm very happy that you're going to take the plunge, Pam! I have no doubt that you'll do really well.

Oh, this is exciting! Please let us know when you make your first sale.


Ntathu 8 years ago

Thank You...ummmm, lots of food for thought.

I'm quite new to the "writing business" and wasn't aware of the process of writing query letters etc. Definitely a useful format to follow if and when i take that step.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Ntathu, thank-you for your comment!

If you want to have your writing published, I hope that you will submit some of your work to the most appropriate place. You won't be sorry, it's quite something.

Good luck to you!


MaroonJeep profile image

MaroonJeep 8 years ago from Michigan

Great hub and very informative. I actually read the entire thing - which is a compliment. THANKS

It's all so complicated, though, isn't it? I just want to write something and have someone hand me a check. :>)

I realize it's part of the game.....


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Oh, MaroonJeep - that is one of my favourite dreams! Swapping work for cheques, I mean. :) These days, PayPal's in there.

It seems complicated in the beginning, but honestly, once you get it 'down' it becomes second nature. You won't even think about the mechanics of it anymore.

Thx for reading the whole thing!! That is indeed a compliment.

Good luck with your writing.


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

Shirley I am proud to say I was the first to vote for No, I just can't! I'm not ready, please, don't make me! I didn't even know what a query letter was but I did know you are a very smart lady!! from your Beatle pal, Dottie. Thanks for teaching me something new today.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Dottie! Congrats on being the first 'No'!

Tell her what she's won, Johnny.

Dottie, you've just won a personal invitation to the upcoming super-special-secret-yet-to-be-made Beatles hub#2 requested by DJ!!! <*deafening cheers and applause*> Oh Dottie, you'll travel first class and be treated like a queen at the hubber profile home of Shirley Anderson. <*ooohhhhh* *aaahhhh*> Your prize includes a stop over at the world famous DJ Funktual link, before being whisked off to the premier opening of the super-special-secret-yet-to-be-made Beatles hub #2. *crowd goes wild!*

Thanks, Dottie! Aren'tcha glad you came by? Lucky girl.


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

Heeeeerrrrrrre's Johnny!!!!

ROFLMAO Shirley!

"How lucky am I. Can't believe all my good fortune.  Royalty at Shirley's.  I'll count my blessings everyday but Shirley please DON'T feed me peanuts."


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

LOL....I'm guessing you've had enough peanuts for awhile! (Sorry!)


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

LOL, forever friends, with or without peanuts!!!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Yay! Thx, Dottie....you forgave me! I promise to try and never make you eat your own weight in peanuts again!


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

It's a done deal!  (pinky swearing with Shirley, never again!)


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Whoa! A pinky swear - that's serious stuff....been awhile since I've done one, but I'm happy to do pinky swearing with you, Dottie. Done deal! like you said.

Colour me happy! :)


Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Shirley! A great hub again. Great advice. It's hard to explain of how important that first impression really is when looking for writing work.

Thanks for sharing regards Zsuzsy


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Zsuzsy, thx! I forget sometimes that other people don't know how to do things like this, so I'm glad our butter tart lovin' friend requested it. If it helps somebody fulfill a dream of getting published, I'll be the happiest hubber around.


ProCW profile image

ProCW 8 years ago from South Carolina

Wonderfully executed!

Substantially informative!

Outstandingly terrific!

---

Great hub and perfect guide on "How to Write the Perfect Query Letter" !!!

Thumbs up, Shirley Anderson!

ProCW,

President of the Shirley Anderson fanclub

(Don't believe me? Ask Shirley! :))


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

LOL, thank-you C.W. You're so great!

P.S. Let me know where to send your cheque. ;)


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Hi Shirley, I am definitely going to bookmark this one! :)

--Michelle


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thx, Michelle!


Eddie Perkins 8 years ago

Thank you,

I’m going to book mark this page because I’ve dreamed of writing. I’ve never considered myself a writer and still don’t.  It is still a passion and dream so I’m not giving up on it.

Love your “First Timers” question box. I answered “none of the above”.

Very informative hub. Thumbs up and Stumble. ~ eddie


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Why, thank-you Eddie!! That's very kind of you.

If you dream of being writer, I urge you to take the chance and start submitting your writing.

Good luck, and let me know if I can help. ~ Shirley


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Shirley, this is such good information! You rarely get a 2nd chance to make that 1st impresiion!

Thanks for sharing! :)


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

I had to snicker at your comment, Mr. Furry Pants....that was one of our sayings in the promotional products industry. I never thought of it crossing industries, but you're right.

Thx! :)


crypticfragments profile image

crypticfragments 8 years ago from heart in the Himalayas

I have not submitted anything in many years. I was braver when I was just entering my 20s. Now I'm 40 and terrified of rejection.

The good news is at least I'm writing again!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

It is good news that you're writing again, Cryptic. Don't be terrified of rejection. Rejection letters are a matter of course for writers. If nothing else, it means that an editor read what you had to say. Some will take the time to make invaluable and helpful suggestions, too.

Start submitting again. Remember when you used to do it? The first one made you break out into a cold sweat, the second one made your mouth dry and you were nervous, you were down to mere butterflies in the stomach by the third one. So it goes - easier and more natural with practise. It doesn't make you any less hopeful of a sale and it doesn't diminish the thrill of getting a piece accepted, it just gets easier to take a chance.

Never give up.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 8 years ago from Oregon, USA

Great hub!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank-you, Hot Dorkage!


GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Shirley...

...thanks for this informative hub. =) I know now how to better leverage myself so I can pick up steam @ ProCW.

G|M


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Glad to help, GM! I think that you'll do just great @ ProCW. ;)

Thanks for reading and commenting.


abcd1111 profile image

abcd1111 7 years ago from Glen Ellyn, IL (Chicago suburb)

I have bookmarked this hub to help me "flash" an editor some day soon.

Thanks for the great info.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Abcd, don't forget to wear your good trench coat to do your flashing! :)

Thanks for bookmarking and commenting, hope this is helpful for you.


Ladybird33 profile image

Ladybird33 6 years ago from Georgia USA

Very helpful and just wanted I needed. Thanks for sharing your experience, I am submiting my second query letter and my first wasn't that good, so thanks for the help.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Glad to be of assistance, LadyBird. Very best of luck with your second query letter! My fingers are crossed for you.


mwatkins profile image

mwatkins 6 years ago from Portland, Oregon & Vancouver BC

This is perfect timing for a friend of mine! I am forwarding your hub and tips to her for her partner, who just finished his book. Thank you! Your hubs are great! I am a fan! ;-)


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Hi, MWatkins. So happy to help fellow writers. I wish your friends much success with their work!

Thank-you for visiting!


SwiftlyClean profile image

SwiftlyClean 6 years ago from Texas

Thanks Shirley I just found this article and it answered my questions.

I'm doing it......There's no stopping me now!

Peace and Blessing!

Sharon Smith


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Hi, Sharon. I'm so happy to hear that you're going for it! Good luck, I hope that we'll be seeing your work published soon!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

It's so wonderful to go back through some of other people's hubs and learn the A,B,C's of sending off a manuscript. Thanks for these valuable tips AND the sample letter. Voted up and bookmarked.


htodd profile image

htodd 5 years ago from United States

Thanks for the great post...nice information

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