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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.
Books That Can Help
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!
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!
Will you actually submit your first query letter?
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!