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Query Letter Basics

Writing the perfect query is the only way to make it in the print industry. There are hundreds of places that accept (and often prefer) full manuscripts. If you spend hours on a piece and it is rejected, then you are back to square one (only now you have a file full of articles that have never been published – I know, start a blog).

The great thing about queries is that you don’t have to write the whole article before you find out if the publisher is interested. The bad thing about queries is that if yours is accepted then you better be able to meet the expectations that it delivers. I have written BAD queries, great queries that I couldn’t produce the article, and great queries where the articles were accepted (and the check has cleared). Here are some of the tips that I have stumbled over through the years.

1. Know the magazine that you are querying. That means that you need to find some of the magazines and read the articles. You need to know the tone, the material, and even the grammar (some use contractions, some don’t). Many magazines have an online site where you can see some of their archived articles.

2. Know the person you are querying. You will have to find out the editor of the department (don’t trust the website, the market guide listing, or the magazine). The best bet is to call. The print industry is one that is always flipping. If you send your query to the wrong person then it will most likely find its way into the garbage before it is ever opened. Also, make sure you have the right spelling and title.

3. If you haven’t written the article (and I usually don’t) then at least have an outline to guide your query letter. I wrote the perfect query letter and a major print magazine asked to see the article. Only, I couldn’t figure out how to make the exact idea in the query into a flowing article. It was rejected, and they haven’t asked to see another of my articles since then.

4. Read the guidelines. If you have a fiction story and the magazine doesn’t accept fiction, don’t waste the time or money to send the query no matter how good and perfect you think it might be. The guidelines are there for a reason. Follow them specifically (including number of words) or you will not make it into the respond pile.

5. Check, recheck, and then have a friend check your grammar, titles, and names. During a day when I sent out multiple queries, the name of a rival magazine ended up on another’s query. I wasn’t shocked when I got a form rejection letter. Why should they take the time to look over and evaluate a query when I can’t even take the time to be sure I’ve got the right magazine?

What makes a good query? Everyone you will speak to will probably have a little different formula for what they write. This is a layout of an accepted e-query:

Jane E. Doe
Editor
I Want to Write Magazine
1234 Grammar Street
Hometown, Al 12345

Dear Ms. Doe:


Paragraph One: Attention grabbing sentence or anecdote


Paragraph Two: Basic outline of the article, the length, and the section of the magazine it will most be suited for (shows your knowledge of the magazine).


Paragraph Three: Use a few sentences to tell about whom you are, what have happened in your life to qualify you to write the article, and any experience you may have had (DO NOT say you are inexperienced!). My first query simple said something like “I am a freelance writer with a desire to share my personal struggles to assist others in their walk.”


Paragraph Four: Just a simple “thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.”


Sincerely,
Your name


Your name
Your address
Your phone number
Your email address

Learning to write the perfect query is the best way to send your writing career to the next level. If you don’t have friends that write (or that will be honest with you) then subscribe to an online writing forum for advice and suggestions. The key is to keep learning, keep perfecting, and keep trying until you get to where you want to be.

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