The Secret to Query Letter Success
Query letter success happens when the editor or publication you query asks to see more.
Kicking off a writing career either takes great luck, where you actually land some top paying gigs right off the bat, or some serious self-esteem, so that you embrace the mountain of rejection letters. Writing can be a tough business. But you can make it a little easier if you find some creative ways to get the attention of potential editors.
If you are like me, the query letter does not come naturally. When I first jumped into submitting material to magazines back when I was in high school, I didn’t even know what a query letter was. Twenty years later, even after I had read the Writer’s Market examples and taken diligent notes I was apparently still clueless.
A BAD Query Letter
“Time to Renovate”: A light-hearted look at my home renovation compared to Romans 12:2
Every tool has a purpose, and each of us needs to learn not only the purpose of the tools but how to use them in our lives. We need to grow to a place where we can daily refurbish and renew our minds to God’s way of doing things.
My best qualification for writing is a heart for everyone to share in the peace that God has placed in my heart. I feel that God has been leading me in the direction of writing for most of my life. Recently, though, I came to the realization that everything in my life belongs to God. What I write is no exception. My written words do no good locked up in a drawer, and the worst that anyone can say is “no thanks.” So I’m acting on the prompting of the Holy Spirit and trusting everything to God’s hands. I would like to add that I do plan to hold my breath until I hear something.
1000 – 1250 words could be finished by March 31
It was bad! (Having to write this back out – since it’s not saved in my new computer – was actually painful for me so I should send an apology to the poor editors forced to read it). It was also rejected repeatedly.
Writing a Better Query Letter
That year I went to my first writer’s conference – the Southern Christian Writer’s Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was close to home and was not expensive, plus my brother had a house in the town and was gone that weekend so I had a free place to stay. One of the classes available was on writing a strong query letter. I was thrilled when the instructor handed out samples of query letters that she had written that were accepted.
The day I got home I began reworking my query letter. I changed the name of the article and resubmitted it to one of the same places that had just sent me a rejection a couple of weeks before.
Dear Mrs. Smith:
I have heard it said that if a marriage survives remodeling or building a home then that relationship is sure to last. Eight years ago, my husband and I bought a house that we are redoing ourselves. As the time has passed, I have found that I am ready to redo much of what was done. The renovation of our home is a continuous process, and it affects all aspects of our lives.
God has prompted me to the same process in my spiritual life. But instead of screwdrivers and hammers, I use the scripture and the church. “Remodeling: It Takes Tools” is a side-by-side telling of the work that God is doing in my life and the work we are doing in our home. It will show the tools that God has provided for me, based on Ephesians 6, to grow me to all that He has called me to. The results of spiritual renovation are similar to those of home renovation; a stronger marriage, a more peaceful life, and better stewardship. The article will be 1000 words with a sidebar of 200 words.
I am a freelance writer who desires to share my struggles with others and to assist them in a personal relationship with the Father.
Thank you for considering my article idea. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
They asked to see the article.
Improving Your Query Letter
My query letters have continued to improve and have landed me several more opportunities. The more I practice, the more they improve – and you never want to start improving.
Before you begin sending query letters to people, you want to take time to determine where to query. Even with the help of the Writer’s Market or other similar guides, you still need to take some time to get to know the publication personally.
How to Know Before You Query
- Subscribe to the publication
- Visit the library
- Request samples
- Visit the website to read online
- BONUS: engage with the publication through comments on the website and on the different social media platforms.
Once you’ve locked into the voice and the needs of the brand, then you are ready to start crafting your perfect query letter.
Steps to a Query Letter Success
1. Hook the reader early.
The first sentence should jump out and scream “read me!” and in a good way (don’t actually write the words ‘read me’ unless your article is steeped in humor on purpose – and even then it better be publication specific). Choose an opening sentence that begs for further reading.
- “Money is a touchy subject in most people’s lives”
- “Making my husband happy is not my job.”
- “We were broke.”
- “I quit”
2. Keep It Short But Poignant
The first paragraph should be an introduction to what you are going to write – keep it short and interesting (roughly three to five sentences). Include anecdotes, questions, descriptions that come to life or powerful statements.
3. Paint the Picture
The second paragraph is a detailed layout of the articles. Give the editor enough information so he or she can understand what direction the article is heading. Things to include:
- Word count
- Area in the magazine where you think the article will fit (shows that you know the magazine).
- Side bar word count (if there is one)
- Photos (if any are included)
4. Describe the Artist
The third paragraph is about the author – that’s you. If you have clips or have been published then include that information. Otherwise, just include the information that is relevant to why you should write this article. For instance:
“My personal struggle has opened doors that I would love to be able to share with others going through a similar situation.”
“I am a freelance writer who often writes of my personal struggles at being a mother and a wife.”
Be sure that you only focus on the positive. If you have no clips or published material yet then keep this section as short as possible.
5. Say Thank You
In the closing sentence or two, thank the editor for taking time out to read your idea. You might want to add in something about your excitement to talk more, or how you are looking forward to working together.
6. Don’t Click Send Yet!
The devil IS in the details. Check, recheck and then check again that everything is spelled correctly. This is ESPECIALLY important if you have re-used a query and just changed where you are sending it. Make sure you have the right publication, the right editor, and be sure that your word count fits into that particular publication’s guidelines.
7. Keep Trying
Remember that a rejection isn’t personal. Sometimes it has to do with timing. Other times it has to do with the editor or publication. But even if it’s not either of these two, keep pushing ahead. If you believe in the content then refresh the query and try again.
Query Letter Perfection
The number one thing about creating the perfect query letter is to know the publication where you are sending that query. Read several back issues. Learn the tone that the publication uses. See what type of material has been published in the past. Then create a query that will meet the needs of the editors and the readers.