e’ve all heard the term query letter, but what is it exactly? And what constitutes a good one?
The query is a short letter that introduces you to a prospective agent or editor, enticing them to request to see your fiction manuscript, nonfiction book proposal, or article. It’s your first impression, and we all know the saying, “First impressions are everything.”
You need to sell yourself as a professional writer and as a marketing asset. Your query letter is an advertisement of you and your work. You want to sell your product, or land a career, and you have a very limited amount of time and space in which to reach this goal.
No matter which type of publishing you’re seeking, there’s going to be competition. So let’s examine the contents of your query package:
- Your query letter should be only one page long, single-spaced with standard margins and a 12 pt. serif font. It is the greeting card for the rest of your query package. Your main goal is to pique the interest of an editor or agent who has very little time and patience. You want her to keep reading and ask for more.
- For magazine submissions, include clippings of your previous work. Remember that less is more. You don’t want your package to look like junk mail. Include three of your best clippings of print or screenshots of the online articles you’ve had published. If the editor wants to see more, she will ask. If possible, send clippings of articles you’ve written that are relevant to the magazine’s demographic.
- Nonfiction writers—your query package should include a one-page resume/bio highlighting your expertise and ability to write the book or article.
- Fiction writers—along with your query letter, submit a one page, single-spaced synopsis of your manuscript, formatted with standard margins and 12 pt. serif font. Do not send your entire manuscript unless asked to do so.
- Always include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for the agent or editor to use for her reply. Don’t expect your materials to be returned, they are usually recycled.
You may be thinking, that’s a lot of rules already, how am I going to handle all that? Don’t worry; we’re all in the same boat. No matter how many courses or books you read on the subject, the waters still may seem gray and murky. But the query letter is the first hurdle and a relatively painless process. Though crafting a good query letter may take time, it’s not like writing your book! We’re just talking about a one page “sales pitch,” now, how hard can that be?
“Someone who tries too hard to be clever, or arrogant, is only going to turn off the editor or agent.”
Let’s examine the bones of a query letter. The concept is quite similar to fishing: hook your line with something tasty and irresistible, throw that line out there and support it, kick back, sip some sparkling water and when you feel a tug of interest, reel that champion in!
1. Lead/hook and pitch
2. Supporting material
3. Your Bio
Of course, there is always cleanup and cooking, but that’s a different article. So let’s get started!
1. LEAD/HOOK and PITCH
You know you need to capture the editor’s attention, but you don’t have to be crazy about it. There’s still a little something called subtlety. Meaning, you should be engaging, but not over the top. Contrived writing emphasizes itself. Someone who tries too hard to be clever, or arrogant, is only going to turn off the editor or agent. Be yourself, let your voice shine through, because you know you have something to offer. Choose to convey your idea in a straightforward manner, and get to the point quickly.
This is not to say that you should be boring. Think of the first sentence like you do your first chapter, to really grab the reader. Use whatever technique you think would be most powerful to showcase the material you are presenting: a question, anecdote/personal experience, problem/solution, informational/statistical, or attention-grabbing hook.
Did you know…?
What would you do if…?
Have you ever…?
Why do you think…?
As a secretary, I try to keep my desk as organized as possible, but on this particular day, my desk was piled high with papers. My boss walked by and said, “I hope your mind’s not as messy as your desk.” At a loss of words, I quickly tried to rectify the situation and cleared my desk. The second time my boss walked by, he glanced at my desk and said, “I hope your mind’s not as empty as that desk.”
I propose a 2,500-word article entitled, “The Zen of Desk Etiquette.”
In this post-9/11 age, you can’t get through the airport without waiting in lines, taking off your shoes, and making sure you don’t have more than 3 oz. of liquid in your carry-on bag, which makes traveling with a baby a real nightmare! There are the diaper bags, rash ointment, wipes, and baby bottles to consider...and what about breast-feeding?
In my article, “Baby On Board: Carry-on Tips for Babies and Moms,” you’ll learn...
Many dieters are taking up kissing to burn calories. A recent study has shown those who kiss burn up to 2000 calories per hour. Kissing can not only be good for your waistline, but is also proven to raise your metabolism, according to...
My date arrived a little earlier than expected...through my living room window.
NOTE: These are not real query beginnings, just ideas off the top of my head. They may not be polished (in fact, I guarantee that), but they did pique your interest, right?
A lead should grab the reader’s attention. It should be brief, 1-2 sentences, with a point. Think of the popular journalistic approach to the inverted pyramid. This means that you should put your strongest foot forward, then follow-up with details and supporting material later. If you start with all scenery and setting, or start slow and gain momentum, your query will say hello to the slush pile!
“...provide evidence and exude confidence”
2. SUPPORTING MATERIAL
If you’re querying an agent with a nonfiction book idea, you should include a brief paragraph in your query using compelling information or statistics to support your claim. This technique can also be used for magazine queries to convince the editor that your idea needs to be explored. Include a few sentences stating how readers will benefit from your book or article. Benefits to readers translate into sales for the publisher (and for you!).
Now more than ever, publishers only want to bet on a project that will give them the greatest return on their investment, so it’s time to impress them with the knowledge of your prospective market. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book or an article; editors need to know that there is a well-defined market for your project. When stating your case, make sure you provide evidence and exude confidence.
“Wear your flair!”
3. YOUR BIO
This is no time for modesty; you have bragging rights! Toot-toot! But be careful to do it in a professional fashion, don’t claim, “I’m going to be the next JK Rowling.” State the real facts—include all of your relevant education and experiences in your life that relates to the subject of your book or establishes you as an expert, capable of writing the article you are proposing. You can include hobbies, organizations, and other information that’s related to your proposal—actually, it’s recommended. Those experiences are often more valuable than academic achievements.
Other information you should include (if you have it): mention interviews and speaking engagements, newspaper features about you, and blurbs about books you’ve written. Remember your bragging rights; anything that shows you have a fan base and a platform, that’s what you need to include. Wear your flair!
Conclude by asking for the sale. You’ve come this far right? Don’t say, “I hope you will respond,” or “I think you will like my book,” or any other wishy-washy stuff. Go for the close. “I look forward to your timely response.” ‘Nuff said.
If it’s an article, you may also want to do the nudge: I can have this article on your desk by...
Whatever you do, reread the last line as though you were an editor or agent. Make sure it’s strong. Be sure to conclude by thanking the editor or agent for her time and consideration to your query. In your final sentence, ask for her attention to a response.
QUERY LETTER TIPS:
You thought you were done, right? As any good editor will tell you, it’s important to check your work, recheck it, and then check it one more time. Here are a few tips:
- Reread and edit your query letter.
- Cut out any information that dilutes the purpose
- Strengthen your arguments.
- Check for typos and grammar—don’t ruin your chances!
- Letterhead: use nice paper, letterhead with a logo, white or cream paper only, black ink.
- Spell her name correctly! This is huge.
- Don’t be long-winded.
- Get to the point.
- Attractiveness counts—use standard business formatting and legible fonts.
- Don’t say anything negative about yourself.
- Remember: don’t send the whole manuscript. Unsolicited = slush.
In conclusion: like on a fishing trip, you’re going to want to reel them in. Following these simple pointers will help you get your feet wet (if not soaking!), and you may harpoon that great big whale... or at least, learn to cook up a query letter that sizzles.
AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN HOWARD-JOHNSON
s a new writer one of the things I dreaded even attempting was writing a query letter. And while I've gotten better at them, I still don't like having to put one together.
So, I chatted with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of "The Frugal" books. She shares a lot of great query letter information here so settle in and enjoy.
WOW: Carolyn, let's start at the beginning. Just what is the purpose of a query letter?
Carolyn: A query letter does just that. It asks an agent or editor to consider your manuscript or article idea. It should also tell them why they should. They aren’t in business to do a favor for you. So, "Won't you help me publicize it?" is not going to cut it. Anyone you query is in business. They need to make a profit, tell a story, appeal to their readers, etc. A query letter is a mini TELL and SELL document. One page only, please!
WOW: Yes, one page is a must! So besides that, what do you think is the most important part of the query letter and what should we include?
Carolyn: The most important part of the query letter is showing the editor or agent what is unique and compelling about your manuscript or article idea. Also, writers forget the person they're querying may wear more than one hat. He or she will need to know exactly what the writer sending the letter expects.
So, very basically, include:
- Why you are writing to this person. Were you referred by someone they know? Do you see a similarity to your work in the material the agent or editor handles?
- Tell what you’re submitting and give them a scintillating one or two line pitch. Avoid wordiness.
- Give them some background on you. What makes you the person to write this piece, promote this book, etc.?
- What you need or are seeking. Are you looking for representation? To Publish? To have a feature story written about you?
- Please add a considerate thank you. And please avoid assuming that this person is destined to take on your project. They may not.
WOW: You make it sound almost easy. What do you see as the most common mistake made with a query letter?
Carolyn: By far and away the mistake most new writers make (but it's not the most deadly one!) is to tell an agent or publisher or contest judge that they’ve "always wanted to write." A writer has only one page to convince these people to read their work. They'll want to be more original than that.
“Hooking an editor isn't really very difficult.
Small things count.”
WOW: (Laughs) I’m quite sure most editors already know that the writer querying them wants to write. So what’s a better way of capturing the attention of an agent or editor?
Carolyn: Hooking an editor or agent isn't really very difficult. Small things count. Make her aware that you are familiar with her work. Use her name. Spell it right. Mention something she has done in the past that makes her the one you'd like most to do whatever you are asking of her. How do you find out about her work? Check her website.
WOW: We’ve all heard about the tendency toward casualness in e-mail query letters, but even e-queries should be addressed in a proper fashion. We appreciate that at WOW! as well. After a writer queries an editor or agent, how should she follow up?
Carolyn: I might send a note by USPS or made a quick phone call to see if she received it. When phoning, always ask if the person you are calling has a minute for you. She may be on deadline.
WOW: That’s good advice—many times writers take our rush for deadlines as a snub, but that’s not the case. Most editors and agents really are busy! In fact, that’s the reason for slush piles, which are the bane of every writer. What one thing can we do to make our query letter stand out from the rest?
Carolyn: Very simply, good writing. If you use weak verbs and overblown adjectives in your query, why would the editor or agent expect you'd do any better with your writing?
WOW: Very true. From the onset, whether it’s an email or print query, your writing will definitely show through since it’s THE first representation of your work that an editor or agent sees.
I’ve heard about including direct quotes from the manuscript in the query. How does a writer know when to quote her own submission or manuscript in the body of the query? Is this appropriate for both fiction and nonfiction, or not at all?
Carolyn: A quotation is more important if the agent or editor doesn't know you or your writing. If the book being pitched is for poetry, a short story collection or a literary novel, I especially like a quotation as an opener, maybe centered just under the salutation.
Having said that, what you include in your query is always dependent on who you are approaching. You consider your book, the kind of media you're querying, what you want from them, and more. The most important thing is let your letter reflect your voice. In other words, it shouldn't sound like an academic text or a business letter. I've covered all the mistakes authors make—including the ones that bug agents the most—in The Frugal Editor: Put your best book forward to avoid humiliation and ensure success.
WOW: As we can see, our readers will have to pick up a copy of your book! And follow your example in promoting yourself. But as a new writer, what if you have no clips or writing credits to mention? What do you do then?
Carolyn: Put your thinking cap on. Everyone has something or can get something. What have you published? What kind of marketing skills do you have that will help whomever publishes your work promote it? What kind of database lists have you built that will help them promote you? (Bookstore event planners, as an example, will probably be impressed if you have 300 local names to invite to a signing.) What writing/promotion/publishing classes have you taken? What/who influenced you and your writing?
If you draw a complete blank after going through that list:
- Take a class from a reputable writer’s program.
- Attend a writer’s conference, preferably one with a big name or one associated with a credible writing program. Gotham in New York. UCLA's Writer’s Program. San Diego State Writer’s Conference. The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop associated with Dayton University. All are programs where I've taught or presented. There are many more, of course.
- Read The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't to get ideas of how you might build a platform for marketing that will interest an editor or agent.
WOW: Those are good suggestions. We've been talking about queries in general, but how do query letters differ from fiction to nonfiction?
Carolyn: They differ only in the obvious ways—in that they must address the subject of the book. Both should be written well. A writer's voice should shine through—at least a little—in both. Neither needs to be devoid of humor. They should not look canned. It should be apparent that the author has done her homework in both the writing of the query as well as the writing of what she has submitted. Two query letters for nonfiction books can be as different as two letters for different genres, even genres as widely separated as fiction and nonfiction. That's because the writer of the query letter is coming from her book and her own background. Those are the things that must be reflected; they are what propel the query and make one different from another.
Considerations for Your Query and Any Other Good Writing:
- Prune out adjectives and adverbs as if your life depended on it. The life of your book or story or poem does! Many times even poetry is more powerful without an adjective than with. The Frugal Editor: Put your best book forward to avoid humiliation and ensure success tells you how to use this process to strengthen your writing.
- Use active verbs.
- Avoid gerunds and other “ing” words. They are probably making your writing wordy.
- Avoid long, Latinate words and business-ese.
- Let your voice shine through.
For templates and far more details check out Carolyn's book: The Frugal Editor: Put your best book forward to avoid humiliation and ensure success.
WOW: Let's change gears here a bit. You are a co-founder of the Muse Online Writer's Conference. What were some of the benefits you gained from hosting this conference?
Carolyn: It has been great to get to know Lea Schizas better. I knew her from her Yahoo discussion group (also known as a list-serve) and lots of other things, like the site she edits, Apollo’s Lyre. She and I both share a passion for sharing with other authors and, as you know, this conference is FREE.
WOW: We’re happy to hear that the conference was a success—congratulations! Can you tell us the motivation behind the conference and how you and Lea managed to offer it for free?
Carolyn: I'm afraid Lea Schizas and I are both just suckers for helping writers. We are looking for sponsors, and with the numbers attending our conference, any business looking for lots of exposure to serious writers should be interested. Hint. Hint. Really. We just wanted to reach writers who can't afford high conference fees or can't travel to them because of handicaps or obligations at home.
WOW: Carolyn, that’s wonderful, and hint taken! Of course, we’d love to sponsor or help in any way we can. It’s amazing that you and Lea have taken on this project yourselves, and we’d be happy to be a part of it.
As a matter of fact, while doing research about the conference for our review column, I noticed you are a presenter this year. I’m sure our readers would love to know what you’re presenting.
Carolyn: Well, it seems as if when I'm asking experts in the field to present at our conference, I should be willing to do it, too. Joyce Faulkner and I are presenting on indexing, a subject I think more and more authors will find essential to their careers. People—even historical romance readers—are focusing more and more on facts. Their readers want to know what's real and what the author made up. If an author doesn't know about all aspects of publishing that may affect her, she is then at the mercy of others. That may not always be bad but sometimes it is!
Two members of the Audio Divas group I am a member of will be presenting, too. Kathe Gogolewski and Allyn Evans will talk about recording audios but also about the huge catalog of helpful audios we have created for writers. The other Divas are Joyce Faulkner and I. Writers can learn more about those audios—everything from contests to the writing of violence—at http://www.tri-studio.com/AUDIOCLASSESALL.html.
And, as luck would have it, I'm also doing a seminar on writing Zero Tolerance Queries and Cover Letters based on a couple of the chapters in The Frugal Editor.
“If an author doesn't know about all aspects of publishing that may affect her, she is then at the mercy of others.”
WOW: Okay, now you made me come up with two questions. Let’s start with the first. You said you and Joyce are presenting on ‘indexing’, what is that exactly? And how does it provide help for an author’s career?
Carolyn: I'll address the last part first. The more an author knows about any part of publishing, the better partner she will be for her agent, publisher, editor, etc. The more she knows, the better decisions she will make regarding her entire career. Indexing has always been important for academic writers and certain kinds of nonfiction writers. That is because people who read these types of works want to know exactly what is fact, who is the authority, and how to find what they need. There is a trend in publishing for readers of any kind of book to want to know what parts are based on fact, what parts are not. That includes historical fiction, as an example.
WOW: Aha! So ‘indexing’ is just like it sounds, creating the index for the back of your book. Now that makes more sense. And how about the seminar you’re doing on writing Zero Tolerance Queries and Cover Letters—can you provide our readers with an excerpt from The Frugal Editor, and what you’ll be covering?
Carolyn: I've already told some of my secrets, here. The Frugal Editor includes a whole chapter of guidance on query letters from agents with big enough hearts to contribute. There is a list of their names in the appendixes as well. But the book covers all kinds of editing, not just queries. Generally editing that works well for a query letter works for a manuscript. It covers how to make your Word program work in your favor when editing (instead of against you), and how to find a good editor. I mean, I really tried to think of everything.
WOW: And that you have! I had a chance to preview The Frugal Editor at BEA, and I have to say it’s fabulous! Everyone should pick up a copy and use it as an invaluable reference.
Carolyn: Thank you! And here’s an excerpt for your WOW! women, which can also be found here:
Excerpt from The Frugal Editor: Put your best book forward to avoid humiliation and ensure success
Titles Are Tattletales
Your expertise as a writer may be judged by how you punctuate your titles in any document you tuck into an envelope and send on its way:
- A work shorter than a three-act play or a complete book takes quotation marks. This includes short stories, essays, songs, poems (other than epics), and one-act plays. It also includes individual chapters from books, articles in periodicals including daily newspapers, and episodes or parts of serials on radio or TV.
- Italicize titles of larger works made up of smaller segments, including books, three-act plays, movies, the names of newspapers, magazines or journals, and the names of entire television or radio series. In the age of typewriters, underlining was used, now the trend has moved to the use of italics. The shift became especially prevalent in online publications where Internet links are underlined.
- Legal documents, the Bible, the Qu’ran, the Torah, and other sacred texts do not take quotation marks, underlining or italics.
- Here are the general rules for capitalizing titles: First and last words are capped. As are all other words except the articles (a, an, the), and conjunctions and prepositions of four or fewer letters. Much disagreement swirls around capping subtitles. The Brits prefer to cap only the first word in a subtitle. Learn more about it at: www.lse.ac.uk
WOW: Carolyn, what I love about this is that you present solid information in an easy-to-grasp way—without dumbing down the reader. It’s great take-away knowledge. We love that!
So tell us, what’s the difference between a query and a cover letter? And how does a writer know which one to use?
Carolyn: A cover letter accompanies your entire manuscript, your completed article, a media kit, etc. The query letter actually asks for something. And should ask for something. I can't tell you how often I get mail from writers who don't tell me what they want. I wear lots of hats as many editors do. Do they want me to recommend their book on my reading list for one of my UCLA classes? Do they want to contribute to my blog? My newsletter? Do they want to present at Lea's and my conference? You get the idea. The thing is, the writer who sends the letter may have no idea of how many things an editor may do. You have to make it easy on her.
Oh, and while we're on the subject. Please, please use an auto-signature with your e-mails so you never, never forget to include your essential contact information when you write anyone for anything.
WOW: That’s a super suggestion. You seem to be very web-savvy. So, what about blogging? Do you blog along with all the other things you do?
Carolyn: Oh, do I! I came to it late. I kept putting it off because I have so much else to do. But once started, it's so much easier than website building. And it can be so focused! So I have a review site where authors, reviewers or readers can share reviews of books they love. The guidelines are on the site at www.TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com.
Then, I have one called Sharing with Writers (www.sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com) where I rant on everything from Oprah to the erosion of free speech—something I figure should be important to both readers and writers. That is one that readers can sign up for so they get the blogs directly in their e-mail boxes.
And then a very specialized blog is one that focuses on how to make book fairs and other events successful. I have seen so many authors—especially new ones—waste their time with events because they didn't promote them well. It is www.authorscoalition.blogspot.com. It is associated with Authors' Coalition, a group I founded. It's at www.authorscoalitionandredenginepress.com.
WOW: I love the authors’ coalition—it’s a fantastic group, so is your Sharing with Writers. When I see that newsletter in my inbox, I can’t wait to read it. So how do our readers subscribe?
Carolyn: Oh, yes. Sharing with Writers is a newsletter that is also a community. Share your ideas. Learn from theirs! It's full of information about promotion, editing, and even the craft of writing. I even do a semi-annual ‘All Tips’ edition. It’s extremely popular. To subscribe, just send me an email with "subscribe" in the subject line: HoJoNews@aol.com.
WOW: Carolyn, we love your enthusiasm for helping other writers out—you definitely have the WOW! spirit. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Carolyn: Well, I'd like everyone to know about my new site. I finally discarded my old model of using a webmaster. I really tried to pass some of the responsibility to someone else, but it just wasn't working. So a friend gave me a few lessons and I started one for myself. It isn't perfect, but I am able to add what I want to it when I want. I, of course, have to make hard decisions about what fits and what doesn't, but it's better than saying "no" to people just because I can't get someone else to do it for me and do it the way I want. I am even selling ads on it, which is nice. I know its well-trafficked and my yearly rates are about what most sites charge for a single month. You'll find it at www.HowToDoItFrugally.com. Oh, did I mention I nearly had a nervous breakdown learning website building. Techie, I'm not!
WOW: We completely understand about those website-building issues—as most of our WOW! gals know, we’ve weathered some storms in the recent past. But if you’re dedicated and willing to learn, then you will survive!
Carolyn, thanks so much for all the great information; you’re a wonderful guest. And next time I have to deal with a query letter, I'll be much more confident.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson learned her editing, marketing and writing skills from a long history as a journalist and publicist and refined them for the publishing industry when she published This Is the Place, a literary novel that won eight awards, her book of creative nonfiction, Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered, that won three awards, and the toughest
marketing assignment of all, her chapbook of poetry, Tracings, which was named to the Compulsive Reader's Ten Best Reads list and was given the Military Writers Society of America's Silver Award of Excellence.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson and Paula Abdul at an AIDS Benefit, Los Angeles Gift Mart, Los Angeles, CA. Carolyn writes a regular column for Home Decor. (Photo courtesy of Debra Gold of Gold & Co.)
An instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renowned Writer’s Program, she is the author of how-to books in the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers (www.howtodoitfrugally.com), including The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put your
best book forward to avoid humiliation and ensure success. She is the recipient of the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community's Character and Ethics Committee awarded her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly's list of 14 "San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen." Her website is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
WOW!’S EMAIL QUERY SAMPLES
Since this is our Anniversary Issue, we thought you might enjoy reading a couple of email query letters that rocked our socks! As one of the highest paying Ezines for writers, let’s examine a couple queries that have garnered a sale.
Here is the very first letter of contact from one of our regulars and favorite freelance writers, Beth Morrissey.
Dear Ms. Mackintosh:
Virginia Woolf wanted one in 1929, and almost 80 year's later I'm still looking for a room of my own to create my masterpiece. For the most part, I settle for the kitchen table to crank out non-fiction articles, as I'm sure millions of other women writers do every day. Does this make us any less professional? Of course not! What I've come to realize about my writing space is that while a room of my own would be nice, I can get by on much less. Truly, a workspace of my own is all I need.
As a huge fan of the WOW! How To column, I propose a 1,000 word article on finding, and blossoming, in a workspace of your own. This article will acknowledge the many constraints women face in finding a workspace— financial, physical, and emotional—as well as provide information on developing comfortable spaces to call their own. I will be able to provide documentation of at least four women writers around the world that I will interview for this piece, and may even be able to obtain digital photos of workspaces if you so desire.
Please find attached to this email my resume and two writing clips for your review. I have been published in magazines and websites worldwide, including Learn Overseas, Glimpse Quarterly, The Green Guides to Boston and Sarasota, Learning Through History, Travel On the Cheap and YRB (NYC). I would be happy to provide references as required.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
This email, sent back in October 2006, piqued WOW!’s interest, and you can see why. With all the standard emails that open with, ‘I saw a call for writers on so-and-so, I thought you’d like my stuff’, needless to say, Beth’s intro was quite refreshing and eye-catching in the midst of a bounty of queries!
Let’s examine her email as we did in Query 101:
Beth’s first line was a problem/solution hook, stating that “Virginia Woolf wanted one” (at this point we were curious to know what “one” was), which immediately led into an anecdote about herself and how she, as a woman writer, is looking for a room of her own.
She also presents the problem of not having enough space, and working at a kitchen table, but “does this make us any less professional?” she poses. “Of course not!” (We adored this spirit.)
Solution: “Truly a workspace of my own is all I need.”
Starting out saying that you’re a huge fan of the WOW! so-and-so column let’s us know you’ve read our articles. This is important to any editor. It lets the editor know that you’ve read her publication, can deliver your piece in the publication’s voice, and have an interest in a particular column, other than being too general.
Next, Beth included the specs, including the word count, what we should expect her to cover in the article, and the number of interviewees she plans to include. This information is spectacular and needed. We could easily picture the article she had in mind.
A huge bonus is when she mentions her ability to obtain digital photos for the piece, which proves that she knows WOW! is a highly visual publication. Attention to detail will win over the heart of any editor.
Beth attached her resume to the email, and included some key clips/publications where her writing had appeared. Of course, this is impressive to any editor who wants to know that a writer they’ve never heard of is well-published. And believe me, most editors don’t have the time or are ‘in-the-know’ enough to have heard of you. Just because you’ve published in Writer’s Digest or Poet’s and Writers doesn’t mean that we’ve scoured those magazines and will remember you... there are way too many writers to remember all of your names! Unless you’re Janet Fitch or Amy Tan, don’t expect editors to have heard of you, so tout your publications with pride, and editors will be impressed.
Here Beth wraps it up with a mention of a few of her publications, and the resume and clips she’s attached, then urges us by saying, “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” No wishy-washy there!
Needless to say, this query knocked our socks off. And now Beth has published quite a few articles in our online magazine, and we always look forward to working with her. She could’ve been more blatant and included her blog link etc. but she didn’t. She had, and has, the perfect balance of promoting yourself without overdoing it. She’s one classy lady, and we’re very pleased to be working with her.
Here are a couple other query letters that we thought you would enjoy:
This one from Debbie Feldstein lightened our spirits by her unique and refreshing angle.
Greetings WOW Women!
I think you'll find my library of writing on small business marketing and my flair for creating imaginative, femme-friendly content make me an ideal candidate for your forthcoming issue, “The Freelance Union.”
I consider client testimonials the most powerful weapon in the business wars, so I'm pleased to roll out my big guns: other clients with plenty to say about the "Debbie Experience":
***"Not only did she provide me with the work ahead of time, but she delivered exactly what I was hoping for: a truly interesting article." (Translations Magazine)
***"Debbie did an excellent job as always! She decided on the tone of the articles, which fit perfectly!" (Applemates)
***"A+. Debbie appears to be able to write serious AND humorous pieces." (Gifts For Geezers)
***"Debbie threw herself into the job as if she were an owner of the company." (High Profile Publishing)
Articles need engaging titles and sub-headings to capture interest. Fact-filled content written in a witty (never wise-ass) tone will hold interest. But the key is an upbeat, motivational "you can do it!" tone that will transform interest into desire and desire into action as readers become do-ers ready to make substantive changes in their lifestyle.
I'll let my work speak for itself—samples are attached for your review. You may also visit my website: www.creativeblocks.com
In a nutshell, I'm willing to do whatever it takes—short of murder, espionage and karaoke—to ensure your satisfaction. (Please see attached Terms of Service for other details)
Creative Blocks Editorial Services
Debbie won our hearts with her creativity, and her article turned out to be one of our most lively pieces! http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/8-debbiefeldstein.php
She really delivered, and that’s what made us realize that we were right about her fun-loving query. Sometimes it takes a certain feeling, and hey, a bunch of testimonials doesn’t hurt either!
Here’s another query that we received that falls under the problem/solution hook. In this query Misti Sandefur presented us with something we didn’t expect and hadn’t thought of at the time. And we all know fresh ideas = yummy content.
Dear Ms. Mackintosh:
All too often writing requires us to research and gather quotes from experts. How do we deal with the dilemma of keeping track of the information we gather? How do we remember what information came from what source? How does a writer track all of the research expenses her editor may reimburse her for?
I've found my own system for dealing with this predicament: organization. When conducting an interview, I create a table on my favorite word processing program. My table includes five columns: name, address, phone number and e-mail address of the experts I interview. In addition, I also have a column for the date the interview takes place.
If my research requires travel, I create another table. This table allows me to keep track of mileage, and it includes four columns: mileage (to and from), the name of the place I plan to visit, the city and town I will be visiting and the date the trip is made.
The most important part of my research is identifying which source my information came from. To help me recall my sources I create another table with at least six columns: date research was performed, where the research was gathered from (Internet or library), the URL of the Web site I visited for information, the title of the book, newspaper, magazine or etc. I got the information from, the title of the Web site (if taken from the Internet), and the times I begin and end my research. (If I'm being paid for research by the hour.)
In "Keeping Track of Research," these and many more examples will help your readers organize and keep track of their research, so they're not sifting through clutter when the editor asks for documentation.
I am a full-time freelance writer. To-date, I have published over 100 articles in such publications as "Absolute Write," Write from Home" and "Hobby Magazine." In addition, I am the author of "On the Net Resource Guide for Writers," the editor of Coffee Break for Writers e-zine, and the "As the World Turns" contributing editor for Soaps.com. I have included links to some of my clips.
May I write this article for you?
Misti even went one step further. When I suggested that she make these templates available for download to WOW! readers, she graciously responded with enthusiasm, and a yes. After we published that issue, Misti received many thanks from writers who’ve used her templates. Being flexible has its advantages: it’s good for publicity to your website or blog, and editors will love you!
If you missed Misti’s article on research, you can see it here: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/6-mistisandefur.php
These are only a few samples from our plentiful stable of fabulous women writers. They provide good examples of solid e-queries that catch our attention. Remember that the query letter is your first handshake to editors, so introduce yourself with your own voice, be creative, and remember it’s not that hard! If you follow Query 101, even if it’s a ‘casual email’ then you’ll do spectacularly well. Editors are always seeking interesting stories and rely on freelance writers to bring them titillating content. If you take a few moments and examine your writing from their perspective, you have the ability to make your publishing dreams come true, and excel in a fruitful career as a freelance writer.