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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Off the Page...

3 Keys to a Power Punch Query
by Tama Westman

Have you developed a power-punch query letter? One that is sure to capture the editor's attention and avoid the trash can? As a professional writer, you know that your success in any market hinges on the query letter; it is the determining factor to any progress or profit.

Query letters seem to be one of the more talked about topics in the writing industry. Any number of writing manuals or instructors worth their weight in salt can direct as to how you should write a one page letter that begins with the editor's proper name in the salutation, includes the topic you want to write about, and how you are best suited to write it. The entire letter should be an example of your best writing.

What most will not divulge however is that the majority of query letters end up in the trash. If an editor does not have a connection or relationship with you, more often than not, you are wasting your time. That is one reason writers' conferences are so vital to the beginning writer. Relationships born there with editors and fellow writers can keep a talented writer busy for years.

All writers like to believe that their story is different. That it is so hot, so fabulous, so relevant and well-written that a glossy magazine will be thrilled to publish it and the editor will pay hundreds for their well-written, well-researched piece. And sometimes they do. But, mostly they don't.

Before you fall into despair, let's look at key ways to keep your query from the trash. The most important point is:

Know the publication
Nearly 90% of queries sent to editors are seen as viable articles, only not for their publication. Study the market you want to query. What kind of articles do they have? What's the momentum? Who is the audience? Are you looking at a magazine where the ads are mostly for lingerie, jewelry and filled with perfume samples? Your article for "How to Clean the Whole House in 10 Minutes" probably won't sell here. However, if you reformat the piece to the younger twentysomething crowd that buys that magazine, and retitle it, "Ten Minutes to Partysville," you may stand a better chance.

Target your topic
What you want to do is take your topic and make sure it directly relates to the editor, publication and audience of your query letter. The verbage (new word, don't try to find it in Webster's), energy and reader benefit should be specifically targeted to snag the editor's and reader's attention, and then keep it.

The revised version of the same article could be queried to a men's magazine, with a headline that leaps off the page, "Doing It in 10," with a subtitle, "Tips that keep her happy and the bathroom clean." Who doesn't want to keep their mate happy? Ever hear anyone complain from using a clean bathroom? No one wants extra work, but if your article makes it easy and provides a benefit, you score with the editor.

Dear Mr. Editor
"Dear Mr. Editor" queries rarely see the editor's desk. The assistant opening the mail takes most of these and plops them indiscriminately into the trash with the junk mail. Market guides give you the inside scoop too, as to whether you should mail, fax, or e-mail your query and content. If you do not have a Writer's Market guide to look up the editor's name, at least take the time to spend a nickel or two and call the publication to ask for the name. (Tip: Most market guides are over a year old before they hit the book stores. It's a good idea to always contact the market and double-check the editor's name. )

Editors are not anonymous. And unless you want to be anonymous, you must learn, use and fall in love with their name. Remember, editors are busy. When you take the time to learn their name, become familiar with their publication, and target your query and article to their audience, they take the time to listen to you.

Still not sure how to write a power-punch query? The following three books are sure to answer all your questions.

book cover

How To Write Irresistible Query Letters
by Lisa Collier Cool

Buy the Book


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Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches, & Proposals
by Moira Anderson Allen

Buy the Book


book cover

How To Write Attention Grabbing Query & Cover Letters
by Moirsa Anderson Allen

Buy the Book


Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary magazine, Haute Dish. Her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.

She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students, and teaches beginning and intermediate writers at conferences throughout the country. Married with two grown children, she keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Further samples of her writing can be viewed on her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com feel free to e-mail comments to tama@tamawestman.com









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