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

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

 

In A Quandary About Your Query?
by Kimberly Ripley
 

Dear Sirs:

It is because of the urging of my family that I am sending this letter to you. I have written for a long time, and although no one has ever published my work, everyone says it’s really, really good. I know that children would enjoy hearing this article I’m writing about sea turtles. Any age group would like it, especially kids in school.

I am willing to sell this article to you for only $50. This is a steal! You won’t find another article like this, and if you did I know they would charge you more money.

My offer stands until one week from today. Then I’ll offer it to the next guy in line.

Have a good day J.

Signed,

Roger T. Riter

■  ■  ■  ■  ■  ■

This is an example of a very poorly written query letter. However, editors and publishers receive queries that look like this more frequently than they’d care to acknowledge. Inexperienced writers, trying their hardest to sound like they know the ropes actually wind up making fools of themselves. No editor would glance at an article or story based on this query.

What constitutes a good query letter? First of all, make certain to follow the proper procedure for writing a business letter. Yes, do this even when querying online.  Date your letter. Address the editor by name. Writer’s Market lists telephone numbers for most publications. If the editor’s name is not listed, and you don’t have a current copy of the magazine, make a phone call. Ask the receptionist to whom you would address a submission query. It’s as simple as that.

Your opening line should grab an editor’s attention. Do not ever say your sister, your boyfriend, your seven-year old, or your Aunt Bertha says your work is very good. No one cares what they think! Prove yourself in this letter so that an editor wants to find out for himself/herself what your writing is all about.

The following are two examples of ways to open a query letter:

  1. Sea turtles are going to be extinct very soon. There is an organization that helps them.
     
  2. Some Gulf Coast Beaches are being kept in the dark, at least from May through November. A lighting ordinance is in effect to protect the sea turtles and their hatchlings.

The first line in example #1 sounds kind of dull. The first line in example #2 makes the reader ask, “Why are they in the dark?” Notice the slight play on words. This indicates a talent for playing with language.

Why are you qualified to write such an article? Have you interviewed someone? Are you familiar with the region? These are important things an editor wants to know.

Will you provide photos to accompany your article? If you dabble in photography, and have taken some fairly decent shots, then mention the availability of photographs. Not only will it make your article more enticing, it may even garner a higher price.

It is necessary to list your experience. This is sometimes the tricky part for those who have yet to be published. There are a couple of different ways to handle this.

  1. If you have been published in several different newspapers, magazines, and online publications, mention the ones that resemble the content and style of the publication you are querying. For example, if you’ve written for Mother Jones, Guideposts, YM, and Seventeen, and the article your trying to sell is about teens in the workplace, there is no need to mention Guideposts.
     
  2. If you have only been published once or twice, mention these publications. It will at least draw attention to the fact that someone found your work worthy of publication.
     
  3. If you have never been published, try to think of another valid reason this editor should give you a shot. Have you ever written something to go in your PTO newsletter? How about your church bulletin? Do these publications have some sort of name? Technically, you have been “published” in each of these.

Now it’s time to pull out those neatly filed, photocopied clips. Clips are photocopies of the finished product, in print or online. Again, try to send the ones that are closest in format, tone, and even content to the publication you are querying. If you don’t have any that are similar, then by all means, send what you do have.

How long will it take you to write your article? Have you completed an interview and taken a couple of photos, or are you simply in the “idea” phase? It never hurts to inform an editor that your article can be completed “within a week”, or that you “require two weeks to complete this article."

Always use your very best manners. Be sure to thank the editor for the time they’ve taken in reading your query. End your query with “Sincerely” or “Very sincerely yours.” Be sure your name is both typed and hand-written.

Of course the editor may wish to reach you. If you’re lucky they’ll want to accept your query. And if you’re not, they’ll need to know where to send your first strip of wallpaper (that infamous rejection slip). Be sure to list your full name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address. This gives an editor several options when contacting you.

Practice your query letter. Write it a couple of different ways before mailing one off to an editor. You’ll soon find that you have a particular style, and in time will comfortably fall into a comfortable way to write your queries.

So what are you waiting for? Get out that copy of Writer’s Market, and start putting those clever ideas in the back of your mind to good use!

And don’t forget to mail me a copy of that first published piece!


The above article is an excerpt from Freelancing Later in Life by Kimberly Ripley. Visit Kim's Web site or e-mail Kim at stealth@fcgnetworks.net

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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