QUERY LETTER - HOW TO WRITE
If a publisher requires a query, I’m sure many of you are asking what a query letter is and what should be included. Basically it is a sales letter—like a job application. You are telling the editor what you have to offer and asking if he is interested in seeing it. Beyond that it is a sample of your writing, so don’t take it lightly. It must showcase the best writing you can do. It is the editor’s first indication of what kind of writer you are.
The biggest complaint I get from editors about query letters is that they are not specific enough, so keep in mind that you want to tell the editor everything he needs to know to make an informed decision about whether or not your article is going to meet his needs.
Before we get into the query letter itself, I want to explain the value of a query letter. First it saves you writing a manuscript for which there is no market. It saves editors the time and trouble of reading manuscripts they have no need of. But one of its primary values is to give the editor a chance to have some input into your project before you actually write it. For example, an editor might say he likes the idea but wants you to drop this portion and expand that area, or to approach it from this angle instead of that one. Getting that information before you write saves a lot unnecessary writing and rewriting. A query is especially helpful when an interview or extensive research is involved.
Following are some guidelines that will help you develop a query letter that will convince an editor you have something publishable to offer.
- Before sending a query, do your homework and know enough about a publication to prepare an offer that will meet their specific requirements. Keep in mind that anything you can say that reflects your knowledge of their publication and audience will get an editor’s attention. With major publications, send for a copy of their latest demographic study. You can then pick up information from that study or their guidelines to use in your letter. For example: “Since your target audience is working women, ages 20-45, this feature article on balancing family and work will meet one of their primary needs.”
- The query letter itself is a standard, typed business letter with letterhead (if available) and single spacing. Most are one to two pages; one page is preferable. It should be neat, professional, with no errors. Double-check spelling, punctuation, typos, grammar, etc. Address it to a specific editor (name spelled correctly) unless the publication has not provided one (that means there is no editor’s name given in the market guide by their request). You can then address it to “Dear Editor.”