4. There are all kinds of sample query letters available—even formula queries—but I don’t recommend using them. The purpose of a query letter is to catch a busy editor’s attention. You will never do that with a formula query with the blanks filled in. For that reason I will not give you a formula, but a list of what needs to be included, and encourage you to put together an original and compelling letter that will bring an editor’s positive go-ahead. Following are the elements to include:
- A grabber opening to catch the editor’s attention - Pick out the most compelling element of your article and use it to pull the editor in. If your article itself has such an opening, use it and then go on to say, “This is how I plan to start a 1,500 word article on _________.” The opening needs to state the subject of the article in a nutshell, then elaborate. Give the subject in the first line, or at least the first paragraph. It should also indicate your slant and why the reader should care about the topic.
- Samples of what will go into the article - Include anything that shows the editor that there is something more to support your ideas. That could include such things as statistics, quotes with attribution, a good anecdote or story that supports your point of view, and authorities to show it’s not just your idea. Never withhold a surprise ending. Give the editor all the pertinent information, but whet his appetite for the details.
- A sharp focus - Your query, like your article, must be sharply focused on a specific aspect of your subject. For example, you can’t write an article on marriage; it has to be on one clearly defined aspect of marriage. If an editor wanted to know everything there was to know on a subject, he could look it up in an encyclopedia. An editor once told me to use a rifle—not a shotgun.
- Give needed specifics - Give pertinent data, such as how long the piece will be, when you can have it ready, and what pictures/illustrations are available, if any. Be sure the length you suggest is appropriate to the magazine and to your topic. When indicating when you can have it ready, make sure it is a sufficient time to complete it and a specified length of time after getting their go-ahead. Generally speaking, you won’t send photos with your query (except, perhaps, for a composite sheet), but will let them know what you have available.