Now that we’ve discussed the important elements of an article query letter, let’s talk about what should definitely remain absent from your queries. Sometimes what’s not done or said is just as important as what is. Things to avoid in a query letter:
1. Lack of focus. Writers sometimes try to tackle too many topics in one article, and their query may reflect that. Choose one angle for your article, and one issue of your topic you wish to focus on. In your query, be very specific as to what you will cover and how you intend to cover it. Avoid tangents and side topics at all costs.
2. Wordiness. Your query should ideally be one page. In order to present all the information you need to, brevity is key. Write as tightly as possible, and only say what absolutely needs to be said. Avoid unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and ramblings.
3. Mistakes. This is such an easy thing to remedy, yet many writers won’t take the time to do it. Self-edit your query, checking for grammar errors (such as sentence fragments), misspelled words, and unnecessary words or redundancies. Then, have someone else check it as well. Chances are, you will never see all of your own mistakes. Aside from spelling and grammar errors, be careful to double-check any facts or statistics you are presenting, along with the proper spelling of the editor’s name.
4. Not doing your research ahead of time. One sure turnoff for an editor is when he learns that you have no idea what his magazine is really about, how it’s structured, or what kind of stories he likes to see. Do your homework and make sure you understand the magazine’s readership. Avoid queries that look like templates, where you’re just substituting the magazine’s name for another with each one you write. Make sure your query is tailor made for each editor.
5. Presenting yourself arrogantly. Your query letter should prove that you are the right person–the only person, perhaps–to write your article. It should not, however, spend most of its time discussing you. A quick overview of your writing accomplishments and why you can write the article is all that’s necessary. Too much self-promotion and the editors may wonder how difficult you’re going to be to work with.
If you avoid these top taboos when writing queries, you are well on your way. The final installment of How to Write an Article Query Letter will look at how to really make your query shine and how to put your whole query package together.
Until next time…