In this final installment of How to Write an Article Query Letter, we’ll take a look at avoiding the slush pile with a stellar query. What are the elements of a well-written query that really make it shine? Let’s look at the top 5:
1. Professionalism. No matter what, your query must be professional. That means absolutely no typos or mistakes of any kind, aesthetically pleasing, and written in a professional manner that lets an editor know you are serious about the business of writing.
2. Captivating lead. There is no right or wrong way to write a lead, but a good lead will quickly accomplish your main goal: catching the editor’s attention and pulling him in to your letter. If your lead is not catchy or interesting enough, he’ll skip right over your article. Your lead needs to be quick and punchy, set the tone for your story, and creative enough to make the editor stop to read. Good leads often use humor, surprising statistics, or present a provocative question. To help you get the hang of leads, browse magazines and look not only at the article leads but also at the headlines. You’ll soon get a feel for what makes a great lead.
3. Creativity. It’s okay to step out of the box a little when writing a query. You need to somehow make your letter stand out and be different from all the hundreds of others that come across the editor’s desk every week. You can do this by adding various font styles, such as italicizing or bolding subheads or titles, blocking off quotations, or using bulleted lists. You can also do this through your writing style, by adding humor or just coming up with an interesting way to present your material. Remember, this is your one and only shot. Don’t go overboard with the quirky stuff, but also don’t be afraid to stretch yourself a little.
4. Realistic promises. When you’re trying to make a good first impression it’s easy to want to promise editors that you can do anything. But be careful what you promise, because they just might take you up on it, or they will immediately realize that you must be an amateur because of your lofty aspirations. Some areas worthy of a reality check include: time frames and word counts (don’t promise a 3000-word article by the end of the week), interviews with famous people who you don’t know if you can actually get an interview with, and topics requiring too much research for the amount of time you have. Your letter will stand out if you can immediately gain the trust of the editor by only making promises you know you can keep.
5. Package presentation. Along with your query letter, editors often ask to see either clips (articles of yours that have been published) or samples (pieces of your writing that have not been publsihed), a resume, and/or a cover letter. Be sure to give them exactly what they ask for. In other words, if they want to see three writing samples, don’t send them seven because you can’t decide which ones to use. And, make sure when you do send clips or samples they are good representations of the particular magazine you want to write for.
Put these tactics to work in your queries and be sure you’re not doing any of the “must-nevers,” and your query is sure to make a good impression!