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…

As promised, let’s explore the various components of a query letter you’d send to an editor for an article you wish to write. By the way, these rules apply whether you are sending your letter snail mail or email. If you are emailing (and you need to double-check to make sure that’s OK with the editor), send your letter as an attachment so it can remain in a professional, letter format. Sometimes the editor may ask you to put all your information within the body of your email to protect them from potential viruses, but if he doesn’t, send it as an attachment.

1. Contact information. Just like any other letter, put the editor’s contact info in the top left corner. This goes without saying, but make sure all the components are spelled correctly, especially the editor’s name! And…take the time to actually get the editor’s name so you’re not addressing your query to “To Whom It May Concern.”

2. Clever lead. In a query, you’ll only have a few seconds to make a great impression. Get right to the heart of your article idea in the first couple of sentences. Take your idea and turn it into a creative hook that will force the editor to keep reading. I’ll be talking more specifically about how to write leads in a future installment of How to Write Article Query Letters.

3. Story idea. Now that you’ve got the editor captivated with your lead, continue to explain, as briefly as possible, what your article will be about.

4. Magazine compatibility. Next, tell why you believe your article is perfect for their magazine. How does it fit with their readership, the magazine’s style, and the magazine’s format? If you don’t know these answers yourself, you’ve got some research to do!

5. Slant. Explain how you’re going to present your material. The more common of a topic you have, the more creative you’ll need to be in using a unique angle to tell your story. Think in terms of point of view, lists, how-to format, or Q & A if it’s an interview. I’ll cover specific ideas for slants in a future post.

6. Why you? Finally…you get to talk about yourself. After you’ve presented your idea and angle, let the editor know why you…and only you…can write this article. What expertise qualifies you? What inside track information do you have on your subject? Why can you present the story in a way that no one else can?

7. Concluding arguments. This is your final chance to convince the editor that your article is exactly what he needs and you are the person to write it. Use a short, one-paragraph summary to restate your article idea, tell why it’s a must-have for the magazine, and why you’re qualified to write it. Give the editor no reason to say no!

Stop back next time for a look at what to definitely avoid in your query letter.