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Writing the Query Letter

Your Query Letter Sells You and Your Writing

The query letter is your sales letter to a potential editor or publisher. Although most often used for magazine articles and non-fiction books, the query letter can also be used for fiction.

As a freelance writer, your goal with a query letter is to get
the assignment or at least get an invitation to submit the completed piece of writing 'on spec.'

You'll have better luck, however, if you look at the query from the editors, agents or publishers point of view.

What Editors Look For In Queries

Editors, agents and publishers need writers. Without writers they are out of business. They want queries because query letters help them quickly identify the writers who have at least the potential of fulfilling their needs.

Consider this: editors, publishers and agents get literally hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of queries and manuscripts each and every year. Sorting through these to find the few gems that will work for them requires significant amounts of time. And much of what they receive is total dreck.

What they want is a well written query that shows you know something about the kind of writing they want and demonstrates that you can handle your subject well. Do this, and your query will stand out.

Determining What Kind of Material They Want

Knowing the person receiving your query is interested in the type of work you're proposing is critical. I can't tell you the number of times, when editing magazines and newspapers, I got queries that had absolutely nothing to do with the subjects we covered. That's wasted time for both the writer and the editor.

This means you simply must do the research to be sure you're sending your query to the right market.

For magazines it means not just reading market listings, but actually reading least an issue or two of the magazine you're targeting.

If you're proposing a book to a publisher, check their market listings. Order a copy of their current book catalog. This will give you important information about the kinds of books and topics they publish. 

It can be harder to identify exactly what kind of books (and agents deal mostly with books) an agent works with, (and agents deal mostly with books), but check their website and if you're still not sure, make a phone call and ask.

Putting the Query Together

The first paragraph of your query letter is the most important - the first sentence of that paragraph is the hook. It should grab the editor, agent or publisher and make them want to read more. Think back-of-jacket copy writing - the kind that makes you at least pick up a book and read a bit.

The next paragraph or two should further describe the work. Keep in mind you're selling your work. If it's a finished book, include the word count; if it's an article, explain why the article is important to the magazine's readers.

Next to last is a paragraph that tells why you are the absolutely best person in the whole word to write this work. Briefly outline your expertise, and, if you've got 'em, credits in this area.

Finally, the last paragraph should spell out when and how you'll deliver the completed writing.

Pay Attention to Details

  • Make sure your contact information is easily found. Your name, phone number, email address and website should all be listed.
  • Address the editor, agent, or publisher by name. You can find names on mastheads, websites and you can make a call. Be sure you spell the name correctly.
  • Double and triple check your spelling and grammar - this letter is also a sample of the quality of your work.
  • Always enclosed an SASE with enough postage for the reply.

Write well and often,

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Email Anne: Anne@AboutFreelanceWriting.com

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Copyright 2004 - 2008 Anne Wayman