Friday, June 02, 2006

Communicate WIIFM with Creative Query Letters

If you’re a new writer, you may be confused about how you’re supposed to convey to the editor what’s in it for them. Maybe you’ve heard of query letters, or have read guidelines that say “query” or “query with clips,” but you don’t really know what that means. Or, maybe you’re like me and know what it is, but find the whole concept frustrating. Well, we’re both going to have to get over it, because query letters, or queries, are a necessary part of selling your writing.

True to its name, a query letter is a letter asking an editor to publish a particular piece or series. Though you may find exceptions, queries are generally used for nonfiction pieces and sent to magazines or other periodicals. The query letter serves two main purposes: to find out if the editor needs a piece covering your topic and to sell the editor on the idea that he or she needs a piece covering your topic.

The query letter saves both you and the editor time. For you, you haven’t wasted precious time researching and writing an article that won’t be published. On the other hand, the editor doesn’t have to wade through a series of manuscripts and read each one to see if there’s something there. He or she can pick up your one-page query letter, see if the topic is suitable or if they’ve recently done something similar (if you’ve done your homework, they haven’t), and judge the writer’s skill at a glance. So, what are the editor’s needs?

• Brevity—editors are busy people, so they don’t have time to read five-page missives
• Topic—they want to see a topic that fits with the theme of their publication and that is timely and interesting
• Skill—editors want to know how good your writing is

Next time I’ll go into more detail on how to use query letters to sell editors on the idea that you have what they’re looking for.

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