Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More About Creative Query Letters

Query letters are you first impression on the editor, your customer. That’s why you need to use all your creativity to write an effective query letter. Telling an editor you have an idea isn’t enough. Writer’s Digest editor Thomas Clark has identified five essential aspects that should be in every query you write:

1. A working title
2. A projected length
3. Your idea’s place within the publication’s departments (where it will fit)
4. Reference to previous articles
5. Results of some initial research done for the project

Remember, at this point you haven’t actually written the article. You’ve come up with a unique idea, researched publications until you found one that fit, and done initial research—both to prove you’re serious and to show what direction the article might take.

As I mentioned before, the query letter needs to fit on one, typed page. If it exceeds one page, you need to go back and rework, or tighten, your story angle. Write your letter in traditional, business-letter format, on professional letterhead if you have it. If you’re a novice, you probably don’t, but computer programs like MS Word come with several templates you can use in a pinch.

Your first paragraph is the most important, a creative, curiosity-arousing first paragraph hooks the editor, just as the first paragraph of your piece hooks the reader, and gets the editor to read more. Then outline—briefly—your story idea, in a way that makes it sound exciting and fresh. (If that’s hard, you probably don’t have the right idea yet.)

Aside from that, your letter needs to contain:

1. Address, email and phone number
2. Your background as a Writer (If you’re a beginner, don’t reveal that. Act professionally and you will be treated professionally.)
3. Your particular qualifications to write on your chosen subject
4. Your availability and prospective timeline for completion if you get the assignment
5. A request for a response.

There’s more to writing query letters, much more than I can put here, but there are lots of excellent reference books that can give you more details. I use Professional Feature Writing: Third Edition by Bruce Garrison (which is now in its fourth edition), which also contains excellent advice on feature writer in general.

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