Last week, we covered some of the features of a good magazine query letter. This week, we’re going to provide a sample of both a good query letter and the query letter from hell:
THE QUERY FROM HELL
I have an idea for a story I think you’d like. I lost a lot of weight on the Banana Diet.(2) I’d tell you more, but I want you to be surprised when you read the story.(3)
I haven’t done a lot of writing(4), but my sister says I’m a really good storyteller.(5) I think just about everyone would find my story interesting(6), and I think it would fit well somewhere in your magazine (I don’t really know where, since I don’t read it regularly, but I’m sure you’ll find a good spot).(7)
The story is all written, so let me know if you want me to send it to you.(8) I think $400 would be a reasonable price for you to pay.(9)
Yours in writing,(10)
What went wrong:
(1) Always confirm the editor’s name – and gender, if the name is at all ambiguous.
(2) Kudos, but this doesn’t tell us where you’re headed with your proposed story.
(3) Don’t hide the ball – now’s the time to spell things out.
(4) Never confess this, even if it’s true.
(5) Unless your sister is Anna Wintour, nobody cares.
(6) Not true, and shows you are unable or unwilling to specify your market.
(7) Even if you’re not a regular reader, it’s poor form to say this. Also, it’s your job to try to identify a suitable department for your article.
(8) Don’t write the article until after you get a yes back from the editor.
(9) Similarly, don’t discuss money until after you get a yes back.
(10) Cheesy and awful. Stick with something safe, like “Best” or “Sincerely.”
Dear Ms. Jones:
Losing 85 lbs. eating nothing but bananas – and loving every minute of it? Sounds farfetched, I know, but I did it a year ago and kept every pound of the weight off.(1) I’d love to tell your readers about my journey in a 650-word(2) article called(3) “Going Bananas: My Journey From Stocky To Svelte In 22 Days.”(4) I think it would be perfect for your True Tales department.(5)
“Going Bananas” will explain how I stumbled across the Banana Diet, my ups and downs along the way, and why I believe bananas are they key to a slim, healthy life – particularly for young stay-at-home moms like your readers.(6) I’ve already got a few experts lined up for this story, including Dr. Sam Impressive of the Mayo Clinic and Dr. Dan Dietitian of Johns Hopkins.(7) Possible sidebars(8) could include quick and easy banana recipes and a short history of everyone’s favorite tropical fruit.
Might you be interested in this story? I have written about nutrition for several national publications, including Fruit Monthly and From Fat To Fit; some recent clips are enclosed.(9)
Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
What went right:
(1) Attention-grabbing intro.
(2) Good idea to specify approximate article length.
(3) Propose a title, even though it may be changed later in the editorial process.
(4) Now the editor knows where you’re headed with this idea, and that it will be a first-person account.
(5) Establishes your familiarity with the publication.
(6) Shows you know the reader demographics.
(7) Experts help provide additional credibility; great if you can get a few to agree to talk to you for the article before you write your query.
(8) Again, shows familiarity with their format and makes life easier for the editor.
(9) If you have clips, great; if not, don’t point this out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Carsen, J.D. is a “recovering lawyer” and the founder of Big Juicy Life. Her specialty is turning lawyers into writers. Go to http://www.bigjuicylifecoaching.com for a copy of the free report, “6 Myths About Leaving the Law for Writing.”