To this day, the so-called “business letter” still serves as the best tool to communicate effectively and professionally. You can use a business letter to introduce yourself and express a general intent. In line with magazine writing, you can also use it to communicate with an editor and propose a specific idea.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is basically a letter of inquiry. In particular, you address a query letter to the editor in-charge of a magazine or a section of it. Your query letter helps you to propose an idea for an article that you are interested in writing.
Similar to a cover letter, your query letter also provides a brief background on the contents of your portfolio. This portfolio might include your writer’s resume and samples of published work.
Why is a query letter important?
More than a letter of inquiry, a query letter is an initial sales pitch! It helps you advertise your services and market your ideas. Thus, as a freelance writer with a marketing strategy, you should write an effective query letter which grabs the editor’s attention.
What you should avoid in a query letter
If you’d like to write the best attention-grabbing query letter ever, then follow these top 10 tips to avoid. They’re the common pitfalls that over-enthusiastic amateur writers make which prevent these writers from getting published.
Tip #1: Avoid going beyond a one-page letter. Keep it short and simple!
True to a writer’s eager nature, you might tempt yourself to send a ten-page manuscript which rambles on about your ideas and accomplishments. Don’t!
Tip #2: Don’t be roundabout in your approach. Be straightforward!
Since magazine editors are such busy people, they’d prefer it if you wrote in a more straightforward, conversational manner. Thus, go straight to the point without wasting anyone’s time.
Tip #3: Avoid long paragraphs. Be brief!
Long paragraphs just don’t work. Like any other reader, long paragraphs will sway your editor’s attention from the content’s main message. Avoid bulky, pompous and long-winded paragraphs.
It’s not just the body of your query letter which you need to keep brief. You also need to keep its paragraphs just as short and concise. Ideally, limit every paragraph to 2-3 sentences. The real challenge lies in how you’ll expound on your idea with the limited space and time.
Tip #4: Don’t start with a bland opening.
Because a query letter is a formal letter, you must not sound cold and boring. On the contrary, start with a dynamic opening that achieves your primary goal – and that’s to grab the editor’s attention!
Tip #5: Avoid introducing yourself at the very beginning. Start with something else!
In line with Tip #4, save your opening paragraph for something more than introducing who you are. Instead, start with a lead sentence from your article or story. Otherwise, ask a question which immediately gets your editor hooked!
Tip #6: Don’t be blunt with your questions. Be tactful!
Definitely, you’d be off to a bad start if you immediately asked if the editor has an opening for you or not. Also, it is bad etiquette to ask if the editor is satisfied with their current pool of freelance writers or if the editor is ready for new writers instead of the old. After all, there’s such a thing as work ethics, even in the freelance writing world.
Tip #7: Instead, be creative with your opening statements and questions.
To build positive interest, the question you ask should be just as interesting. For example, people perk up when you ask leading questions like, “Did you know that…?” or “Do you wonder if/how…? This sustains curiosity and reels readers in!
Tip #8: Don’t forget to mention your credentials. Be honest!
Here’s the point where you can say more about yourself and how you fit into the publication. Top of the list would be to say that you’re a published author (if you are) and you’ve written related articles on the subject before (if you have).
Tip #9: When applicable, include samples and clips.
In line with Tip #8, don’t forget to attach written samples and published clips to your cover letter. As proof, samples and clips fatten-up your portfolio and support your qualifications.
Tip #10: Lastly, avoid leaving out important details.
Although it leaves you open to both acceptance and rejection, you should always enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with your query. Less of an inconvenience to the magazine, it simplifies the sending back of a response as quickly as possible.
To make sure your query arrives in the first place, double check the address of the magazine and the name of its current editor. When in doubt, call the magazine’s office and confirm the information. If you are submitting an email query, go to the magazine’s website and get the correct email address. Many magazines have a separate web page for editorial contacts, or include a special submission form to submit article ideas.
As a final detail, remember to end your query letter with a formal yet sincere close. The best close is to thank the magazine editor for his or her time. More than a marketing strategy, it’s the most congenial way to wrap up any written communication.