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A query letter is the first piece of writing that represents your writing submission to an editor or agent. This is where you sell yourself and ideas. A lot of writers find this to be the hardest piece that they have ever written and dread composing query letters.

Not every place you submit a query to will respond and always include a self-addressed stamp envelope with every query letter that you send out.

A query letter should be written so it grabs an editor’s attention – hooks them into the story or article and gives the editor the impression that you are "the" person to write this story or article.

A query letter is a tool and not a direct reflection of your writing ability. It should be single spaced and no longer than two pages.

The different components of a query letter are:

Salutation
The Lead In
Article Details
The Query Sell
Closing

1. Salutation – Your query letter should always be written on professional letterhead (white stationery) which includes your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. Four lines below the last line of your letterhead type in the current date and then three lines farther down type editor’s name and address. Three lines later is your salutation where you address the editor by NAME. Dear Mr., Ms., Mrs. Jones (whatever their last name is). You never ever write Dear Editor unless you want a guaranteed rejection.

2. The Lead In – The lead is the most valuable part of your letter. You have a very short window of opportunity to grab the editor’s attention.

There are many ways to approach this part of your letter.

Here are some ideas:

You can tell the editor how great a previous story was and this is why you thought that they might be interested in your proposal.

How many articles/stories that you have written.

Let them know about a special situation or experience that makes you the expert on the subject in question that you want to write about.

You can give a tentative opening or synopsis of the story or article that you would like to write.

Whichever approach you choose to use, it should be written in a strong, concise manner.

If you don’t seize the editor’s interest the minute they start reading, they will be putting a rejection letter into your self-addressed stamped envelope and move on to another task.

Article Details:

Once the editor is sold on the story or article you would like to write, you need to appeal to the needs of their publication. In this paragraph you address the following elements:

Word Count – which is the length of your article. My article will be approximately 800-1000 words (this should match the needs of their writer’s guidelines which can be obtained directly from their publication or in the current issue of Writer’s Market.)

The people (either expert or Joe Citizen) that you will quote to back your statements.

What your article will provide the reader.

What column your article will fit into – if there is one.

When you can provide the article – one month, two months, six months, etc.

Any aids that the article will have such as sidebars or photographs.

This part should not be more than two paragraphs in length. You can most likely cover this in one paragraph. After reading this, the editor should not have any questions at all about what they can expect to receive from you if they assigned you the article or story.

The Query Sell - Why You Should Write the Article or Story and Not a Staff Writer

This is where you tell the editor why they should pick you and not a staff writer to write this article or story. It could be the publishing experience you have – how many articles/stories you have published, your unique and vast knowledge of the subject, it might be any number of things. Whatever it is, when you write this paragraph, don’t be arrogant – be confident and keep it short.

What makes you the "most qualified" person to write this article needs to come across in this paragraph. Make sure your words are well thought out.

Closing

Wrap everything up in one paragraph. Your closing should invite the editor to contact you if they have any concerns or questions and you should always thank them for their time.