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The secret to good query letters is good writing. No editor will consider your idea if she finds grammatical mistakes or spelling errors in the letter that is supposed to represent you!

So proofread carefully, and if you don’t trust yourself, get someone else to look over the letter for you. Remember that spell checkers and grammar checkers are helpful, but can’t pick up every mistake. There’s no substitute for a second pair of human eyes.

Format your query letter as you would any business letter. Many business letters nowadays are left-justified, but style is really a non-issue as long as it is consistent. Include your name, address, phone number and (in a sign of the times) your e-mail address on the top, hit return a few times, and type in the name and address of the editor you’re pitching your article or book to.

Take the time to find out the name of an actual person you should be submitting to — “To whom it may concern” is OK for credit card offers, but otherwise smacks of generic disinterest. Remember, you want to forge a personal, professional relationship with editors, so that they will buy the articles you sell them, along with others in the future.

In the body of the letter, explain who you are, your background in writing, your idea and why you would be the perfect person to write the article for the editor’s publication. Don’t discuss money — yet. Leave out anything that is not directly relevant to the article at hand. Your experience on a magazine is relevant; how much you love your dog isn’t (Unless you’re writing an article on people who love their dogs!).

Any attention-getting devices that you use will probably backfire. Editors will judge you solely on your idea and your writing, so flowery stationary or a letter that begins “SEX! Now that I’ve got your attention ...” is more likely to annoy than attract.

When it comes to the body of the letter, the shorter, the better. Editors are busy people who generally loathe loquaciousness. Get into the letter, explain your idea, then get out.

Always include sufficient return postage on a self-addressed envelope. Many editors won’t even bother to read your letter if you don’t enclose a SASE.

Do your homework — know your markets, and don’t give up. Editors are fickle, and an article or book that one might reject outright may be just the thing that another is looking for. Target the right publications and right publishers for your idea and your writing style, and keep sending out letters until you get that prized acceptance.