Even with an increase in possible venues and publications in the digital age, getting your writing published is a tricky business. The bottom line is that to get that by-line you have to have more than talent. You also have to convince someone your writing is worth even considering. The first stop before an editor reads your manuscript is the query letter. Think of the query letter as your sales pitch. You have one short document to wow the editor enough that he or she will keep reading. It’s a tough business, yes, but knowing how to craft a good query letter can give you a leg-up.
Be Specific—Know Your Writing. Know Your Audience.
The first step to writing a strong query is being specific about your manuscript. Know what you’re writing and know who you’re writing to. Read back issues of the publication and demonstrate that you know the publication by offering specific reasons why your piece is a good fit for their style and target audience. Find the specific name and title of the editor you should submit to and address your letter to this person.
In your letter provide specifics about your article. How long is it, what genre does it fit, when can you finish it by, or when would it fit into the publication cycle best? Provide an outline of who the target audience for your piece is. Sell your writing from the business end.
Close your letter with an outline of your credentials. What is your experience and/or training? Have you been published before? Why should the publication trust you to produce quality work?
Cut the Fluff.
The basic elements of a query letter include a hook, a pitch, the body, and your credentials. There’s not much room for fluff. In your hook avoid introducing yourself or getting bogged down in small talk. Dive in and write a hook just like you would in your story. Grab the editor’s attention off the bat and set yourself up for the pitch. In the pitch, get down to those specifics outlined above. Set down the nuts and bolts of the article before explaining the topic or story in more detail in the body. The body should give the editor more of an idea of what the story is about and what the point of the article is. Finally, close with your credentials. Give the editor concrete reasons why you’re a trustworthy and talented writer, rather than leaning on buttering up the publication or laying out your hopes and dreams. Keep the tone concise and confident.
Have a Voice.
The letter itself is a sample of your writing. It’s easy to get really stuffy and anxious in a query letter, but take a deep breath and let the editor hear the kind of voice that comes through in your articles. Be you, but in your best business suit, so to speak. Your letter should also demonstrate that you can provide a unique voice in multiple settings. Suggest a couple of different slants your article could take depending on the editors’ preference. Demonstrate that not only do you have a great article, you can be flexible in your writing.
A professional journalist once told me, “Think like a pro. Act like a pro. And you will be a pro.” Those words stuck with me and they are fully applicable to selling your writing. Even if you haven’t been published yet, or if you’re lacking confidence, present yourself like a professional. You might have to fake it til you make it. Remember, no editor will believe in your abilities if you don’t.
Though query letters may feel like a pain or a hoop to jump through, keep a good attitude. A query letter is a powerful tool for both you and the editor. If you’re pitching an article you haven’t finished yet, queries save you time and effort. You can get confirmation or rejection on the idea before you put the labor into finishing it. Better yet, you also have the chance to get feedback on the idea that you can factor into your project. Perhaps you’ll get rejected, but the editor will be generous enough to give you some tips. Or, if your piece gets accepted, the editor can tell you how long they want it and provide feedback on angles, styles, and subject matter, helping you craft a piece perfectly suited for the publication and saving you major revisions.
All told, writing query letters is probably nobody’s favorite task, so you can always hire an article writing service to draft or edit your queries. However, treating this must-do as an opportunity to hone your voice and your writing skills can help you further your career as you seek out that elusive by-line.