Gaffs of Truth

from One Who Creates with Alphabets

12 January 2006

How to Write a Query Letter
This is specific to articles.

A query letter is written to an editor. It roughly outlines the article-marketing it to the publication the editor works for and highlights the writer's qualifications and any connections.

It is better to send a query letter first rather than the article because sending completed articles blindly can indicate that you either failed to sell the article before, are submitting an article that was not written specifically for their publication or are attempting to resell a previously published article.


Formal query letters are much-debated. Most writers swear by them, but others feel they are a waste of time.

Advantages of the Formal Query:

* A well-written one shows an editor that you can write the piece.
* A formal, detailed query gives you the opportunity to do preliminary research for a piece that can then be quickly converted into an article.
* Short, informal queries can often go unread or are given less weight if the editor is a stickler for the formal process.
* When submitting a query to an online publication, your query will look better than 90% of the other queries being submitted to that publication.

Short or informal queries.

In the age of email, much can be said for quickly sending off a brief query. It can result in more sales than writing a formal query for each publication you wish to write an article for.

Advantages of the Quick Query:

* It takes less time and can be prepared using a form letter.
* There is a savings of postage and paper goods. Often email addresses are specific to editors whereas paper mail is generally handled.
* Short queries can be responded to quickly.
* In submitting to large publications, short to-the-point queries can be a relief to over-taxed editors.

Here is a point-by-point description of how to write a query letter.

Know the target.

* Study any publication before submiting a query letter.
* Get writer’s guidelines for the publication if they are available.
* Study the publication’s masthead (that small print windy page on the backside of the title or index page) to identify the appropriate editor for the query. Do not rely on Writer’s Market! Editors change jobs frequently. Also, sending a health query to the fashion editor smacks of unprofessionalism.
* Sending the same subject query to more than one publication is okay, as long as they do not compete. Take the time to make sure the subject is appropriate for both publications. Do not use a form letter.

The query letter should have a professional look.

* There should be no spelling or grammar errors. Do NOT rely on a word processing program's spelling or grammar checker. They won't catch homonyms or run-on sentences.
* Include the date on the letter. This can be important later if a specific article slant is poached or there are crosses in communications.
* It should be addressed to the appropriate editor. Use their full name and do not use Mr. Mrs. or otherwise. This is particularly important if the name is unisex or contains initials. The exception is Dr. or other professional title, then use Dr. Chris Smith.
* The publication name and address should be correct. Mail gone astray only wastes postage.
* The salutation should be formal. "Dear Chris Doe," is the standard.
* If mailed, the paper and the letterhead should be clean and professional. No hearts and flowers or other graphics. Standard 8 1/2” x 11” paper in legal-size envelopes should be used.
* Single-space paragraphs and double-space between paragraphs.
* If mailed, the query should include Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) so that the editor can return your article or reply to you conveniently.
* Include name, postal address, email address and phone number in the letterhead or at the bottom of the letter.

Your query letter should be interesting.

* A query should introduce a fresh idea/topic/angle.
* The idea should be set off in the type so it is easily viewed.
* Your idea should be presented at the very beginning of your letter.
* Your lead- in shouldexcite the editor.

Your query letter should be specific.

* Keep the query letter to a single page in length.
* Lay out exactly what will be including and excluded from the article.
* Give a proposed article length. Round to the nearest 100 for under 2000 words and to nearest 500 for articles over that length. The length should be appropriate for that publication.
* Identify which section(s) of the publication the article fits.

The query letter should be persuasive.

* Include writing samples that are appropriate to the publication. Have them be what the the article topic and writing style the publication is looking for.
* Present any credentials or awards that show qualifications to write specifically about this subject.
* Identify other similar publications that have published your work.
* Identify any sources or contacts you have that you feel would help persuade the editor.
* The whole thing should show why you are the best and only person to write this article for them.
* Close your letter with a phrase such as: “I look forward to hearing from you. Please write or call if you have any questions."

What you should not do in your query letter

* Do not mention who has rejected the piece before.
* Do not include other people’s statements about your article.
* Do not tell the editor how long and hard you have been working on this
* Do not mention the assistance of others.
* Do not tell them that the piece still needs work.
* Do not request advice, comments, criticism or analysis.
* Do not talk about how thrilling it would be to be published.
* Do not include inappropriate or off-subject information about yourself.
* Do not discuss the rights you wish to sell.
* Do not discuss price or payment.
* Do not give your social security number!
* Do not give or discuss copyright information.
* Do not wear out your welcome by writing too much or failing to get to the point.
* Do not query without studying the publication enough to know whether your idea is appropriate.
* Do not waste your time querying an unreceptive editor over and over again.
* Do not present ideas for several different articles in the same letter. This can be done once you have established a rapport with an editor, but should not be done in a blind query.
* Do not use obscenities or inappropriate content.
* Do not send inappropriate, off-subject samples.

A Sample Query Letter:

Max Buckings
Bonds Editor
How to Get the Green Magazine
501 E. 10200th Street
New York, NY

February 29, 2006

Dear Max Buckings,

Proposed Article:
You’ve Got Fraud! How Internet con artists can crush your portfolio

Last Monday, the Enforcement Section of the Massachusetts Securities Division ordered a temporary cease and desist order against three men it accuses of manipulating the stock market by flooding with tens of thousands of false and misleading statements about Biomatrix Inc (BXM.N) and Genzyme Corp (GENZ.O). This is the latest in a growing series of civil and criminal lawsuits against people who manipulate stocks through mass emails or in this case, by posting misleading statements on financial discussion boards. My article will detail the trend from the perspective of three people.

* A securities trader whose legitimate stock analysis email newsletter has contended with fake announcements by people who acquired his mailing list
* A lawyer who represented a client in a case similar to the Massachusetts case
* An investor who blames her loss of $70,000 in the stock market on fraudulent discussion-board posting

In my article I will discuss the negative effects of fraud on investors and companies. I will also discuss how you can protect yourself from fraud. More importantly, I will show how you can be victimized by the trend even when you don’t receive a fraudulent email or read a misleading post. Because such fraud can cause an individual stock to both rise and fall dramatically, investors who never see the misleading information can still end up investing in a bad stock or dumping a good one.

My article would be an excellent fit in your Caveat Emptor section’s ongoing coverage of investment potholes. As is customary for that section, I will include a sidebar of ways you can protect yourself from Internet investment fraud. My advice will include: verifying any news through conventional sources, keeping an eye out for any unusual email from online newsletters, never trusting blind e-mails, and carefully watching or avoiding discussion boards altogether. The last point, that discussion boards rarely result in good investments, will also be a focus of the article. If you would like, this can also be turned into a sidebar.

In addition to the three sources above, I have access to dozens of other securities professionals, legal authorities and investors. I have been a professional investment counselor for the past fifteen years and was one of the earliest adopters of Internet trading. As a former state representative, I authored several investment fraud bills that are still on the Arizona law books. For the past two years I have written a weekly investment article for Phoenix Business Insider. I have also published investment-related articles in Worthwhile Investor, Smart Stock Analyst and Fund Advocate.

Enclosed are reprints of three of my recent articles covering investment and the Internet. These articles will demonstrate both my knowledge of the subject and my ability to convey that knowledge to the reader. Your readers need to know about this looming crisis and how it can affect their investment strategies. Please call my office to discuss any further details or resolve any questions. Thank you for your consideration.

Jamie Smyth
123 Main Street
Larkville, KY
About the letter

This author of this query letter may or may not have some advantages over you. The author is someone who has all of the experience and credentials necessary to write the article, and has already secured sources. You may not have everything he has, but you need to know how it sounds when you do.

Note that the query is timely. The author may have been researching Internet fraud for months, but he went out and found an article that ties his research to that week’s news. Also note that none of his sources are from the particular case he mentions. Instead, he uses that case as a selling point for his research. Quite possibly he has already written a related article for his column, and he now wants to reuse part of it to make a national sale. There is nothing wrong with this practice. Selling similar articles (not just reprints) to different markets is perfectly acceptable.

When a query is accepted

* Respond promptly!
* In the cover of the reply letter, remind them of their request.
* There is no need to enclose an SASE when sending your article.


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