Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nonfiction: Writing a Query Letter

A query letter is a summarization that represents an article in a concise and appealing way. The length of a query usually runs to a page or less. What a query will ask for is, if the writer can submit the full manuscript for review by the editor. Magazine listings or guidelines do offer the choices of submitting either a manuscript or a query, but a query is usually the best method to determine whether the editor is interested in your work.

Some of the reasons are as follows:

  • The response to queries from editors is faster.
  • A query quickly gets the main points across in relation to the slant, writing style, depth of research and whether the piece is appropriate to the magazine's needs.
  • The chance for a sale and writing efficiency are both enhanced because the editor can supply suggestions, if interested, which will tailor your piece to the magazine's preferences.
  • The editor's input can help you direct and focus what to research and what to write.

Brief, Specific and Polished

It must be remembered that the query is the sales pitch and is an example of your writing style and voice, so every word counts. The attention of the editor must be grabbed with the first sentence. To keep the editor interested, your query should be crisp and clear, with well-summarized ideas.

A review of a magazine's guidelines and samples of articles should be reviewed if you are targeting a specific magazine. Studying the magazine's guidelines, contents and requirements can bring refinement to your idea. For example, if you are writing an article on the Civil War and the magazine favors firsthand accounts or minute-by-minute battle narratives, then the battle will have to be covered in minute-by-minute segments. Be sure to include quotes from diaries, battle reports, etc.

What a strong and effective query does is summarize what exactly makes a particular topic so worthy of attention and why exactly the topic is appropriate for the targeted magazine. The query also demonstrates how you will approach the subject and what the article will contain. It is worthwhile to specify the length, whether photos are available, supplementary material and also some background experience.

The inclusion or exclusion of the steps below will depend on your specific magazine query.

  • The guidelines from the magazine and sample issues should be read, so you can become familiar with the magazine.
  • Check to see if a query is requested before submitting, because it may not be.
  • The query should be addressed to a specific editor by name. Spelling must be double checked, particularly proper nouns.
  • The lead paragraph should be strong. It will help you capture the editor's interest, convey the angle that you are pursuing and reflect what you know most of the topic.
  • A one-or two-line description should be included with your article.
  • The demonstration of how the idea meets the magazine's editorial goals will be critical and if the piece is aimed at a particular section or department.
  • Length indication.
  • The proposed content should be detailed, including quotes, anecdotal material, case histories etc.
  • The citation of sources, research resources and interview sources that you plan to include.
  • Number and type of photos or illustrations that are available.
  • A completion date, if possible.
  • Your publishing credentials should be included briefly and enclosed clips or writing samples should be referred. Any background information that qualifies you in a special degree in addressing the subject should be noted.
  • A ‘thank-you’ should be included at the ending and it should be noted if the query is a simultaneous submission.
  • Your full contact information should also be included.
  • Proofreading is a must to ensure the query does not contain typographical, spelling or grammatical errors. Editing must be done to delete unnecessary words that repeat or are redundant.
In summary, your query is the first impression an editor has of you. The better your query, will better your chances of having the editor contact you. The editor’s goal is to sell the magazine; it is imperative to have articles written accurately, concise and informative.

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