Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Get Equipped to Query

Have you finally reached a point at which all you want to achieve is one thing in your writing life? That’s to become published, either in a magazine or by a commercial publisher. 

You’ve done enough research to know it begins with one well-written letter, a query. Yet, it doesn’t seem so simple. Each draft is either too long, too weak, too boastful or too wrong to accomplish your goal. The question of how to grab the attention of an agent or editor seems like a harsh joke.  

I've developed a three-paragraph formula that works well for a query letter. Here are my tips for each paragraph. 

Paragraph One:
Give an idea of how your lead will read. Show the flavor or flair of it.  Instead of saying, “I would like to write about how the economy is affecting mid-level female professionals for your publication.” A more enticing opening would be: “A woman rises from a fitful sleep, and the realization is clear – she needs to change careers.”  In short, if the opening paragraph of your article showcases suspense, include that in your letter. If the editor approves your pitch, it's a good idea to switch the lead paragraph of your article or story slightly to show that you can come up with a great pitch AND another wonderful story lead.  

Paragraph Two:
 Mention the type of people you plan to interview in the book or article. For example, will you interview an accountant or a manager and include their personal insight?  Maybe you’ll add a career coach as the expert. If the person is a celebrity or household name, mention his/her name. The most important part of paragraph two is stating what makes you qualified to tell this story. Is it because you are a published writer/author, an expert on the subject or best-case scenario, both? 

Paragraph Three: 
Include your contact information; specifically, the best number and email address to use to contact you.
It sounds easy, but  the main reason that most query letters fail is because people do not include these basic elements. The secret to learning what publishers and editors are looking for from writers is to review the writer's or submission guidelines. If I do not subscribe to a magazine I am pitching, I always review the writer’s guidelines, study the content either online – if that is where I am submitting – or I actually buy the magazine. 

If it is an agent or publisher you are submitting to, they also have guidelines posted. Follow them closely. Some do not like email queries, while others do. The guidelines will mention the typical time in which you can expect a response, as well as whether the publisher or agent will consider multiple submissions, meaning you have sent your query letter, book proposal or manuscript to others simultaneously. Finally, research the authors and books that the publisher or agent represents to ensure your story is a good fit. 

Feeling equipped to query now? What has been your query letter experience? Leave your comments.


Jill Cox-Cordova is the owner of Write Avenue, which specializes in promoting positive outcomes for aspiring journalists and writers. Her niche for individuals is book proposals and resumes. Based in the Atlanta area, Jill serves clients nationwide. She is writing a book to help aspiring and veteran journalists.


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