To sell any type of article as a freelance writer, it is important to know the basics of writing a query letter. Most editors do not want to receive full articles from unknown writers. Instead, editors prefer a proposal that will show them:
- your ability to write well;
- your qualifications to write on the topic; and
- your ideas/story angles for their publications or websites.
Knowing the five basic structural elements of a standard query letter will greatly improve your chances of success.
ELEMENT # 1: ADDRESS THE EDITOR
Your first task is to put your name and address at the top of the page, preferably right-justified. Next, put the full name and address of your contact person (left-justified). It is important to address queries to specific individuals whenever possible. If sending directly to the editor, address the editor by his or her full name, followed by title. This will increase the likelihood of your query letter reaching the right person. It also tells the editor that you are not mass mailing your query letter to different publications.
If you are emailing your query letter, you have a choice to include your contact information at the top or bottom. If my query letter is long, I like to put my contact information at the top so the editor knows my name before he or she continues to read. If your query letter is brief, your contact information might look better at the conclusion. You decide.
ELEMENT # 2: FIRST PARAGRAPH
The first paragraph is the most important. You need to use it to lure the editor in with something interesting about your article. Pitch your article idea in vivid terms to make it as appealing as possible. Make sure you are familiar with the magazine or website to know that your article topic is something the editor would have an interest in. The first paragraph can be brief as long as it engages the editor to keep reading.
ELEMENT # 3: SECOND PARAGRAPH
In the second paragraph, flesh out your idea. Describe the basic components that your article will include.
- Who or what are you writing about?
- Why do you think your article is a good fit for the magazine?
- Why will readers be interested?
- How will you track down sources for this article?
- Who will you interview?
- Will you provide photos?
ELEMENT # 4: THIRD PARAGRAPH
In the third paragraph, discuss your experience and qualifications. If you have a degree that pertains to writing or to the subject about which you want to write, mention it here. This is also the place to talk about other publications that you have written for. You don't need to list every writer's credit that you have, but if you mention two or three, that may be helpful in establishing your credibility. The aim of this paragraph is to convince the editor that you can write this article more effectively than another writer.
ELEMENT # 5: FOURTH PARAGRAPH
Finally, the fourth paragraph brings the query letter to a close. This is the place to discuss how long it will take you to write the article. If you are sending the query by regular mail rather than email, you should enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope so that the editor can reply to you. End your query letter in a polite manner with your signature.
Each query letter that you write will change according to your topic, slant and pitch. What doesn't change are these five structural elements. It may seem tedious to write query letter after query letter, but this is the most effective tool to sell an article. A well-developed query letter can lead to future assignments as well.
Here is what the structure looks like:
For a more detailed look of a query letter, see my "FREE INFOGRAPHIC: QUERY LETTER TEMPLATE FOR FREELANCE WRITERS."
I welcome your comments, suggestions, or corrections. Use the comment form below.