The Query Letter: Advice for the Aspiring Writer by Brian Scott

The Query Letter: Advice for the Aspiring Writer

Freelance writing can be an exciting career choice or a creative way to make extra money on the side. The daily chore of freelancing involves seeking out new editorial markets, whether print magazines, online ezines, news journals, etc. If you have an idea for an article, the most common method to procure a writing assignment is with a well-written, compelling, and persuasive query letter.

Typically, you will encounter submission guidelines that state the following:
well-written, compelling, and persuasive query letter
A query letter is a brief synopsis of the article that you plan to write or have already written. Ideally, you should craft your query letter to convey the premise of your article and explain why you are the most qualified person to write it. While some editors still ask to submit query letters via snail mail, most editors accept email pitches. The right query letter can grab the editor's attention and convince him or her to publish your article.

Study the Publication for Editorial Style and Direction

You've probably heard this advice many times before: read at least one issue of the magazine or peruse its website. Most publications showcase a few feature articles and columns at their websites. If the publication has a website accessible only to subscribers or charges a fee, then visit your local library or book store. Most public or university libraries subscribe to mainstream, trade, and peer review journals and magazines. When I visit my local B&N store, I can research magazines that specialize in my niche area. Read at least two or three issues of the magazine and competing magazines if you can. Here's why, according to these magazines:
Study the Publication for Editorial Style
Study the style of writing as well as the subjects covered. If a similar article has been published recently, consider pitching to a competing publication. If the publication has not published an article on a similar subject in at least a year, the editor may be receptive to your slant on the subject.

Pitch Your Letter to the Right Person

You already know this because it's common sense: send your query letter to the right editor. Look at the masthead of the magazine. A website will also have a list of editors with their contact information. This editor is responsible for the overall editorial direction of the magazine. If you don't see the editor listed, contact the publication directly and request the name of the person in charge of editorial. Most guidelines will tell you:
Pitch Your Letter to the Right Person
 Keep Your Query Letter Short 

The suggested length of a query letter is one page. Start with a strong opening paragraph discussing or illustrating the basic idea of the article. Then be specific about why you think the article is perfect for the publication. Maybe your article is a seasonal piece, perfect for the holiday season. Maybe your article provides solutions to an immediate problem that readers are experiencing. More common-sense advice from these magazines:
Keep Your Query Letter Short
What makes your article so special, timely, and in-demand? The editor wants to know. Then finish with a list of your credentials.

Don't Fail at Proofreading or You'll Look Stupid

Most submission guidelines don't offer this advice because it's so basic: proofread your query letter. Every writer knows to proofread—except the lazy ones. Read over the query at least twice before submitting it. If possible, have someone else read it as well. An extra set of eyeballs may spot extra spaces between words, a dangling comma, or a misspelled word. I make mistakes all the time during the first and second drafts. Before I email a query letter, I save it as a final draft and re-read it a few hours later. Then I send it. This helps me read my query letter with a clear mind.

I hope these incredibly simple tips will help you write a better query letter. If not, read my other articles:

Brian Scott,