In everything you do, there’s a slow way and a fast way. Personally, I’m a preparer. I like to figure out what I’m going to do and then, execute my plan. That’s what writing great query letters is all about. So, in case you’re the methodical type, let me give you a step by step checklist to follow:
1) Study the business of writing. Figure out how to find a proper magazine or book publisher and target them precisely.
2) Study form. All correspondence from the query letter to the cover letter to the actual manuscript have a precise methodology. Find out what that is and follow it. Editors see that as professional, and if you don’t do your homework about the simplest things… They won’t want to work with you.
3) Prepare your topic. Is it age appropriate for the kids or adults you’re writing for? Is it appropriate to the gender(s)?
4) What are some interesting facts you can include in your pitch? Have you gathered those and learned enough about your topic to write an intelligent article? If not, your lack of understanding will show through in your query letter.
5) Come up with a clever and catchy title for the article you want to write. Think of it as a headline that will “sell” your story. Write 50 and pick the best title from those.
6) Write an introductory paragraph that sings with excitement. Give editors one of those interesting factoids or statistics that you dug up in step 4. Use one of those to WOW ’em.
7) Write an explanatory paragraph. Give editors the title of your article or book, the estimated word-count, and tell them which audience you’re targeting, and be sure that your intended audience is also theirs. (For example, don’t try to write an adult article for a children’s publication and vice versa.) Also let editors know why you think this article is important and why they should publish it.
8) Relate your expertise in this area to the editor. Why are you the perfect person to write it? What have you written before and for whom? Don’t include your whole resume. Just a related place or two will do. For example, if you have written for both children and adults, but are proposing a children’s article… Tell editors which children’s publishers you’ve written for in the past. If you have no writing credentials and no particular background to support your idea, then just let this paragraph pass. Let your writing do the work of experience for you, but start with a simple topic. If you want to write a medical article first-time out that is complicated, you’ll have a difficult time selling it to traditional (non-Web) publishers, for example.
9) Close with a paragraph that asks whether editors are interested, let them know when you can have the work completed and on their desks, and give them as many ways to contact you as possible.
10) When you’re ready to submit, be sure that your query is no longer than 1 page, that it’s typed professionally, and that when you mail it that you enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope or if you don’t want the manuscript back, a simple postcard that the editor can check a box on that says, “Yes” and another that says “No,” for a reply will do. If you’re emailing, still give editors your telephone number so that they can call you to ask questions if necessary.
And good luck!
And one last thing… Don’t be upset by rejections. All professional writers get them, no matter how good or experienced they may be.