10 Steps to Writing Query Letters that Sell

by Pat Marcello on February 6, 2011

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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. [click to continue…]


Writing Query Letters Is Really Fun

by Pat Marcello on February 5, 2011

New writers tend to cringe when they hear about query letters. They seem so “non-creative,” and so business-y and lacking in entertainment value.

But lemme tell ya… Writing query letters can be a blast!

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At least, they are for me. You see, I’m a researcher at heart. If someone offered me a researching job today, paying me just a little more than I’m making now, I’d jump at the opportunity. Searching for information about something, whether it’s within my realm of expertise or interest or not, is like an adventure for me. You see, I always want to find that one amusing factoid that nobody else (much) knows that I can add to my work.

Query letters that have something amazing in them are often the most enjoyment an editor gets all day. I know. I did a stint as an editor for a couple of years, and let me tell you that reading through a slush pile or line editing can be tedious work. I realize that some pubs have editors for each thing, but I was an all-purpose editor. LOL I did it all — assigning stories, editing, creating subheads, and on and on. Whatever the publisher needed, I did. It was fun for a while, but yikes! It gets boring after a while.

So, in your query letter… If you give them something amazing, they’re going to sit up and take notice. I’m always on the lookout for a cool fact or statistic that I can include for that very reason.

For example, it’s a little-known fact that… [click to continue…]

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Writing the Killer Query Letter

by Pat Marcello on February 4, 2011

That’s never been a problem for me, and query letters, but selling work before it’s done does scare some people. You can always create an outline of your idea first, if that makes you feel more secure. But let me tell you… Once you start writing every day and writing professionally, you’ll be able to write any time of the day or night, on command, about anything you’ve already researched.


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But let’s talk about writing a query letter that will get your idea noticed and have the editor thinking that it’s better than any he or she has seen that day.

First, research your market. We’ve talked about this before. If a magazine has done an article on the five reasons why teens can’t get along, you don’t want to send them anything remotely similar. Think of something new or find a non-competing magazine and send it there.

Then, when you’ve found the ideal magazine for your work, write your query letter. Here are the parameters: [click to continue…]


Feeling Your Paragraphs

by Pat Marcello on February 3, 2011

Oh, yeah… I’m not really the touchy-feely type, but when it comes to art, that’s what happens. When you’re looking at a painting, you’re seeing color, subject, and design, and the combination of all of those will evoke an emotional response when the painting is really good.

edvard munch - the scream  1893

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Let’s take a familiar example — Edvard Munch‘s The Scream. It’s rather simple, isn’t it? Blocks of color all swirled about and one ghostly figure in the forefront  just standing there with its mouth open.  Unless it hit some emotional chord in so many, the painting would be rather mundane. But the combination of color, subject, and design has made it very popular over the centuries, as it was painted in 1893!

So, let’s apply that to a novel. Same thing. People relate to good fiction writing because of the writing color, the subject matter, and the author’s design. A LOT of feeling goes into writing a novel, and if it’s really good, that emotion transfers to many people.

How do you convey feeling? [click to continue…]

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The Methodical Approach to Pargraphing

by Pat Marcello on February 2, 2011

Is there really one? I’m guessing that in English class, if you’re in the 3rd grade there is. But let’s think about some modern literature… How about Frank McCourt‘s Angela’s Ashes. It’s one of the best books I ever read, and it had the very worst paragraphing and punctuation in the world. It’s an effect, and for that book, it worked extraordinarily well. I love all of McCourt’s books, but when I first opened that one, I balked, and I’m guessing lots of other people did, too, because in later editions, the paragraphing is proper.

Frank McCourt at New York City's Housing Works...

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That’s how most people feel if your paragraphing is off.  Weird. They might look at your work, and no matter how great it is, they won’t read it because it looks too damned hard to read.

You need white space.

Single sentence or ever one-word paragraphs give you that.

But you might not know where to begin and end a paragraph, either. Here are Pat’s rule-of-thumb paragraph rules: [click to continue…]