THE QUERY LETTER

THE QUERY LETTER

 

Nothing scares new writers more than the prospect of having to write a query letter.  Most of the writers I know would rather be gnawed on by rats rather than draft a query and (even worse) send the damn thing out to editors.

 

I remember the very first one I wrote, way back in my second year of college (1978!).  Though my journalism courses hadn’t yet covered how to write a query letter I was eager to jump into magazine feature writing.  So I wrote one that I thought would be effective and fired it off. 

 

It came back with ‘Are you serious?’ written in red ink across the page.

 

If there are, say, 25 things you should NEVER do in a query, I managed to do them all, and I invented a few new ones.  The editor thought the query was a joke sent in by one of his editor buddies –a kind of absolute worst-case query.

 

Soooo…I broke another old rule about queries and I called the editor on the phone.  This was waaay before the cell phone era.  When I explained that I was a college student and was genuinely trying to pitch an article to him (and after he stopped laughing) he took a few minutes to explain to me how and what queries are. 

 

Based on that discussion I was able to build a model query and have used it, in one form or another, to sell over 1100 articles and 20-odd books.  That’s not to say that I never got any more queries (I could wallpaper Nebraska with the queries I’ve gotten over 30 years in the biz) but my sell ratio jumped and I’ve sold virtually everything I’ve pitched.  Not necessarily to the first market or editor to whom it was sent, but I generally will sell what I pitch. 

 

The moral here is that industry is not looking for writers to reinvent the wheel.  There are certain things they need to see in a query and they need to be able to make a decision about the pitch in a few quick seconds.  Anything that interferes with that process wastes the editor’s time and also sends a clear message that “I’m not a professional”.

 

On the other hand, it helps to understand why rejection letters happen (maybe I’ll cover that tomorrow).

 

Nowadays I teach workshops on query writing and the art of the book pitch and my students are going on to nail sale after sale.  That totally jazzes me.  There’s nothing more exciting for a writing teacher than to have his students become successful.

 

More on this tomorrow.

 

JONATHAN MABERRY

www.jonathanmaberry.com

 

My editing/consulting business:

www.careerdoctorforwriters.com

  

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