A great query sparks interest and makes the reader want more.
A bad query has the reader putting your work down without considering even the first paragraph.
Bad Queries often include:
1. Lots of sentences that start with "I."
2. Making it too personal rather than professional.
3. Spelling and grammar errors.
4. Arrogant statements like, "My book is going to be an amazing bestseller! You really want it!"
5. An address to an editor who hasn't worked there for years.
6. Fancy different fonts, lots of exclamation points, or words in all caps.
Here's an example of what NOT to do in a query:
To whom it may concern,
Hello. My name is so-in-so. I have written a book that you're going to love. It's as good as so-in-so's (famous author) new book and I know it will sell even more copies if I can just get a publisher to accept it. It's my first book an all my friends think it's great!!!!!! There is NO OTHER BOOK LIKE IT anywhere! It has a totally new style of writing and breaks all the rules, and God just gave me all the words so you don't even need to edit it! It's 600 pages long, and I know it will make a great movie.
So write me back today! I've sent this letter to 50 editors, so you want to get in the front of the line for this new book that my mother calls a REAL MASTERPIECE!
So what goes into a great query? A hook sentence at the beginning that catches their attention and ignites their curiosity, and the information they need to know if your article/book is something they should consider.
Here's the order I use for writing queries (for articles or book proposals):
My contact information top right-hand corner (name, address, e-mail)
Their contact information on the left (person's name and company, address)
Paragraph 1--my hook (don't start out with fluffy stuff, jump right into a question or statement that will catch their eye)
Paragraph 2--More detail about the article/book and what benefit readers will get out of it
Paragraph 3--any important details like word-count, whether first rights or reprint rights are offered, etc.
Paragraph 4--A clear question, such as "Would you be interested in using this article in your magazine?"
Paragraph 5--my credentials, how many times I've been published, or what experiences I've had that make me knowledgeable on the topic
Paragraph 6--sincere gratitude (without gushing) and a closing comment
(NOTE: Each of the above doesn't actually need its own paragraph. I often combine things to make the letter smaller. The more concise you can be, the better--white space is your friend when it comes to queries.)
Here's an example of a query for a magazine article (for if you're like me and visuals are much more helpful than explanation):
Mr. So-In-So, Editor
Cadet Quest Magazine
Dear Mr. So-In-So,
The Bangladeshi boys were excited about going to Bible camp, learning about the heroes of the faith. When the trip to camp was stopped, their leaders beaten, and the boys taken to prison, they realized that this year, instead of learning about the heroes, they had the chance to be like the heroes. So, like Paul and Silas, they sang in the prison, and scratched Bible verses onto the walls for future prisoners to find.
Would In Jail for Jesus, based on true events, be a good fit for your Living for Jesus issue? It has been published once before, in Guide magazine (2010) so reprint rights are offered.
I have been published over 250 times in Christian books and magazines, including multiple articles for children.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you!
Now, don't start freaking out because you haven't been published hundreds of times or whatever. If you've been published once, say so and tell them what and where. Or, if you've never been published, tell them that you regularly speak on this subject, or that you like their magazine, or that you believe readers will be encouraged about your article because _____. Just don't go for the new-kid vote, as in "I've never been published before and I really want to get published, so..."
If you're nervous about getting started, you may want to try publications that do not pay first (they get less flooded with query letters and are a good way to get your feet wet and start building relationships with editors). The Writer's Market Guide or Christian Writer's Market Guide lists not only the publications, but the editor's name, e-mail address, and what they are looking for as far as topic and word count. (You can find either book used on amazon for not too much money. They are updated each year.).
Well, are you excited about getting started or overwhelmed and want to give up already?? I promise it gets easier the more you do it. At this point, I'm so used to writing queries that they don't twist me up inside like they did at first. Writing queries is a learn-able skill, like driving, so once you get it mastered, it becomes second nature. It's the starting that's the hardest, so don't get discouraged!
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