Query Letters DO Work

This is a quick note to tell you exciting news. I have another article up—this one is in an LA print magazine called Working World. It’s a two-page feature on “How to Avoid Online Job Scams.” When the link appears on their website, I’ll add it to the blog, but for now you’ll have to pick it up here in LA.

I found this opportunity through, yes, a query letter. For those not in the know, a query letter is a quick missive (usually an email these days) to an editor pitching an article, screenplay, or book proposal.

Many writers I talk to deride the query letter as last century. They say nowadays editors only read tweets, find friends through Facebook, or use established writers. But I disagree, and I have proof. Editors are always on the lookout for new writers. You don’t have to be a friend, you don’t have to be connected at all (though it helps) to make it over the transom. You just have to write.

Before writing a query letter, find out what the publication is looking for. You can find listings of editors seeking freelancers online at mediabistro.com or in a newer version of Writer’s Market. Be realistic; Time probably want news journalism, Poetry may take your haikus. Never vice versa. Trust me.

The best query letters are short. They are well-formatted, too. For example if it is an email, do not add too many fonts or colors. In terms of tone, they are actionable, enthusiastic, and polite. Provide some background in the first few sentences and then quickly let the editor know what you want to write. I never propose ideas I am not very excited to write about. I also provide links to my past articles in my queries. Then I sign off. Remember, short is good. You can work out details later. For now, it is best to send…and wait.

Sometimes this wait takes days and sometimes months. More often than not, there is no response. That’s normal, too. You can always send a follow-up, but sometimes it is like staring into an abyss. But write enough query letters and you are bound to hear from someone. Trust me. I didn’t believe in the query letter either.

What is your experience with the dreaded query letter? I would like to know in the comments.

6 responses to “Query Letters DO Work

  1. As a fiction writer, I know that query letters are a necessary evil. But like with job applications, I try to keep things going on auto-pilot: don’t take non-responses or rejections personally, and just keep sending them out.

    Like you, I’ve had some decent responses. Requests to see part or all of my manuscript. And that’s on a highly unconventional project, even, so I can only imagine the responses I might get with a “traditional” book.

    Basically, do I think the query system is great? Not really. But do I think it works well enough? Yeah, apparently it does. So like you, I’m more inclined to learn to query well rather than to be upset about how “old school” it is.

    And hey, congrats on your article!

  2. Kristan – Thanks! Maybe we don’t have to write something as formal as a query letter, but I think it’s always a good idea to expand the network, especially in terms of publishing.

  3. Good for you! Looking forward to reading it.

    I look at query letters like cover letters. And I used to look at them both as necessary evils. But now, when I am using them for something I am excited about, I don’t really mind. If I can’t even make myself write a brief letter about it, what business do I have writing about it?

  4. Rebecca – Great point. I am not very good at cover letters, but it seems the more enthusiasm I put it into them, the better they come out.

  5. My experience… five years ago I received three replies (rejections)… at least an answer. This year I received only one SASE back; one out of a lot.
    It’s a shame that they don’t even have the decency to send back your SASE. Okay, they didn’t ask for your query and it’s unculculated/additional work, but… what the hell!?

  6. Sarah – I know. I wish it were easier, but you just gotta keep plugging away. It’s like sales, a percentage game; one person is bound to say yes eventually.

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