A recipe for quiver-free queries

It’s been a while since I posted a writing-related article, so here goes…

Do you quiver when you have to query?

Ah, what’s a query letter? Quickly put, it’s the letter you send to the editor of a publication asking if s/he would like to see your article for publication. You may or may not have written the article. It is, in short, a pitch, but you’re doing it by letter.

Queries have one huge advantage over writing a submission and then sending it: they’re fast. It takes an hour, maximum, to write a good query. If it gets rejected, you’ve only lost that hour. Plus, you can more easily tailor the idea to the next publication you query.

So let’s say you’ve got a great idea, and you’ve found the perfect market. To make the perfect query, you’ll need the following ingredients:

1) The actual name of the editor. This may mean you have to pick up a phone and call, but do it anyhow. If you tend to panic under pressure, get the name last so you can have a draft of your letter in front of you; sometimes an operator puts you through to the editor you need. When you’re on the spot, you can read your letter to the editor instead of trying to extemporize. I speak from terrified experience.

2) A hook for your opening. Open your query the way you’ll open your article. For example:
– point out a problem in the world and saying you have the solution. (“The only unchallenged bigotry in America is hatred of Venutians.”)
– discuss a trend and how it’s a mixed blessing. (“While Venutians make up five percent of educated immigrants to the United States, Venutian children are the group with the highest high school drop-out rates.”)
– profile someone’s dramatic situation, and the frequency with which this happens. (“Maria Biondino, a PhD with three published volumes of poetry, cannot find a doctor who will treat her eczema. She is one of 50,000 Venutian-Americans who cannot get medical care.”)

3) Explanation. Give the thrust of your article, the length, the points you intend to make, any sources you intend to use and experts you intend to interview.

4) A paragraph listing your experience and why you are most qualified to write this piece. Don’t specifically mention if you aren’t previously published.

5) A closing. “Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Stir, knead, mix in a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope and clips of your published work if you have any, and add one postage stamp. Simmer for six weeks (or longer at higher elevations) until acceptance.

It goes without saying at this point: while you’re baking…er, I mean, waiting, come up with another idea, and get those quiver-free hands typing another query!