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No Two Queries Are Alike
by C. Hope Clark

You have the best article idea about teaching children manners, so you prepare a query for Child magazine. At the same time, you pitch a fabulous story idea to Sew News about designing a memory quilt. Since you’re on a roll, you throw out another idea to Children’s Writer Newsletter about writing for five-year-olds. Carefully, you delete, cut and paste each editor’s name as well as the proposed title of each piece in your query template. Three queries in twenty minutes, a new record.

You just wasted your time.

As a previous personnel director, I counseled potential employees on the proper preparation of a resume. I preached incessantly that no two resumes should be alike because no two employers are alike. Applicants needed to study the employer, review the job announcement, and custom design the resume to fit what the employer needed. When I hired people for my agency, I looked for the resumes prepared with care by someone willing to understand what I sought in a new employee.

Editors want the same with query letters. The editor for Child magazine should not receive the same letter as the editor for Sew News. How would you like to receive a letter from a friend who photocopied the same letter and sent it to three other friends? Suddenly you feel less special, and you feel less obligated to read the letter. Same goes for the editor.

Write a letter, not a query.

If you have a marvelous idea for a magazine, write the editor as if you know her. Know what the magazine represents, who the readership is, what kind of message is delivered consistently. Talk to that editor about your suggestion, how it makes her publication better because it helps deliver that all-important message. You care about that magazine and want to enhance it with your piece. The only way you can communicate such a desire to contribute to this publication is to sit down and write a query letter from scratch – from the heart.

Hokey? Not at all. Editors protect their publications. Part of their protection includes culling writers who don’t understand why a publication exists. If you cannot inform an editor through your query letter that you understand her duty to publish good material, then don’t bother writing it.

How to write a query letter that catches an editor’s eye:

1. Hook the editor in the first sentence. Whether you use statistics, the opening line to your article or a descriptive generalization that sings, entertain that editor. If the opening line is not entertaining, rewrite it. The first impression of a query letter is as important as the opening words of a novel. Those words make the determination whether the reader wants to continue.

2. Connect with the publication. Why do you want to bother writing for this magazine? Get personal with the editor in showing you understand the importance of this publication. I once told an editor that I bought the magazine to read the mystery short story in the back to my husband so we could compete solving the crime. The editor realizes you understand the flavor of the magazine, so she reads on to know more about what you can offer her readers. Most queries don’t make it that far.

3. Be brief. Nothing sells an editor faster than a good idea written in as few words as possible. Hone those words until every one carries its weight in gold. In doing so, you respect an editor’s precious schedule. She will notice the effort you took to save her a little time.

4. No brag, just facts. Tell the editor why you are qualified to write this piece, for this publication. If I’m writing for a business publication, I emphasize my history as an administrative director for the government. If I’m writing a garden, home, or science related piece, I flaunt my agronomy degree. If I write about teens, I speak about my sons in college and my teen mentoring program. However, I do not list all of my qualifications in all of my queries. Who cares? All that the editor wants to know is how my qualifications fit her magazine. Those are the only ones that matter.

5. Wrap up. Advise her the rights you offer for purchase. Tell her if it’s not a simultaneous submission. Tell her when you can have the piece completed. Thank the editor. Waste no words in this short final paragraph.

Many writing books make queries sound like impossible missions. Each book has its own secret method. Frankly, queries are nothing more than a letter. Think about a letter you’d like to read. Does it make you feel special? Does it empathize with you? Does it give you unique information you wouldn’t find in any other letter? Then you understand.

Write a different query letter every time you submit. Not only will you increase your chances of connecting with the editor, but you will also improve your writing. You don’t take the same short story, change the characters, move the setting, slap a new title on it and submit it to three different publications. You use your imagination to create a new world each and every time. Magazine editors deserve the same attention, and your extra effort will reap the rewards.

© Copyright 2006, C. Hope Clark

Hope Clark is editor of FundsforWriters.com. She has published in WriterÂ’s Digest, The Writer, Landscape Management, Next Step Magazine and more. Her book, The Shy Writer, has successfully taught many writers how to deal with the insecurities of promotion.

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