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Crafting the Venerable Query Letter

Should you ever fail to reach an editor by phone, then simply mail the time-honored query letter. Keep It Simple. Donít overwhelm the editorís tired, red, eyes with too much information. Hereís a formula that works magic for me time after time. Notice how itís short and sweet, but still gets the job done. Truth be told, Iím rather proud of the formula. Feel free to plagiarize. But keep in mind the hot dog story has been done to death.

April 1, 2020

Warren Billy Smith - Editor
Festive Cooking Magazine
One Flash Drive
Teeds Grove, Iowa 55555

Dear Editor Smith:

Hereís a story idea I think youíll like:

101 Great Ways to Cook Hot Dogs

Itís all about the wide variety of interesting ways to grill, bake and boil one of Americaís favorite foods. Iím qualified to write the piece because Iím full time writer and hot dog lover who has tried and perfected all the recipes to be presented in this piece. I could have the article to you with illustrations in time for your July issue. What better way to celebrate Independence Day than by cooking up a big bunch of savory hot dogs for friends and family?
Looking forward to the possibility of working together on this assignment.

Franklin Furter Esq.

Like I said, make query letters short and sweet. Do notice how I mentioned in the above example the July issue of the magazine in question. From my research I knew that Festive Cooking magazine (a fictional creation) themes its July issue around 4th of July Recipes.

Tip: Donít write generic query letters. Know the magazine inside and out, what they do and what they need. Don't waste editor's time with a vague attempt.

Also notice the query letter uses the words festive and savory, words common to food articles. OK, I cheated by using festive as part of the name of the magazine. But you get the idea. Words are like body language. Wear the write (sic) clothes. That means using the vocabulary the magazine uses. Boating magazines, sewing magazines, car magazines and even trade journals for undertakers (Casket and Sunnyside) have their own jargon. Learn it. Include jargon in the query letters and in the article proper.

Opinions vary. Without a doubt MBA marketing gurus will shake their heads in disgust because my finely honed query letter doesnít come right out and ask for a sale. You could do write it that way. But in my experience most editors respond better to a soft sell.

What happens after you drop the query letter in the mail? How long should you wait for a response? Some freelancers will phone an editor after a couple of weeks, or long enough for the mail to get from the mailroom onto his desk. There is no rock solid answer. Just donít get pushy. Be patient. Sometimes mail sits unopened for a week or two during closing. Thatís the time just before going to print when overworked under-staffed editors are swamped with copyediting, organizing photos, layouts, proof reading, and sending the book to the printer. They donít have time for queries.

Remember early on when I said to call the editors on the phone? If when you phoned the editor and he or she seemed tense and impatient, ask whether or not theyíre closing. If the answer is, yes, then considerately inquire when might be a better time to call back.

Regardless of the circumstance, I advise patience, infinite patience. One editor of a national magazine phoned me six long months after I had sent in a query letter. Long story made short, breathlessly he told me he absolutely had to have the story and he had to have it by next Tuesday. During the intervening time world events had changed making my formerly lukewarm story glow red hot. - next - table of contents -