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Query Troubleshooting
 
By: Dawn Colclasure

The query – the letter to an editor, agent or publisher – has only one purpose: To sell your idea. Your query success depends on how you format your query and what you say. These are the two essentials to your query:

 

·It must be formatted accordingly.

·It must communicate effectively.

 

First, let us look at the format of your query.

 

FORMAT

 

Because writing is mostly a business, it’s imperative that a writer be professional in their communication with editors and publishers. Unless you know them well or have written for them before, you must format your query in the form of a business letter: Flushed left. Start by including all of your contact information: Your full legal name (never your pen name), address, phone number and e-mail address. There is no need to include your social security number; if they need it, they’ll ask. Leave two spaces then type the magazine/company name and address. Skip two more lines then type “ATT:” (short for “attention”) and the contact person’s name (the editor, agent or publisher). Never put “editor,” “editorial board” or “agent.” This is too vague and your query may end up in the hands of a secretary instead. 

 

Next, leave two more blank spaces, type in the date and then leave two more blank spaces before typing your salutation, such as, “Dear Ms. Jones.” (Note: It is customary to address all female contacts with “Ms.” If you don’t know whether or not they’re married.) Put a comma after your salutation, go down a couple of spaces and begin.

 

Leave a blank space between your paragraphs and do not indent them. Queries are typically one page, usually a few paragraphs long. You don’t need to type in double spaces unless the guidelines indicate. After your last paragraph, leave a blank space then type “sincerely” or “very truly yours.” Finally, leave another blank space (or enough room for your handwritten signature) and type your name.

 

Below is an example of a query using this format:

 

Jane Doe

12345 My Street

My City, My State, 00000

Email: Janedoe@address.com

 

 

Magazine Name

12345 Anywhere Street

Suite 1

Anywhere, Any City, 00000

 

 

ATT: John Smith, Managing Editor

 

 

February 6, 2005

 

 

Dear Mr. Smith,

 

This is the first paragraph, or “hook,” of my query. Notice how professional it looks! Everything is in order and easy on your eyes.

 

I have left a space between the paragraphs and I have not indented my paragraphs. This is also easy on the editor’s eyes.

 

Finally, do not type two spaces after your period. If you use a pen name, indicate so in your query. Never sign with your pen name.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Jane Doe

 

 

Important: Always use clear white paper to type your query on. Never send a handwritten query or a query typed in yellow ink on a pink sheet of paper. There is no need to have a masthead on your query, nor is it a good idea to have any graphics on the paper. Always use a plain white sheet of paper and type your query in 12-point type using either a Courier or Times New Roman font.

 

Now that you have learned how to format your query, let us next examine the principles of effectively communicating in your query.

 

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

 

There are two aspects of effectively communicating in your correspondence. These aspects are: Tone and word choice.

 

TONE

 

The tone of your query is the “voice” you use. You must maintain an air of professionalism, so do not “talk” to the editor as if they were your best buddy.  Instead of starting your communication with something such as “Hey! How’s it going??” you should get right down to business and start your pitch immediately. Never think an editor has all the time in the world to read your query.

 

Additionally, never use multiple punctuation marks (as in the above example), nor should you ever use slang, Internet acronyms such as “LOL” or emoticons (such as :) which is in poor form).

 

The following is an example of a query’s opening with an unprofessional tone:

 

“Hey, what’s up? I was wondering if maybe you’d, like, have a look at an article I’ve been scribbling. I think your mag is the bomb!”

 

This type of tone tells the editor that not only has this writer failed to learn how to write an effective query, but that the author is likely a teenager.

 

WORD CHOICE

 

The words you choose for your query must grab an editor’s attention and win their interest in your article. You can’t use emotional indicators such as multiple exclamation points so the words you choose to pitch your idea must be chosen carefully.

 

The first paragraph of your query must get an editor to keep reading, so consider using the first paragraph of your proposed article for this purpose. If your article’s first paragraph (the “hook”) requires a quote, consider giving a five-minute interview with an expert you hope to use in order to get a quote. If you haven’t figured out how to start your article yet, use information you have gleaned from your research or start with a question. For example, you can start your query with the following paragraphs:

 

“A recent survey by the American Medical Association has shown that more men quit smoking faster than women.  Factors such as work, family and religious convictions also came into play over personal ones.”

 

“Why do dogs bark so much when there’s a full moon? Experts and pet psychologists have struggled with this question for years.  Now a new book may be the answer to solving this puzzle.”

 

“June Mulgrew fidgets uneasily as she steps out of the abortion clinic, bracing herself against the cries of protesters as she is led to her car by a policeman.  She knows her husband has accepted her decision to terminate her pregnancy.  What bothers her is if her church ever will.”

 

GETTING IT ALL TOGETHER

 

As mentioned above, the first paragraph of your query is what must get the editor’s attention. You must try to sell your pitch on this paragraph alone, though what follows can be a big factor, too. The paragraph following your pitch can tell your article’s title, whether it is an original (has not been published anywhere else before), who you plan to interview and how many words you estimate it will have.  (Always use the word count guidelines as a base for your word count.)  

 

The final paragraph will include your publishing credits (if you don’t have any, don’t say so), when you can get the article done, your experiences with this topic (only if applicable) and that you have enclosed an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) if you are sending your query by snail mail.

 

The following is an example of a query by an unpublished writer. I will use one of the above-mentioned first paragraph pitches here:

 

Jane Doe

12345 My Street

My City, My State, 00000

Email: Janedoe@address.com

 

 

Magazine Name

12345 Anywhere Street

Suite 1

Anywhere, Any City, 00000

 

 

ATT: John Smith, Managing Editor

 

 

February 6, 2005

 

 

Dear Mr. Smith,

 

Why do dogs bark so much when there’s a full moon? Experts  and pet psychologists have struggled with this question for years. Now a new book may be the answer to solving this puzzle.

 

“Why Dogs Bark at the Moon” is an original, 800-word article highlighting a dog’s behavioral patterns in concert to the many phases of the moon. I plan to interview Famous Author, who is the author of the book Your Dog and the Moon, and who has appeared on National Animal Show, National Daytime Show and Some Late Night Show.

 

If assigned, I can get the article to you within two weeks. Would you be interested in this story? I have enclosed an SASE for your convenience. Thank you for your time.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jane Doe

 

 

Always thank the editor for their time (remember how valuable it is). If you can’t decide how much postage to put on your SASE, check a magazine’s guidelines to see if they state whether their responses to queries will require more than one stamp. 

 

Write up a professional query using these guidelines above and the next thing you’ll be writing is your assignment!

 

 

 

 

Dawn Colclasure is a freelance writer, author, poet and book reviewer. Her work has appeared on the Web at Writing Etc., Writing World, Absolute Write, Worldwide Freelance Writer, Writing For Dollars! and The Writer within. Her books include the nonfiction books, BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL: How We Survive as Writing Parents and 365 Tips for Writers: Inspiration, Writing Prompts and Beat The Block Tips To Turbocharge Your Creativity.  She is a former poetry editor for Skyline E-Magazine, a staff writer for the Web site The Shadowlands and a contributor to the newspaper, SIGNews.  She also edits and publishes her own E-zine. Her Web site is at http://dmcwriter.tripod.com/.

This article is available as a free reprint. Please use this article EXACTLY as it appears and in its entirety, complete with bio. For original source of article, please link to http://dmcwriter.tripod.com Please email me at DMCWriter@gmail.com when you use this article. Thanks!