Get Published II: The Query Letter
You know that having your name in print raises your perceived value. Authoring an article or two or twenty is a great way to show the world that you are an expert in your field (as your publishing credits grow, so too will the number of employers eager to join them).
Most editors want writers to send query letters (sales pitch/article proposal) instead of the completed manuscript. Sending a query also works for writers, as well. Before spending all the time needed to research and write an article for a particular publication, it pays to ensure the editor is even interested in your topic.
Volumes have been written on proper query letter formats and wording. But in reality, query letters are not that different from writing a cover letter for your resume; both types of letters follow a basic three-paragraph format.
Lead. Your first query paragraph should be the lead paragraph for your proposed article. If your lead is two sentences long, that’s a lot. If it’s three sentences long, it’s too long. You should be tightly focused and have a “hook” or a “tease” in this paragraph – something that will make the editor (and readers) want to keep reading. If you’re writing about who inspires business leaders, for instance, you might say, “Rocky Blier wouldn’t trade his four Super Bowl rings to be a billionaire, but billionaires like John Doe point to him as a perfect business model to follow.”
Clarify and pitch. Most queries I’ve received – and sent – start the second paragraph, “ABC Magazine readers might be interested in…” In this paragraph, you should include the proposed length of the article, what sub-topics will be covered, if you have pictures, who you will interview (and have quotes from), and if you will include a sidebar. When writing about how Blier inspires executives, for instance, you would want to tell your editor which executives you will be interviewing. You might also want to interview a few people who work for those executives. You will also want to weave in that Blier was shot in his left leg and had a grenade blow up under his right foot while in Vietnam, then helped the Pittsburgh Steelers become the dominant team of the 1970’s.
Guarantee. Your last paragraph should tell some about you and why you’re qualified to write this article. If you have clips, mention them; if not, don’t draw attention to it. Also tell the editor when you can have the manuscript on her desk.
IN A NUTSHELL: To score a touchdown with editors, follow a three-paragraph format with your query letters: lead, clarify and pitch, and the guarantee.