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    MsJacquiiC Poetica Magnifique

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    Writing a formal query letter is about more than just coming up with a good idea. You need to do your homework, follow some simple guidelines, write it well, and make it look professional.
    In order to get writing jobs, especially if you want to write non-fiction articles or books, you need to be able to write a formal query letter. The purpose of a query letter is to pitch your idea to an editor. The great thing about querying is that you can get your research done and be prepared to write your piece, but you don’t actually have to write it until you get the go-ahead from an editor. Here are some tips on writing a query, making it stand out, and avoiding some of the many pitfalls that will send your letter to the slush pile.

    Do Your Homework

    A good idea falls flat if you don’t have the research to back it up. Here are a few hints on how to gather the information you will need in order to write a good query.
    • Follow the editor’s guidelines. If you don’t have a copy of the guidelines, check online first. If you still can’t find them, write to the editor asking for a copy, and include a self addressed, stamped envelope (SASE).

    • Check the editor’s preference. Do they actually want a query letter, or would they rather see a finished product? Do they prefer email or regular mail submissions? Will they mind if your email has an attachment?

    • Read several current copies of the publication before submitting (check the library to get copies). Write your query in the style of the publication. Know what section of the publication your article could fall into.

    • Get your research done, or at least started. This way you can include specifics on your topic in your letter, and you’ll have a better idea of the length your article might be.

    Write it Well

    Even with all the resesarch in the world, your idea won’t sell unless you can show that you really are a good writer. Here are a few tips to make your writing better and your idea more interesting (and saleable!).
    • Make your letter stand out with punchy writing, a great title, and an original idea.

    • If you are writing a book proposal (as opposed to a magazine article proposal), include the line you think your book will best fall into.

    • Use your own voice. Just because it’s a formal letter does not mean you have to use formal language. Write your letter the same way you will write your final draft.

    • Write in a way that makes you seems confident, but not cocky.

    • Write about your topic, including why you are interested in it, what your main points will be, and how you will grab the reader.

    • Emphasize what your angle on the topic is. This should be a short summary of what you’ll include in your piece. For example, let’s say you want to write about bears. Maybe your angle is that you are focusing on bears in the frontiers of Alaska, the Eskimo women who live in close proximity to them, their fears and concerns about living so close, how they protect their families and children, etc....

    • Include your estimation of what your word count will be. Tell the editor how far along you are already in writing your piece.
    • Do use tools such as bold print, numbering, and bullet points to make your idea stand out on the page. Don’t get too fancy, just use enough so that the editor can skim the page to see your great idea and your main points at a glance.

    • Include a short explanation of why you in particular are best suited to write for that publication.

    • Tell a little bit about yourself, including your published works if you have any, any relevant memberships, any career information that relates to the topic at hand. Just let the editor know why you are an expert here.

    • Show excitement for your topic by using strong, memorable sentences.

    • Rewrite it. Your first draft probably isn’t good enough, but it’s a good start!

    Make it Professional

    If your letter makes you look like an amateur, you have little to no chance of getting approval. Take your letter and make it really perfect with these instructions.

    • Send it to the right person. Find out a specific name for the editor who handles your type of topic. For example, if it’s a fashion piece, it should land directly in the fashion editor’s hands. This is the one time you can call if you need to - not to speak to the editor directly but to ask for assistance in finding out the name of the editor you want to contact.

    • Your letter should be completely error-free. This is crucial! Even if you are sure that every word is spelled correctly, every sentence grammatically correct, every punctuation mark included, still get a second party to proofread it for you. Spell-check systems are not fool-proof, and reading your own writing isn’t either. Even if you have a stellar, original idea, if you submit to an editor with mistakes in your writing, your chances of getting the assignment will be significantly lowered.

    • Include your name, address, phone number and email address.

    • Stick to one page (one and a half at most). Editors are busy, and they receive stacks of queries every day. Grab attention with yours, but be succinct.

    • Thank the editor, and include something about how you hope to hear back from him or her soon.

    • Include your SASE. It is fine to fold it so that it will fit into your envelope.

    What NOT to Include

    Let’s face it, folks. We all make mistakes. Try not to make these! Do not include:
    • Any kind of apology.

    • Any kind of excuse for your writing.

    • Any statement that makes you sound like an amateur (even if you are!).

    • More than one idea at a time.

    • An explanation of why you don’t have any published works. (If you don’t have any, don’t mention it at all!)

    • The entire piece if they've specifically asked for a query letter only.

    • Another piece you’ve written that has no relevance.

    • Another piece you’ve written that hasn’t been published.

    • A statement that you’re sending your idea to somebody else as well.

    • A long story about how you’ve always wanted to be a writer.

    • Personal (and therefore, irrelevant!) stories about your kids, friends, family, or dog. Remember, this is a business letter, and the editor has no time for that which is not part of the business.

    • A phone call to pitch your idea.

    • An idea with no backbone and no research behind it.

    • An idea that is too general, such as “Having a Baby.”

    • A recommendation from your friend, mom, boss, brother, or whomever telling the editor how great your writing is.

    • Complications. An example of this would be giving your current address and the address where you’ll be moving in a month. Just wait and send it in a month.

    You Should Also Know...
    • You can send your idea to more than one editor at once. But be sure to tailor each letter so that it fits the publication. Otherwise it might read like a form letter.

    • You may or may not hear back from the publication. If you’ve included your SASE, you might get a rejection letter if your idea is not accepted. You’ve just got to keep trying until you get the one editor that needs your writing.

    • If you get a rejection letter, it’s unlikely that it will explain why your idea was not accepted.

    • If you get the go-ahead from the editor, you should be prepared to get your piece written immediately. There may be a deadline.

    So you see, a query letter is more than just a great idea, although that is where it starts. Make it professional, polish it until it shines, and you will be on your way to getting published.

    [ Source: Googobits.com • Author: Jennifer Lovvorn Parker ]

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    Posted By MsJacquiiC | May 16, 2011

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