A query letter is simply a letter where you sell an editor or an agent on both your idea and your ability to write it.
Query letters are generally used in four situations:
Newspapers – While you wouldn’t write a query about breaking news you might use this sales tool to pitch a newspaper on an in depth feature or a series or a column for syndication. The Sunday magazines found in some newspapers might also be good targets for a query.
Agents – If you’re writing a non-fiction book you might send a query letter to an agent seeking representation. The query might stand alone or be part of a book proposal. Don’t pitch agents on articles; there simply isn’t enough money in articles to interest an agent. The possible exception is famous writers; their agent might offer articles to consumer magazines, usually as part of a book promotion.
Publishers – a query letter offering either a book or a book proposal can be a good approach to a book publisher.
Let go of query writing fear
The process of writing a query is pretty straight forward. Yet freelancers often get hung up, apparently thinking there’s some magic formula or a perfect way to write a query letter. The notion that there’s a way to write a perfect query only gets in the way and prevents many from even attempting pitching an idea.
While paying attention to the details like spelling, the editors’ name, etc. are important, and you don’t want to look unprofessional by sending it on colored paper or in an odd type font, what the editor wants is to see how well your idea fits the magazine and how well you write about it.
Make your query letters a demonstration you’ve studied the magazine, that your writing style matches the publication and that you can deliver what you’re selling.
After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Suppose your query is rejected? That rejection is, in my opinion, a badge of courage. Besides, your query might actually sell – believe me, it happens.
How did you get your first query written?