The first thing I did wrong when I started writing was submitting poor query letters. They contained generic article ideas and boring sentences. Everything said, "blah, blah, blah."
Twenty query letters and no responses. Even my SASEs weren't returned.
I bought a great book called How to Write Attention Getting Query and Cover Letters by John Wood. Merging its advice with my style, I sent off queries that editors responded to.
Let me tell you what I do. If you follow these guidelines, I'm willing to be that you'll increase your response rate too.
The basics of good letter writing are essential. Get the editor's name correct, use good grammar, and double-check your spelling. Editors WILL throw out good ideas if the writer's work is amateurish.
The first paragraph of my query is always a catchy paragraph similar to what I'd use as the opening for an article. It usually contains a quote or an anecdote, the idea of the article, and a lead that makes the reader want more. A paragraph written in a style similar to that in the magazine I submit to always receives good responses.
Here's an example:
"The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat," says a popoular television sports announcement about the excitement of watching athletic events. That's how we tend to see loss. Loss is defeat, failure, and death. When I graduated with a physician assistant license, I experienced both of those things - the thrill of graduation and the agony of not getting a job. I was pregnant and considered unemployable. Like the small child in my womb who underwent apoptosis to change a paddle into a hand, I went through a painful spiritual apoptosis that made me more useful to God.
The second paragraph of my query tells the editor what I'll do for him. It gives the length of the article (which always matches the magazine's preferred length for similar articles), the title, what the article will do for the reader, and experts I plan to interview. The benefits of the article for the reader are the most important thing discussed here. Editors need articles that give the readers something they want.
Here's the second paragraph of the query:
"Joyful Christian Apoptosis" is a 1,000-word article about my painful start in the medical wolrd and how, like an unborn child, God killed part of me to make me a useful vessel for him. This is not a negative article. Far from it. God sometimes allows difficult things to happen in our lives to make us more flexible in our ability to serve Him. Rather than asking God, "Why me?", we can ask, "What for?" and say, "Thank you for carrying me through." Because of my difficult start, I became a stay-at-home mother of four, a professional writer, and a college professor of nursing students (all at the same time). I thank God for the difficulties in my life that have brought me to a place where I am learning to serve Him more each day.
The third paragraph of my query tells the editor why I'm the one to write the article. It lists related magazines I've been published in and any important personal training or experiences that make me an expert on the topic. When I first started writing, I didn't have anything to list here, so I skipped this paragraph. If you can't make it look good, wow the editor with your first two paragraphs and you'll still get a "yes" response.
I have published articles in On Mission, Men of Integrity, Spirit Led Writer, Physician Assistant Journal, Advance for Physician Assistants, and many more.
I always add a "thank you for considering this article" comment just before closing the query. It shows respect for the editor's time. Too many writers don't act professionally, so when you do, you'll get a second look.
Thank you for considering "Joyful Christian Apoptosis".
Editors don't always buy the resulting articles, but they almost always ask to see them after reading my query letters. Follow these tips, and you'll find the same is true for you.
Good luck! I'll see you in print.
About the Author
Terri Pilcher is the author of MONEY Markets 101: 101 Markets That Pay Writers in 6 Weeks or Less and the PowerPen Market Search (2 day FREE trial). Both are available at www.powerpenmarketsearch.com. She also offers a FREE weekly e-zine, Writer's Guidelines Magazine available at www.terripilcher.com.