Query Letter Writing: Dissecting a Successful Query Letter

So it’s one thing to talk about a successful query letter writing, but it’s another to actually use an actual query letter, so I thought today I’d walk us through one that worked really well for Writer’s Magazine.  Make sure you know these 5 things to before sending a query letter first.

Here’s my actual query letter (with some outdated links I had removed).  Read on, then see my comments about why this was good, and how I would do it better next time.

Subject:  Getting Started Query:  Start a Blog

Hi Sarah

Want to get free advertising for your writing? Looking for a regular way to practice and develop your ‘voice’? Hoping to showcase your portfolio online? All of these things can be accomplished by an aspiring writer by doing one thing: starting a blog.

I would like to propose a Getting Started feature showing writers the main steps required to host a blog. I’ll walk through the following actions:

1 – Consider the topic of the blog. What will you write about? All blogs need focus, so decide what sorts of content will feature. It is helpful to choose 3-5 categories that every post will fit into. Also think about what information on your services and portfolio will be featured.
2 – Decide if you will host the blog yourself or go with a free service such as WordPress or Blogger. Many writers would tell you that to be considered ‘more serious’ you must self-host, but this requires additional overhead and technical knowledge.
3 – Pick a blog name. Research into names, copyrights, etc. before making a final decision.
4 – Register your blog. The actions here depend on your choice for step two.
5 – Determine how often you will update the blog – and stick to it. Be sure initially there is plenty of content so your readers have an opportunity to stay and browse.
6 – Market your blog. Do this by commenting on other blogs which are in the same topic area. You might want to contact other bloggers and trade posts, which is called ‘guest posting’.

Each step will include simple, understandable information to get the novice blogger started. The sidebar will include several websites that would prove useful to new bloggers, such as Copyblogger (www.copyblogger.com) or Probogger (www.problogger.net)

My name is Andy Hayes, a freelance writer based in Edinburgh. You can view my portfolio online at <link>, which highlights my writing expertise in both new media (web content, blogs) as well as print media (Olive Magazine, Newsweek). My focus areas are travel, food and wine as well as being an experienced reviewer of books and products.

If you prefer to see my work in a ‘traditional’ format you can download a one-page CV here:
<link>

Should you find my suggestion to be of interest, I hope to hear from you. I am confident you will find my expertise an asset to your readership and look forward to hearing from you.

Warm Regards,

Andy

Key Points:

  • The subject line is important.  You need to a) gain attention, b) give them a clue as to what it is.  I normally make mine a little spicier than that, but you get the idea.  Getting Started is the name of the column the query was for.  I always make a point to put the title of the article in the subject too.  You did think of a killer title for your article already, right?
  • I addressed the editor by name.  Always try to find out who it is and write to that person.  Dear Editor is so…lame.
  • Others will disagree, but I always lead with “what is in it for you.” Why should the editor keep reading?  Perhaps this is my copywriting background, but remember that your subject line gets them to open the email, and your first paragraph gets them to read the second paragraph, etc…
  • I included a base frame of the article.  You need to give them enough information so they can picture what you’re pitching.  Don’t include the kitchen sink, though.
  • My “I’m Andy Hayes and ….” piece is not bulk.  I tweak the names of publications and portfolio links to what I think will resonate best with the editor.  Notice I have both a one-page CV/resume as well as a more flexible web portfolio.

Other Things to Remember

  • I sent this query letter in January 2009.  I got the go ahead for writing it in September.  Proof that freelance writing really is like planting seeds.
  • You must tailor your query letter writing approach every single time; cookie-cutter pitches are a waste of your time as most editors can smell them from a mile away.

I hope you found that example useful.  But don’t cut and paste; put something similar into your own words.  What are your ninja tricks for tricking out a query letter?

Comments

  1. This is great – thanks so much for sharing! As a budding freelance writer, I’m most interested in learning more about how to write a good query letter. While there are a lot of blog articles with a list of tips, working from an example is much more informative. I would love to read more posts like this. Thank you!

  2. As an editor at a national publication, I’d say that this type of query letter is pretty old school, too long and way too detailed. Many editors are getting hundreds of emails a day and probably wouldn’t have the time to read something like this over. Personally, I’d skim for the basic idea and if I could get the idea in that quick skim, I’d click links for writing samples. Based on a quick poll around the editorial department (of both online and print editors), brevity is key and this type of query is likely to be ignored.

    Granted, the strength of this query letter is that even with a quick skim or only reading the first paragraph, I got an idea of what the pitch was. However, in many cases I’d say that if you can’t pitch your idea in a short paragraph (3-4 sentences), your query/pitch is too long.
    .-= Kymlee´s last blog ..It’s all connected =-.

  3. Thanks. This was very informative. I haven’t really found great resources on how to do this properly, but this summed it up nicely.

    Kymlee, thanks for the added tips as well.

  4. Andy Hayes says:

    Shelly/Paul – Glad you found the tips helpful.

    Kymlee – I totally agree, less is more ( and am actually talking about this in an upcoming piece ). But you illustrate a great point for new writers: everyone has an opinion and everyone’s different.

    As a fellow editor, I see pitches of varying lengths, and problem is many writers fail to communicate the basics of what their pitch is, why I should want it, and why they are the best person to write it.

    One thing I should have mentioned is that the above was a very cold pitch, and I always go for the detail in that kind of scenario. If that’s old school, I’m ok with that – because for me, it works.

    Thanks for joining the discussion, Kymlee – I’ve just send you an email for a followup in our next piece on this topic.

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