A query letter gives a writer three or four short paragraphs to sell her idea – and herself – to an, often overworked, editor. What you include and what you leave out can make the difference in whether you get the assignment or not. To increase your odds of selling your story, avoid these six common mistakes.
1. Don’t be unprofessional. Writing is job, just like an office job. Don’t use slang, rude, or (need I say it) obscene language. Be polite and use the editor’s last name. Close with a friendly, but formal phrase, such as “sincerely yours” or “best regards”.
2. Don’t talk about your rejections. Sure, we all have them, but just like your weight, your last traffic ticket, and the loser you dated in college, some things are better kept to yourself. Remember: a query letter is like a job interview on paper. Show yourself in the best light possible.
3. Don’t offer your mother – or your boyfriend or your minister – as a writing critic. They may offer you great advice, but saying “my mother loved the idea” or “my boyfriend’s always telling me to write about this” lacks certain credibility. If you don’t yet have any writing credits, rely on the strength of your idea.
4. Don’t tell the editor that you’ve never been published. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s often tricky when you’re trying to get that first assignment. If you don’t have any clips to offer, don’t draw attention to the fact. Many editors will still be interested in a unique, well-conceived idea.
5. Don’t ramble on. A query letter needed be long. Use the first paragraph to grab the editor’s attention, the second to develop the idea, and the third to tell them why you’re the right person to write the article. Remember: good editors are busy people; don’t bore them by being repetitious and verbose.
6. Don’t query more than one idea at a time. Present one clear and concise idea in your query. Don’t confuse the editor by talking about several things at once or loading the page with many half-developed premises.
Avoiding these six simple traps can go a long way towards landing you that magazine assignment. The success of even the best query depends on reaching the right editor in the right mood and with the right need. Make sure your query letters are clean and concise.