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4-3 Improving The Query Letter

© 2010 Mona Leeson Vanek

The following example is an actual critique between two professional writers.

QUERY LETTER WRITER sent the query letter she was planning to send to a magazine editor to her peer to be critiqued. HER PEER gave her opinion (critique) of what should be done to improve it -- before QUERY LETTER WRITER, sent it to the editor.

Study it and see how a query letter can be improved.

THE QUERY LETTER with (\\\\) inserted improvements suggested by PEER


I would like to propose a 700-word article that would include interesting facts about the carapace box turtle indigenous to the southeastern region of the United States.

\\\\Yawn! Sorry, fell asleep. :) Seriously, in the first place you say you would like to propose. Well, actually you ARE proposing. Find a hook. Maybe start with a quote. Something COMPELLING.

Hang on a sec. Okay, decided to read this through and then come back and do a line-by-line.

How about starting it with something like:

"Just as I know that the daffodils are going to poke through the frozen dirt after the last frost has gone, I know that Boomer is going to show up in my garden in the spring," retiree Bob Mitchell tells a fascinated eleven-year-old Jimmy Browne.

The story would center around a box turtle that was marked with a dot of nail polish years ago. This turtle returns yearly to the same house where a kind retired man feeds and waters him.

\\\\\ How about, "Boomer is a carapace box turtle that's been visiting 74-year-old Detroit native Bob Mitchell for the last nine years. Easily identifiable because of a spot of nail polish painted on his back, my 700-word story relates the relationship of this turtle and his companion-keeper. Intermingled in the story Bob tells Jimmy, important facts about how these indigenous reptiles survive the hard elements of a Michigan winter and live a long life are taught."

\\\\ (I made that up, but you get the idea. Make it positive and engaging, not passive.)

The story would go further into detail about the environment that has enabled this turtle to live a long life as well as other important facts relating to the carapace box turtle. I would write the article as if Bob, the turtle's sometimes caretaker, is visiting with and relating this story to my eleven-year-old son.

\\\\ See my comments above.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

\\\\ Wait a second. What about your past writing credits? Name the publications, and state your relationship with Bob and Jimmy. Explain how you did your research on the turtle. Are these facts or are these just things that Bob tells your son? You want to have provable resources. \\\\ Actually, you're trying to do a lot in 700 words. Are you sure it's possible to get all that in that space?

\\\\ Also, in the last line, make a positive statement consider this, "I look forward to working with you on this story for Boy's Life. You can reach me at (100) 333-2345 or by e-mail at to discuss this assignment further."

Do you see how a query can be more than you envisioned in your first draft?

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and polish, tweak, and polish, before you send out a query to an editor.

You'll also find excellent advice here if you download writers guidelines .pdf files and study them,

Chapter 9 - Querying and Related Issues:

Next: 4-4, The Internet - Your Road To Successful Writing and Marketing:

2-1 How To Be Your Editor's Favorite Freelancer

(c) 2001 by Kathleen Purcell

There's no secret, really. It alls boils down to one precept: editors are people, too. People with jobs. And as a freelance writer, what you do is part of their job. Editors have bosses, deadlines and deliverables. An editor's boss does not care WHO is or is not delivering on time. The editor's boss will hold the editor personally responsible for any and all failures of production. Your's included.

To become an editor's favorite freelancer:
  • 1. Turn in assignments early. One day is good; two is better. As it creeps closer to deadline, editors begin to wonder, how is my freelancer doing? I wonder if she conducted her interviews yet? Do you suppose she got all those people to return her calls? I wonder how long her story is?
By deadline day your editor is a nervous wreck unless he or she was wise enough to give you a false deadline. Put your editor out of his misery, turn the story in early.
  • 2. Stay in touch.
When my staff reporter is doing a story, I can walk out to the newsroom floor anytime I want, grab him by the collar and bark, "Pieper, how's that story coming?" When I do that (this is my favorite part) he HAS to answer.

I like my freelancers to be proactive about communication. This is especially important when you are new to the editor, if you have ever let her down in the past, if the story is particularly long and complex, or if the deadline was longer than one production cycle. But editors are busy, too.

Personally, I hate freelancers who need me to spend lots of time telling them what great writers they are. All I want is a quick status. A brief email will do. Like this:
  • "Hi. Thanks for the assignment. This morning I called the school district and left a message for the superintendent to call me."
  • "Hi. Just wanted to let you know the school superintendent called me back. I got the interview. The story looks like it might be as long as 1500 words. Have a nice day."
  • "Hi. Had a great interview with the superintendent yesterday. He thinks I should interview the district CFO. I have an appointment later today."
  • "Hi. The CFO was full of useful information. He has a color chart. Would you like to use it for art?"
  • "Hi. I know this is early, but my story is all done. I will drop by later today with the chart. Have a nice day."
The editor has some idea of what he wants from this article.
  • 3. Read the editor's mind.
Seriously. He may -- or he may not -- share that with you. If he does not, you can coax it out of him with a few questions:
  • What's my deadline
  • How long should the story be
  • Do you want art
  • Is there anyone in particular you want me to interview
  • Do you have any background on this that you'd like to share?
If he answers all that, you will have read his mind.
  • 4. Don't deliver surprises.
Editors hate surprises. A good editor is, by definition, a control freak. Turn in the story you promised at approximately the length you promised by deadline or sooner. If something happens midway that will change the focus, scope, length or timing of the article, tell the editor as soon as possible and negotiate a new focus, length or deadline.

Last week one of my favorite freelancers called me 5 minutes before deadline to say she did not get the story. Had done nothing on it, in fact. No interviews, nothing. She knew, and I knew, and she knew I knew that she knew days ago that she was going to be late. Still, she waited until 5 minutes before deadline to tell me. So I had 5 minutes to find a 15 inch story to plug into the giant hole she left on my front page.

Hey, thanks Robyn! You know that series you were going to do on the VFW? Nevermind.

That's it. Four steps. Do them consistently, and --assuming you have also done your best on the article itself -- you can win a priority spot on any editor's rolodex.###

NOTE: All of the above applies only to ethical editors. Unscrupulous editors (and there are many) are low-lying snake in the grass rodents who deserve to be trampled.

My apologies to rodents everywhere ~~ KP
Chapter 4 - Writers Guidelines and Magazine Calendars

Next: 2-2, Tools for Writing Online: