Query Writing Series: The Query Letter, Part Two

The Query Letter, Part Two
The Meat of the Matter
Once you’ve hooked your editor/client (who, by the way, is also your first reader), you need to deliver the goods. It’s not enough to hit them with a great first paragraph and then say “What do you think?” You need to convey two more things – how you’re going to pull off this assignment and why you’re the one who should do it.

I like to give clients my credentials so that they can see that my experience matches what they need. Is that the case every time? Of course not, but somewhere in my skill set I can usually find something that relates to what they’re wanting.

Let’s go back to yesterday’s post. Remember the part of my response to the client that detailed my experience? Notice that I took past projects that related to what they were asking for specifically – experience in the health care market and copywriting experience – and highlighted those. The client didn’t have to dig through a resume to locate the info. In fact, I left out all the other stuff I’d put into a resume, because my experience in the finanacial trade market doesn’t mean a hill of beans to these people. They want a copywriter who knows how to write for healthcare markets.

Pleasing the Client
That’s what you need to do. This ad just appeared on Craig’s List today:
“A new glossy and online magazine that covers a range of subjects from hard news, fashion, dining and celebrities is looking for freelance writers to submit articles for the debut online issue. To apply, please send clips and a resume. Compensation is based on the complexity of the article and pays from $250-$400 per feature.”

So, what in your experience or your interests can you point to that would entice this client to call you? You’re a beginner with little experience, so we’re going to look toward your interests. You like fashion, you can handle dining, celebrities are a bit trickier but you’re willing to give it a go, but the hard news might be tough to pull off. First, erase doubts. You can do this. Hell, anyone can. It’s a wide variety of needs they’re asking for and chances are you won’t be expected to perform miracles out of the gate. (Since they want articles, you’re free to pitch only those ideas within your comfort zone.)

Here’s how I would set up a query based on no experience:
I own a Versace dress. I’m saving for my first pair of Jimmy Choos, which I plan to wear to the new fusion restaurant on the Lower East Side. I haunt the local boutiques and I’m chummy with shop owners. I know the sommelier at my favorite eating spot. I can entice your readers with compelling copy. If not, would you have read this far?

I am a local writer who enjoys a good meal, a great hemline and a peek inside the celebrity life. Also, I can shmooze and cajole information from public and private entities in order to get to the bottom of a story. I have delivered for clients on projects such as (list whatever you’ve done to date, even nonpaying markets).

I’m dressed and ready to go. Just check out my resume and clips, which can be found at the URLs listed below, and call me. I’m eager to show you my side of our city.

Best I could do off the top of my head. 🙂 The point is you’re not telling this client “I’m new, so I don’t have any experience to show you in those areas.” Instead, you’re telling them you’re passionate about what they cover, and that you want to translate that passion into prose for them. You ask for the job. You assert yourself in a confident manner, which does not make this client think you’re not up to the job, but that you’re more than capable of handling assignments.

Pleasing the Editor
Magazine queries are somewhat different in that you’re presenting an idea and then showing how you’ll bring that idea to fruition. For that, your intro should be as discussed yesterday. Pretend this person is the reader (because frankly, he or she is). Once you nail that compelling beginning, your next paragraph will focus on details. Who will you interview? (you can find experts at PRN Media, an invaluable resource) What questions will you attempt to answer with the article? Suppose it’s a fashion article on the new styles of shoes this year. This magazine’s readership is not a consumer one, but those who distribute and sell shoes to retailers. With that in mind, you might approach the query like this:
In my proposed article,Patent Pending, I will talk with designers from Taryn Rose, Nine West, Kenzie and more to get their take on what retailers are being offered in the Fall 2007 collections and how patent leather styles are being utilized and marketed to the masses. I will also address display suggestions and new features that retailers can utilize to increase sales.

Finally, follow up by introducing your experience and asking for the job. If you have no experience, and we’ll assume that for this example, don’t mention it.
What do you think? May I write the article for Shoe Network readers? Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to working with you soon.

If you have links to online samples or an online resume (or hey, even a blog that would be relevant), include them.

Query letters are like little bits of your personality in print. Show potential clients who you are by delivering to them what they’re looking for in a compelling, irresistible package

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  • Anne Wayman July 21, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Love this, with one exception. You say “What do you think? May I write the article for Shoe Network readers? Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to working with you soon.”

    I’d probably close with something like “I’d be delighted to get this article to you in the next two weeks.” Some sort of affirmative close that assumes I’ll get the assignment.

    And you are so right – that editor is your first, and in many ways, your most important reader!


  • Lori July 21, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    Good advice, Anne. I think yours is a much better finish! Can you tell I don’t do too many magazine queries these days? :))

  • Nikki July 23, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Lori – Keep these coming! You just made me decide that my whole approach has been all wrong! I just sent a query this morning, completely free of the canned version I have been using. It’s for a new website within my niche. Hopefully this works out for me!

    I am wondering though, would you be willing to discuss what we should do with queries that go unanswered, especially the ones that ask for our rates? Those baffle and irritate me!

  • Linda July 29, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    I actually like Lori’s ending, because I have had a lot of success ending queries and letters of intro with a question.

    Also, when I interviewed editors for The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock, they told me that they don’t like being told how long it will take for the writer to turn in an article. One of them said (I’m trying to remember the exact quote here): “If I assign you the article, *I’ll* tell you when I need it.”

    Finally, if you say you can complete the article in X weeks but the editor would need it sooner, you’ve lost the sale. Why give the editor another chance to say no?