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Writing Query Letters

For those wishing to break into the freelance writing business writing books or articles for publication in print media, learning to write query letters is absolutely necessary. A query letter is an introduction to you and your work, asking the publisher to consider your idea (or, in some cases, sent along with the entire completed article). A query letter in the writing world is comparable to a cover letter when you're trying to get a typical job.

Without a good query letter, a publisher won't read your work, even if you do have a great article idea. Instead, they'll assume that you don't have writing skills and they'll assign the article topic to a staff writer.

Query letters can be broken down into six parts: the address, the introduction, the pitch, the background, the closing, and the signature/enclosures. They are all equally important.

The Address: Make sure that your letter is dated and addressed properly. If you don't know the name of the publisher (or assistance or editor) who will be reading your query letter, call and find out. Never misspell the name, and make sure that you don't address Mr. Robin Smith as Mrs. Robin Smith.

The Introduction: Start your letter with a sentence that grabs the reader's attention. Keep this paragraph short, to about three sentences, and show your writing style.

The Pitch: Sell your idea. Tell the reader why he/she wants to read it and why the publication's readers will care.

The Background: Why are you the most qualified person to write this article? You can include your education, your experience, and anything else that convinces the reader that you're better than a staff writer for this assignment.

The Closing: Remind the reader of your idea, and always thank him or her for the time taken to read the letter. Include your contact phone number and email address.

The Signature/Enclosures: Don't forget to actually sign the letter, not just type your name, and make sure that you make a note of any clips, submissions, or resumes you include. Always enclose a SASE if nothing else so they can reply to you.

Above all, your query letter has to be grammatically correct. Before you send it out, make sure that you haven't made any typos - ask friends to read it if possible. Your query letter needs to give a great first impression if you want to get the assignment.