Query Letter Essentials

Query Letters

HAVE YOU WRITTEN AN ARTICLE you think might be publishable? And now you learn you can’t just send it over to the editor for a quick look-see, but must write a query letter first? You’ve gone to all the work of writing the article and now you have to craft a sales letter for it? What? We are not sales people. We are artists!  🙂

There are probably as many ways to write a query letter as there are writers. Here’s what goes into mine. I learned this from an editor years ago at my first writing conference. These are things an editor needs to know to make a good decision.


Either the opening paragraph OR a brief excerpt from within the article that pulls the reader in. I like to either put it in quotes or italicize to show it’s been pulled out of the article.


Write “This is the opening paragraph (or an excerpt) from an article I would like you to consider for Such & Such Magazine. The article is the story of (or deals with or is a how-to about)….” Then summarize what the article is about. Keep it short. One sentence. If you can’t say what it’s about in one sentence, keep working at it. If you don’t know what it’s about, who does?

This is not the place to leave the editor guessing. Don’t say “something that happened to me that affected my whole life.” Say “diagnosed with cancer at 18” or “had an arranged marriage” or “lived with an ax murderer.” Tell the editor enough to know whether the subject matter will be of interest to the publication’s target audience.

Keep it brief and to the point.


“The purpose of the article is….” What? To teach, encourage, entertain, warn, enlighten, assist, comfort….what? Do you know what the purpose of your article is?

Keep it brief and to the point.

VALUE to (publication’s name) READERS

Here’s your chance to demonstrate you know who reads the magazine. Young adults, seniors, parents of small children, teenagers? What value will that audience find in what you have to say? What will they take away from it?

Keep it brief and to the point – a few sentences or a bulleted list of 3 items, perhaps.


If you’ve already written the article and edited it, you know the length. “The article is 1,800 words and is ready for review upon acceptance of this query.”

If you haven’t written it or aren’t done (or haven’t even started, as some of us have been known to do), you estimate. “The completed article will be between 1,600-1,800 words and can be ready for review 6 weeks after query acceptance.” BTW, be prepared to follow through on that promise.

Keep it brief and to the point.


What makes you the person to write this article? Cite any part of your background, education, experience you like. Be selective, highlighting details that make you the expert to write this particular piece. You’re a cancer survivor. You had an arranged marriage. You are the ax murderer’s brother.

If you have publishing credits, list a few. That means you’ve followed through in the past. If you haven’t yet published, that’s okay. Most editors are open to new writers, but you need to persuade the editor to take a chance. You are qualified to write this article because…….why?

* * *

End with:

“I look forward to your response.

Your name
contact info (email or snail mail address; website, if you have one).


Remember: A query is a business letter. It should be cordial, but succinct. Keep it brief and to the point. That’s the fifth time I’ve said that, I know, but I know how it is with writers, being one and all. We want to go on and on until we are certain everybody understands every detail. It’s a sickness. You can try to fit your letter on one page, but it’ll likely run over to the back. That’s okay, but that’s long enough.

* * *

Q: What if the publication provides an online query form that’s limited to 2,000 characters (as has just happened with my most recent query)?

A: Select the most important parts of the standard query and do your best. Skip the excerpt. Go with “I want to submit for your consideration a true story about…..  The article highlights risks inherent in…  It deals with such topics as…. I look forward to hearing. Thank you. Marilyn Yocum…” Use your own name. Consider it another exercise to develop your writing talent. Do your best. Send it off. Let it go. Start working on something else. Try not to think about it every second of every day for the next 6-8 weeks.

Did this post help you? Let me know or share it somewhere.

More posts about WRITING

About Marilyn

Reading, thinking, listening, writing and talking about faith, creativity, ESL for refugees, grief and finding the story in a story. Student of Spanish. Foe of procrastination. Cheez-it fan. People person with hermit tendencies or vice-versa. Thank you so much for reading.
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3 Responses to Query Letter Essentials

  1. bethhavey says:

    This is a keeper Marilyn. Great advice. Thanks,


  2. juliana says:

    …”lived with an ax murder”…

    Made me grin! 🙂


  3. Belinda says:

    Thank you for generously sharing your expertise, which I hope I soon have cause to use more often. 🙂


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