Do You Know How To Query?

24 July 2009 Post Author:
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The following article is an excerpt from “Success: Your Path to a Successful Book” by Maralyn D. Hill and Brenda C. Hill, and is reprinted with permission (and a big thank you to Maralyn). You can learn more about Maralyn at the end of this article.

Do you know how to Query? Magazines, Agents and Publishers all require query letters. This article is appropriate for submissions to any or all of the three mentioned. If you are an aspiring travel writer or one who is established, it is still important to review these suggestions.

The next two paragraphs are aimed at those who want to publish books, but, unfortunately, similar statistics go along with magazine and newspaper queries. With that market shrinking on a weekly, if not daily basis, you need to present your writing ability and knowledge of the subject well.

An important factor is reflected in a quote from E. Keith Howick, Jr., President of WindRiver Publishing, in his new book (released July 2009), “Blow Us Away! Publishers’ Secrets for Successful Manuscripts (I highly recommend it, as it gives you hard facts).

“About 20 million manuscripts are circulating among thousands of U.S. publishers at any given time. From these manuscripts, about 400,000 new titles are published each year. …A manuscript has about a one-in fifty chance of being published (these statistics include self-published authors).”

I’ll paraphrase another one of Keith’s comments “…85% of books do not make it past the query letter as the query letter is not well written.

You may want to read The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster
, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. It provides query letters that have worked, along with comments from the writer and editor.

I’d like to emphasize the importance of going to a magazine, agent, or publisher’s website. Be sure to look for the guidelines and follow them to the letter. If they do not review or publish material on your topic, don’t send it as it will land in the trash pile. If the guidelines say use one inch margins, use one inch margins even if 1.5 inch looks better. The same goes for spacing. Many ask for double spaced pages, yet others request 1.5 spacing.

Query Musts:

  • Be professional and include a self-addressed stamped envelope if submitting via mail. Not all people will accept e-mail. It’s nice when they do, but you need to do what they outline in their guidelines.
  • Be sure you have checked to see the editor is still in that position so it is addressed properly.
  • You idea needs to be fresh.
  • Be creative and pull in the reader
  • Your story synopsis needs to be focused and short, as your letter should not exceed a page or page and a half at the most.
  • If you are querying a magazine, be sure it is written the way they like their work slanted. Read a copy of the magazine first. You could also provide a different approach as an alternative.
  • Be realistic about your project in order to instill confidence.
  • Include your qualifications (that can be on another sheet and include clips).
  • Conclude in a manner so that the publisher knows you are the person for the assignment.

Be sure your query letter has a hook and draws in the reader. In addition to having your material edited and formatted properly, knowing you are writing to their market, learn from your queries. If you are rejected and they don’t provide feedback, write a polite letter and ask if they could tell you why or what it would take to be considered. If you’re lucky, you could get some feedback that could help you tighten your copy.

Many thanks again to Maralyn D. Hill for permission to reprint the above article!

Do you struggle with Query Letters or find them simple? Share your experience!

3 Responses to “Do You Know How To Query?”

  1. Joann says:

    Thank you for a wonderful article. First impressions are important. It’s often the little things that count when it comes to presenting ourselves to others; in a professional or personal capacity. Ability and knowledge take time to cultivate and it is apparent that Marilyn has both and is willing to share.

  2. Maralyn Hill


    Thank you for your comment. They say, “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” and that is true with a query letter.


  3. Rebecca

    This was a very informative article. It’s imperative to follow guidelines to a ‘T’ even if you don’t agree. After all, it’s about getting your work to the editor and hopefully receive the opportunity to write for a newspaper and magazine or get a book published. I haven’t submitted a query letter. When I get ready to write one, I’ll refer back to this article.

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