Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Q&A: Queries 101

Q: I have a hard time writing query letters. What are the basic elements that every query letter should have?

-Stumped Writer

Query letters are a necessary evil. It's almost impossible to get an assignment from an editor without a strong query. But let's look on the bright side. A query may only take you a few minutes or a couple of hours to write. While a full article could take a few days and a lot more work. So in theory queries make sense. It saves you time and energy and it saves editors having to read entire articles that may not suit their publication.

A good query contains a great idea, is focused and is well-written.

First consider your idea. Ask yourself if your idea would make a great article? Is it interesting? Get other people's opinions on your ideas. As travel writers we want to steer clear of "My Summer Vacation" type of queries. No offensive, but who cares if you went to India? Lots of people go to India everyday. What happened in India that would make your experience different and worth reading about?

Secondly, make sure your idea is focused. Again, a laundry list of your activities in India isn't focused. A more focused idea might be a restaurant you ate in that served some type of unique food. Another point with focus is to make sure your idea fits with the editorial direction of the publication you're pitching to.

Lastly, and probably most important, make sure your writing is top-notch in your queries. This is your writing "audition" for an editor. If your query is full of errors and bad grammar, you don't stand a chance of getting an assignment! So become your own best editor.

One final note. I like to "sit on" my queries for a day or two. When I first started sending out queries I'd get so excited to hit the "send" button and then realize that I'd made a grammatical mistake. If you step away and then come back and re-read your query you might save yourself from sending a bad query.

Good luck!

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