Guest Author - Glenda Schoonmaker
You want your writing in print. Why else would you send it to an editor? To become published writers, it's essential for nonfiction writers to learn how to write query letters. Your query letter writing skills will either have editors welcome your writing or slam the door so that you feel you're not even given a fair chance to show your talent. There are things every query should have, just as there are definite things every query should not have.
Here are ten basics a query should never have.
1. Never address your query with Dear Gentlemen or Dear Madam. This is sexist language. This also shows you never bothered to trouble yourself with finding to whom to address your query. Editors like to be called by name, but this doesn't mean calling them by their first name either.
2. Don't threaten. Never say, "You'll be sorry you didn't want this when you see it published in XYZ publication." This sounds silly to have to mention this, but it's shocking to see how many people feel this threat might convince an editor to use an article or story.
3. Never talk about what you haven't done. If you've never written a word for publication, don't tell the editor this. Don't grovel or apologize by saying, "If you'll just give me a chance, I know I can prove my writing is good enough." On the other hand, it's not usually acceptable to call yourself an author if you have nothing published.
4. Don't use flattery or compare. Editors aren't fooled when you say, "Your magazine is so superior to XYZ that your magazine is the only place in which I'd want my writing to be published."
5. Do not tell. Never say, "This has been rejected 75 times already, but I know it's perfect for your magazine."
6. Don't push something where it doesn't fit. How far do you think your writing will go if you submit a vegetable gardening article to Outside magazine? (Don't be fooled by the word outside.) Don't send an article on Rolex watches to Capper's Weekly. If you are writing about the decline in revenue of the Las Vegas strip during a national economic slump, I would suggest you don't send this article to Mother Earth News.
7. Don't extol your own writing. It's never advisable to say, "This is the most outstanding writing you'll ever see," or "My mother tells me all the time that I'll be a famous writer someday." Unfortunately, when it comes to writing critiques, your mother's accolades don't count.
8. Don't put padlocks on your writing. Sometimes people will say, "I would love to tell you what my article is about, but I'm afraid someone will steal my idea." Also, please don't put a copyright symbol or say anything about getting a lawyer to copyright your writing or anything about copyright. A copyright symbol is one of the first elements to show that a writer is an amateur.
9. Don't use cutesy fonts. Just because you have 738 types of fonts on your computer, a query letter is not the place to use anything but basic fonts. Do not try to impress an editor with unusual formatting or anything different in formatting. Just the basics--that's what you need to stick to in writing your query.
10. Do not forget to send your contact information. Do not tell the editor you are sending the article. Do not call or write the editor to see if your query was received. Do not phone the editor to see if your query was received. Do not bug the editor to see if a determination has been made---the editor will get in touch with you, if interested. Do not go against the boundaries of contacting the publication or editor.
If you read, study, and follow the writer's guidelines for the publication in which you are seeking publication, you should be all right in writing your query. There's always time for rule breaking but writing a query and making contact with the editors are not those times.
Also, if you are sending a snail mail query but spill a spot of coffee (or drop of blood from working so hard on the query letter), redo it.