Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Business Basics for Today’s Writer—Part Four—How to Format an Email Query

This week I’ll share how to handle an email query professionally. But before I start let me give you difference between a QUERY LETTER and a COVER LETTER.

A QUERY Letter is a letter inquiring (where the word query comes from) if there is an interest in an idea you have. It can be an idea for a devotion, an article, blog post, book, almost anything. 

After you've received a positive response and an invitation to send either the completed idea or more information, you will preface your submission with a COVER Letter. Next week I'll share how to format a cover letter and proposal correctly. 

Now back to Query Letters!

Ten years ago, virtually all submissions were handled through snail mail (that’s with an envelope and a stamp). Now they take place through the Internet. There are good things about that—the time factor has improved slightly. And not so good things—with formal letter writing obsolete, it’s hard to know how to present yourself as a professional without appearing to be part of the Stone Age.

Query Letters/Emails
This is the correspondence used when you're INQUIRING about an assignment (this applies to both non-fiction and fiction, short and long). Even though you aren’t typing this on a real piece of paper, it’s important not to forget everything you learned.
  • Include all your contact information at the top of the email.
  • Use a polite salutation (like Dear Mr. Jessup).
  • Make certain you have the correct name.
NOTE: You can check this information on the organization’s website. It's also a good idea to make certain you have the correct gender as well. As I’ve mentioned in the past, it really irritates me to be referred to as a mister when I’m a woman.
  • Keep your correspondence focused and sharp.
  • End politely (Thank you for your consideration).
Here are a couple of things NOT to do:
  • Just because you don’t have a specific page length in an email, keep it as short as one typewritten page. Being long winded won’t get you a job. All editors are incredibly busy and don’t have time to read long dissertations.
  • Do not expect an editor to take time to click on a link. What I’m talking about are links to online portfolios or your personal website. It is fine to let the editor know that you can send them links to articles that have been published (these are known as clips). But unless requested, don’t assume they have time to visit web pages to see if you can write. That is part of the purpose of this correspondence. As a part of your ending signature it is acceptable to include a personal link or two.
Now it's your turn, any questions about queries? Use the comment section below.

Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. What if you are responding to a request for submissions? For example, I am on an email list for several publications. Do you still need to be as formal? Should I continue to call the editor by Mr. or Mrs. even if I have worked with him/her in the past and they sign their emails with a first name?
    Thanks for your help!
    Barb Winters

    1. Barb, when you're responding to a request for submission address the editors the way they sign their name and address you. If it's casual, be casual, if it's formal, be more formal. And no, once you've moved past formality, you don't need to go back to it. Thanks for stopping by, Blessings, E

  2. I have had my first article published based on a query letter. Yay! Now I am thinking it might be used by another magazine as a reprint or a redo in some manner. How do you handle that with a query?

    1. Janice, congratulations!

      The first thing you need to do is research whether or not a publication will accept reprints. If so, toward the end of your query, state you are offering this as a reprint. Give the original publication name and DATE.

      If you just want to reuse your research, you need to change the article by about 60%. In this case, it's considered a brand new article and you would pitch it as such.

      Hope this helps! Blessings, E

  3. One component that might be helpful in a post like this is a sample query. And I'm interested in your answer to Barb (above). I always address my query and submission letters to Mr. or Ms., but oftentimes the editor will sign only his or her first name. To respond again with Mr. or Ms. seems stilted and overly formal. What do you think?

    I have particular difficulty with clergy. Although in this case I'm the editor and they're writing for me, I was taught to always address ministers by their title. Then they mess up mamma's teaching by signing their emails "Tim" or "Frank." Seems downright disrespectful, I say, in a backwards sort of way.

    1. Lori, I think your idea of a sample query is a good one. Next week I have a post about cover letters and proposals. The week after that, I'll post some actual examples queries and cover letters.

      I think I answered your question about Mr. or Mrs. above. But once you've moved past the formal stage into informal, there's no reason to revert back.

      As far as clergy, the same rules apply. Take your cue from them. I totally understand though, I feel awkward as well. Hope this helps! Blessings, E