Friday, March 13, 2015

Taking the Question Out of Query Letters, Part 1

by Vonda Skelton @VondaSkelton

Query letters. I hate them. You hate them. Everybody hates them. But the ability to write a good query letter can mean the difference between publication and rejection. 

Over the next two posts, I'll be sharing a five-step formula for writing query letters that will create interest and increase the chances of seeing your name in print. 

I’ll present a query letter study for a proposed article, but the basic concepts would work for a manuscript cover letter, too.

The First Paragraph
When I started out writing query letters, I always began by introducing myself. That might have worked just fine if my name had been Beth Moore or Anne Graham Lotz. But since my name carried no weight or recognition, I was simply wasting my time and most likely sealing the deal for my rejection. The truth is, the editor didn't want to know anything about me until he knew I could write.

In the same way that the opening paragraph of a book must grab the editor's attention, the opening paragraph of a query letter must do the same. One good way to do that is to begin with the first paragraph of your article. The goal is to show the editor that you can write an eye-catching hook and draw the reader in. Once I discovered this little tidbit, I experienced much more interest in my proposed articles.

Convince the editor you know the target audience.
The Second Paragraph
The job of this paragraph is to convince him or her that your proposed article would be perfect for his magazine. Let him know you've studied the market guide by mentioning the target audience and his magazine's demographics. Be specific regarding the take-away you offer the reader. Study the guidelines first and then state your proposed word count. Whatever you do, don't offer to write a 2000-word article when his guidelines say they publish 500-word articles.

Offer to include sidebars. Editors are like everyone else--overworked and understaffed. By offering sidebars, you show that you're aware of the current trend in articles and that you're willing to do the extra work.

The Third Paragraph
Let the editor know your planned sources. Most magazine articles reference experts or books or statistics. Your use of these sources will show that you're a professional and you're willing to do the research. You may have experienced something you'd like to share from your own life, but most often the editor will want more than your opinion or experience. She'll want input from experts. And don't worry if you don't have them lined up yet. The editor will simply want to know that you'll interview lawyers or doctors or cosmetologists with special training or interest in the subject you'll be covering.

You can find these experts in your own community, through internet searches, and through sites such as

Okay, that covers the first three paragraphs--enough to get us started. Be sure to come back next week when we cover paragraphs four and five, as well as a list of query letter Do's and Don'ts. You won't want to miss it!

What’s been your best query letter strategy that’s helped you land assignments?  Be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation. Others can learn from you! 

Taking the Question our of Query Letters - via @VondaSkelton on @EdieMelson
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Quality Query Letters can Lead to Lucrative #Writing Assignments - via @VondaSkelton on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Vonda Skelton is a speaker and the author of four books: Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the 3-book Bitsy Burroughs mysteries for children 8-12 yo. She’s the founder and co-director of Christian Communicators Conference, offering speakers’ training and community for Christian women called to ministry. Vonda is a frequent instructor at writer’s conferences and keynotes at business, women’s, and associational events. You can find out more about Vonda, as well as writing opportunities and instruction at her writer’s blog, The Christian Writer’s Den at


  1. Great info, Vonda. You're like Edie - teaching us wonderful and useful information with simplicity that is easy to implement. Thank you. Love you girls.

    1. Thanks, Nan! And now you're helping and leading others in the writing process, too. That should be the heart of the Christian writer.

  2. Thank you Vonda I will be writing my letter soon. I am seeking a lit agent.

    1. I'm so glad to see you're working so hard, Cherrilynn. That's what it takes!