Friday, April 10, 2015

Taking the Question Out of Query Letters, Part 2

by Vonda Skelton @VondaSkelton

A few weeks ago, I shared the first of two posts on query letters. I’ve heard from several who admitted that they, too, hated writing the dreaded query letter. After all, we’re called creative for a reason, right?

Well, as one who received 63 rejections before ever having anything published, I can tell you, I got tired of sending out those creativity-stifling letters. But I didn’t quit. And one day the answer was finally a yes! If you’re serious about writing, you won’t quit, either. I often think: What if I had never sent out that 64th query? Wow. I don’t even want to think about all I would have missed.

So, if you hate queries and rejections and the whole submission process, I have four words for you: Get used to it. It’s simply part of the process.
If you missed Taking the Question Out of Query Letters, Part 1, you can catch it here.

Now, let’s look at the last two steps.

The Fourth Paragraph
This is the time to convince the editor that you're the best person to write this article. If you have special training, education, or credentialing in the field, let him or her know. If you have publishing credits, list the most prestigious ones first. And if you have lots of previous credits, don't list them all, just the ones that would carry the most weight, and then let him know there are others as well. The editor doesn't want a detailed resume, so don't list dates and titles of all the articles. But if you have written on this subject before, be sure to point that out. If you don't have publishing credits yet, don't point out that detail. Instead, focus on showing that you are qualified to write it because of your expert sources or your experience or interest in the field.

If you do have a writing resume, mention that you will be happy to send it. If you have writing samples, offer to send them for his review, but do not attach anything unless directed in the writer's guidelines. If he's interested, he may ask for them in a follow-up letter.

The Fifth Paragraph
Let the editor know when you can have it ready. Be honest. Don't promise something you can't deliver or you'll cut your chances of having future opportunities with this editor.

Thank her and mention that you look forward to hearing from her.

Be sure to include your contact information with your signature. I have a friend who got an assignment the same day she sent her query, simply because her note came at the moment the editor needed a last-minute substitute writer...and my friend had included a phone number.

More Do's and Don'ts for Publishing Success
  • Make sure you have the right name and gender of the editor. If necessary, call the switchboard number listed in the guidelines and ask if So-and-So is still the editor. Also, be absolutely sure you know the gender. When Edie was managing editor of an international men’s magazine, she would often receive queries directed to EDDIE Melson, and referring to her as HE. Guess how many of those submissions were accepted? And whatever you do, don't say Dear Editor.
  • Check and recheck spelling, grammar, and form.
  • Be professional, even if you've met the editor before. 
  • If you’re sending an email query in a response to an editor’s request, be sure to note that in the email subject line.

  • Don't say your mother or friend thought it was a good article.
  • Don't say anything that isn't true.
  • Don't ask for suggestions on what kind of articles he or she is looking for.
  • Don't ask how much the magazine pays.
  • If the guidelines state to send by snail mail, don't use fancy paper or write anything on the outside of the envelope. An exception would be if you've already had contact with the editor and he or she has requested something from you. In that case, you may write "Requested Material" on the outside of the envelope.

So there it is. A 5-step formula for getting the editor's attention and possibly snagging another (or perhaps your first) publishing credit. It's not the only way to go about it, but it has certainly worked for me.

What about you? What special tips would you add? Be sure to leave your thoughts about query letters and for general publishing tips in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


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. Vodnda Thank you for investing time in other writers. I found this very helpful. May God continue to bless you as you serve Him.

    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Cherrilynn. The system has certainly worked for me and I hope it will work for you as well. Blessings on your day!

  2. Vonda: You define persistence--63 letters? It's like praying for family. You keep it up because you have to.

    1. How did you overcome discouragement?

    2. Okay, Pat, when I say this, I'm hoping I'll find grace out there among the many professionals who sent me rejections: To be honest, when my early rejection letters started coming in, I just thought those agents and editors weren't smart enough to know what good writing was. :-( (Yea, what a dummy I was. That's why I said I'd need such grace!) After about 5 years (And yea, I'm a little slow...), it finally hit me that maybe there was something I needed to learn about writing. That's when I started going to conferences and taking classes. Then I realized I didn't know nothin' about writing for publication!

      I knew I had a good story, I just needed to learn how to tell it. About two years later, I had my first article published. And it was a mere 10 years from writing my first book to actually holding my first book in my hand!

      I often tell people that they can't quit until they've gotten more than 63 rejections without being published. When they've received their 64th, they can write me and I'll give them permission to quit. :-)