Monday, January 10, 2022

How to Write a Query Letter

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson 

All writers should develop the skill of writing a compelling query letter. A query is basically a written pitch—these are usually sent through email, but may occasionally be included in a proposal. 

How to Query

This simple concept has caused more anguish for writers than anything else around. But in the freelance world, it’s a necessary evil. Your queries may find their way to the editor's desk in hard copy format or email, but the principles are the same.

It may seem unfair that your writing ability is judged on a single letter or email, but that is the hard truth in this industry. And, having sat behind the editor’s desk, I now understand why. Invariably a poorly written query previews major problems in the writer’s submitted work. I have rarely found this to be the exception. But rather the rule.

The query letter serves two equally important purposes: 
  • Get the assignment.
  • Showcase your writing ability.
The Parts of the Query 
  • Salutation. Make certain you get a name – not Dear Editor. If you can’t find the name listed anywhere, call the office, just don’t let them connect you to the editor. Also, check the spelling and the GENDER. You don’t want to use the wrong pronoun. Here's a post I wrote about the Importance of a Name for more details.
  • First Paragraph. You should start with your hook. Don’t use anything corny like, “Don’t miss out on this opportunity.” Instead, it should be a legitimate hook. You also need to reference what part of the magazine/website you’re pitching. Don’t say something like, “This idea would work well anywhere in your magazine.” It's a neon sign that screams amateur. Also give the approximate word count.
  • Second Paragraph. This is where you pitch your idea. It’s good to include specifics—even bullet points—here.
  • Third Paragraph. This is your bio, your credentials for writing this article. Be honest, but don’t over inflate your merits. As editors, we've seen it all and can spot a fake from a mile away. Also don’t criticize or run down yourself by saying something like, “I don’t have any writing credits, but I’m willing to learn.”
NOTE: If you don't have any writing credits, include experience you have that would make you a good fit for writing this article. Are you pitching an article about how to get kids ready for to go back to school? It would be important for the editor to know you have six kids in school or that you're a teacher.

Here are the basics you need to achieve these goals: 
  • Keep it short. Your query letter/email should NOT exceed one page…ever! If you're not sure what one page would look like in an email, write it in a word document first. Then copy and paste it into the email.
  • Use a standard font. Times New Roman 12 point font.
  • Use standard formatting. For an e-query use block formatting (no paragraph indentions, single spaced, double space between paragraphs). For hard copy use traditional letter formatting (indented paragraphs, single spacing, no extra lines between paragraphs). 
Here are some red flags to avoid:
  • Too long.
  • Strange fonts.
  • Improper or mixed formatting. 
Also, it’s vitally important not to waste time when sending a query. I don’t mean hurry to send it off, but rather, get to the point. Don’t waste the editor’s time with things that are understood, or have no bearing on the article you’re pitching.

Here are a couple of examples of time wasters:
  • Just say the word and I’ll send you the article. (I really doubt you'd be pitching something and then not agree to send it)
  • I've spent hours researching this subject. (I would hope so) 

Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her website, through Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram.


  1. Excellent and helpful tips! Thanks!

    1. Edwina, I'm so glad they were helpful! Blessings, E

  2. Edie,

    Thank you for this important article for every writer. Pitching is a key part of the process for each of us to get published. When you learn to write a successful, attention-grabbing query letter, you can gain assignments from thousands of magazine editors. As a former magazine editor, I know these opportunities are out there. You don't want to do anything strange--yes it happens--but catch attention for your pitch and get the editor's permission to send your article.

    Learning to write a query letter and a book proposal are two of the basics that need to be in every writer's tool kit.

    author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition)

  3. Such good information, Edie. Wish I had had it back a few years when I was sending out queries! But thank you for it now!

  4. Replies
    1. Melissa, thanks for the encouragement! Blessings, E