Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Query Letter Questions Answered

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

Recently I was teaching about articles at a writer’s conference. Just before we ended someone asked, “I’ve heard about query letters. Can you tell me quickly what that is and when to use a query letter?”

Well, one thing I can’t stand is to think that anyone would leave my class with unanswered questions. My remark was, “Sure, but listen fast so you can get to your next class!” I quickly made a list of questions in my head so I wouldn’t forget anything they needed to know about query letters.

What is a query letter?

A query letter is just what it says—a query or question in the form of a letter. The question you are asking is “May I send you my article on speculation.” 

Do I need a query letter for everything I submit to a publisher?

Unless you have met an editor or publisher and he or she has requested your material, you need to write a query letter. If you have met them at a conference, you may use a cover letter. A cover letter reminds the editor he requested to see your work.

To whom should I address my query letter?

The query letter should be addressed to the editor who would accept your work.

Is it okay to say “Dear Editor?”

Always address your query letter to the editor by name. If you don’t know who that is, find out before you write. You can check the website, magazine masthead, or current market guide. You can also call the publishing house and ask who the proper editor for your manuscript is. If the name is Pat Smith and you do not know if Pat is Mr. Smith or Ms. Smith, begin the letter with “Dear Pat Smith.”

When can I follow up on my query letter?

Editors are very busy, and you want to give them time to read your query. Allow at least the amount of time stated in the guidelines before following up with a brief politely inquiring email.

What about email queries?

Email queries are becoming more and more the norm. However, everyone doesn’t use them. Check the market guide or the publishing house to find out.

Should the article be complete when I write a query letter?

Not necessarily. However, you must have done enough research for your article to know where you are going with it. Just be sure it will fall within the acceptable number of words according to the guidelines of the magazine.

Isn’t it risky to send a query letter before finishing my work?

Querying gives the editor the opportunity to give feedback on your idea. He or she may love the idea but need a slightly different approach to the subject. So, querying first actually saves you time. You know what the editor wants before you start writing. Just be realistic about the time you promise to deliver the first article.

How long should my query letter be?

Your query letter must be kept to one page.

What is the best format for query letters?

Query letter should be three or four paragraphs, single-spaced, with a space between paragraphs. Use standard, nice weight, 8 ½ x 11 paper. Write on your letterhead in business format. If you don’t have letterhead stationery, you can create one on your computer. has some great examples of letterheads and can help you create yours.

The first paragraph should be the hook. It should make the editor want to read more. You could possibly use the first paragraph of your article. Statistics, questions, and anecdotes are excellent ways to begin.

Remember your query letter is the editor’s introduction to you and the quality of your writing.

The second paragraph should be why this article is needed and why you are the best person to write it, and any related qualifications you want to include.

The third paragraph should tell the nuts and bolts of your article. This includes how many words, when it could be completed (six weeks is a reasonable time), and how soon you could get it to the editor.

Be sure to thank the editor for his or her time and the opportunity to submit your work to their publication. If you are submitting by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

A good query is your letter of introduction to an editor. It must show you are a professional and you write with excellence. A good first impression will open doors and create opportunities. Make sure your query is a “door opener” and not a “door closer.”

Moira Allen reminds us, “The ability to write a good query is one of the most important skills in the writer’s toolbox.” Do you agree with Moira? I certainly do!


Linda Gilden is an experienced, bestselling writer, speaker, award-winning editor, marketer, and speaking coach, ghostwriter, and writing coach. Author of 40 books and 2,000+ magazine articles, Linda appreciates a great story. She believes with our stories, we can change the world one word at a time and loves to encourage others to do that through writing coaching and personal tutoring. Her newest book was released in November: TRADING SHADOWS: EXCHANGING A LIFE OF SECRETS, FEAR, AND DOUBT FOR A LIFE OF FREEDOM WITH THE ALMIGHTY.

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