He wrote book on how to write killer query letters. In this interview, author John Wood shares his knowledge based on 17 years of working as an editor. More than 30,000 query letters have landed on his desk. Wood lets us in on things that make or break query letters, and how you, writer, can get past editor's desk and be published.
A Query Letter That Stands Out ------------------------------
Because most queries look and read same, your query letter must stand out.
"Devise a scintillating title and subtitle for your idea in style of magazine you're pitching," says Wood. "Center it and boldface it right up front after your initial introductory paragraph. Use bullets, numbered lists, indented paragraphs, italics or even boxes to set off important elements. Don't go overboard, but do something to make your letter stand out from pack.
"My former editor demanded that I do this whenever I proposed an idea to him because with a head and deck at top of page, he could envision instantly what it would look like in magazine," Wood explains. "I have used this technique ever since when approaching editors and agents, and have been told by more than one agent that my queries were best they have ever seen."
Your query letter should be no more than a page or a page and a half, and should contain a brief introduction as to why you're writing that specific magazine. Mention your expertise or interest in your proposed topic, and include one or two ideas, presented in decks and heads. In your closing paragraph, briefly mention who you are, your publication credits and how you can be reached.
Include one or two clips of your writing, but only if your clips are similar to your proposed topic. There's no point in sending a cooking article clip if you're querying a travel article!
Most Common and Crucial Mistakes Writers Make When Writing and Submitting Queries ---------------------------------------------
"Of all ones that I rejected, I found that writers were making same simple mistakes or omissions," Wood reveals. "Unfortunately, reject letters never tell you what you did wrong, so most writers just continue to make same mistakes."
According to Wood, there are 4 common mistakes writers commit when writing and submitting query letters:
Mistake # 1. Sending your query to wrong editor
"This is crucial," says Wood. "Call magazine, ask for 'Editorial,' and ask which editor handles subject you're submitting.
"If you're sending a query for a health article, ask which editor handles health features. If you're sending a pitch for New Products department, ask which editor oversees New Products department, and so on," he advises. "If receptionist gives you editor-in-chief's name or says, 'Just send it in,' do not accept this. Demand a specific name for your specific topic. If she can't or won't, ask to speak to her supervisor."
When Wood was editor, writers who took their time to do their homework, learn that he was right editor for their proposed story and then approach him directly by query letter always got top priority.
"Unfortunately, less than 5-10 percent of all submissions arrive to me--or any editor--that way. Writers who act in this manner earn my respect and I will assume they are professionals and treat them accordingly," Wood says.
And those who don't? Their queries don't garner much interest and go straight to slush pile.
Mistake # 2. Failing to narrow your story angle
"Don't send a query about horseback riding," Wood warns. "Send one about horseback riding for blind black women lesbians along Malibu coast during Kwanzaa. I'm exaggerating, but I guarantee you that a query like first example will go nowhere; one focused to degree of second example will find a market somewhere."
Mistake # 3. Not studying magazine thoroughly before querying
Take time to know what a magazine wants and doesn't want. Know its readers and style articles are written in. Do these things and you will be able to write a query letter that will catch any editor's eye.
Mistake # 4. Forgetting to include a self-addressed stamped envelope or SASE with query
5 Things You Should Never Do When Writing A Query Letter --------------------------------------------------------
1. Don't be presumptuous. Avoid even an appearance of cockiness or arrogance.
2. Don't be sketchy. Outline your idea in sufficient depth to give editor a clear picture of your idea and what you intend to do.