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Pick me! Pick me!

July 20, 2011

Do you have an awesome article you want to pitch to a popular magazine? Or a novel that you are sure is a New York Times Bestseller? Then one of the next steps is to write a query letter to editors or literary agents, giving them strong reasons why they should choose your manuscript to be published.

There are five essential elements that a query letter should generally have, although sometimes this can change depending on the type of manuscript you have written and the genre you are writing for (nonfiction, fiction, book, magazine, etc.)

1. The Hook. This is your first line that grabs the attention of the editor or agent. Sometimes email queries are deleted simply because the subject line did not grab enough attention to even open the email.

2. The Pitch. This is where you explain specifically and exactly what you are offering in the manuscript. “My 50,000 word manuscript is a novel about struggles during the Great Depression.”

3. The Body. The main “guts” where you “sell” your manuscript and present the details of the manuscript and why this particular editor or agent should work with you.

4. The Credentials. This includes your writing experience in the particular subject area or genre and all of your published history and experience. Published history is a must; editors and agents don’t work to work with a “newbie,” although they also want to find the next best thing. Imagine the editor who found Stephanie Meyer, who had never before been published. Cha-Ching!! (By the way, “Twilight” was rejected almost a dozen times before an editor picked it up!)

5. The Closer. Give the editor or agent one last alluring reason to consider your manuscript.

As many “must-haves” that there are for query letters, there are also a few “turnoffs” that editors and agents despise.

  • You admit that you know little or nothing about the publication (such as a magazine, newspaper, etc.) that you are submitting to. You’re unsure of the publication’s mission, audience, tone, types of articles, and so forth. What editor would hire a writer who is clueless and too lazy to do her research?
  •  The query and manuscript are full of spelling and grammatical mistakes. If the query is sloppy, hasn’t been proofread, and is full of errors, an editor cannot be confident that you can complete quality writing assignments for her in the future.
  • You lack credentials. You boast in your query that you have the top 10 best discipline tips for modern parents, but you have no children, no childhood degree, no experience in childhood development, and no writing experience. Choose writing topics that you are knowledgeable in!
  • Your query letter states that you’ve never been published before, but your mother has assured you that you’ve written the best novel she’s ever read. Really? Mommy says so, eh?
  • Your query letter states that you’ve written the next “Harry Potter” series, the next “Twilight” series, or are the next Beth Moore. Although literary agents and editors are always on the lookout for “the next best thing,” admitting you are “it” defeats your chances. Sorry, do not pass go!

The best advice before you query is to research, research, research! Know the genre you are writing, the editor or agent you are writing to, the publication you are submitting to—all of it. Know before you go! Or in this case, know before you query!

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