The Query Letter

The Query Letter

By Natalie Bright

The more I write and study markets, the more I’ve come to appreciate how useful a tool the QUERY LETTER really is.

A good query letter contains so many things: enticement, introduction, story hook, business savvy, word count, genre, reflection of your work, title, key elements of your story, publication history, affiliations…the list is endless. All of this in one succinct page. Sometimes I spend days, even weeks on editing just one query letter.

Here’s the basic information that I use for query letters, written in as few a paragraphs as possible:

1)    Where did you learn about the opportunity.

2)    What are you submitting; word count, genre, theme, hook

3)    What makes you the best person to write this particular story

4)    Brief list of published works (if you don’t have any to list, leave this blank). Don’t make this hard for editors by saying, “check my website…” Make this easy and pleasant for anyone who reads your query.

5)    For nonfiction, a list of sources is sometimes requested.

6)    All of your contact information. I usually go overboard on this and include email, fax, home, cell and office phone numbers, and mailing address. However they want to contact me, I am available.

Example with Positive Result

Here’s the email I wrote to APPLESEEDS Magazine, in response to a callout for submissions. The article is based on the monthly theme (which I restated for clarification) and includes approximate word count and sources cited. I reviewed their guidelines carefully in the market listing and again on their website.

Query / Who Did What on the Frontier

Title: The Legendary Cowboy

Noted bibliographer and western author, Ramon Adams, said, “The cattleman and his cowboys have been the men who most persistently pushed the frontier farther west preparing the way for civilization.”  An estimated 20 million head were driven to the railheads for shipment to eastern packing houses in the mid 1800’s.

Based on information in Children’s Book Insider for your consideration, my 600 word article will expel the myths and convey the truth about the brutal life of the American cowboy. The basic realities of working, eating, and sleeping under endless skies of the frontier will be explained in a fun, upbeat style.

In addition to my research as an historical author and from resources listed below, the article will be based on my personal experiences. My husband and I run a cow-calf operation on one of the oldest ranches in Texas.

My work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicken Soup. A few selected clips are attached. In addition my short story, “A Cowboys Christmas Blessings” was chosen for the anthology, WEST TEXAS CHRISTMAS STORIES, coming in October from Abilene Christian University Press. My novels are represented by Mr. Stephen Fraser, who is currently shopping my historical western for middle grades.

Today the traditions and legend of the American cowboy lives on, and continues to hold a fascination for both children and adults alike. Thank you for your consideration. 

Sources include:

Adams, Ramon F., Cowboy Lingo, Houghton Mifflin Co., (1936) 2000.

Editors of Time Life Books, The Old West series, The Cowboys and The Ranchers, Time Life, Inc., New York, 1973.

Molton, Candy, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900, Writer’s Diget Books, 1999.

Ward, Fay E., The Cowboy at Work, University of Oklahoma Press (1958) paperback edition 1987.

It’s Good to Be Published!

The query was sent in May 2013 resulting in an email from the magazine editor with specific details about the slant of the article in August. A contract was forwarded upon my acceptance with a one month deadline of September 2013. “A Cowboy’s Life” appeared in the March 2014 edition of APPLESEEDS, and payment was received three months after publication.

This is not a fast-paced business, and everyone works at a different schedule. Most magazine staffs work six months or more ahead of publication date. If you’re working on a holiday story, think about submitting those in the spring, for example. For an anthology, I heard back within the same week of submission, while on the other hand a contract hit my email inbox from Chicken Soup over a year after submitting my story. Keep good submission records. It’s crazy out there but there are opportunities for hard-working writers.

Happy writing and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

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