Writing a Query Letter

Writing a good query letter may be the most important step leading to your goal of publication. A publisher will size up your writing abilities through your query letter. It is like meeting a person for the first time. Your success is riding on that initial contact and the impression it makes, so you want to make it count. Here are a few things I’ve learned, followed by a sample of my standard query letter:

  • Familiarize yourself with your target publication’s content. Get a feel for what they like. Read the ‘contributor’s guidelines’, if the publication makes them available.
  • Keep your query limited to one page.
  • Do not begin your query with ‘Dear Editor’. Learn the editor’s name and address him/her by it. Wait until the editor addresses you by your first name before you do the same.
  • Compliment the publication, editors, like anybody else, like to hear that their work is appreciated and enjoyed.
  • Keep your tone relaxed and conversational. Humor is OK, if you can work it in as a single quip.
  • Make sure to include the title and word-count of your piece. Feature pieces in magazines are generally about 1000 words. Keep your work clear and succinct. Let the editor know that you are open to modifications.
  • Include a brief list of your publishing credits. Be humble.

A lot of ‘pro tips’ I’ve read suggest jumping right in with a passage from your work, but I have found that to be clunky and amateurish. I prefer to format the letter to resemble a first meeting in real life. Start with a greeting (containing your compliment) and introduce yourself before presenting the passage. Here’s a sample of one that works for me:

Barry Blunderbuss                                                                                              Your Name

Editor: Rednose Magazine

The Date

Dear Mr. Blunderbuss,

My name is Steven Bird and I am writing you regarding a 1000-word article that I think might be right for your magazine. I am a longtime fan, and enjoy Rednose immensely. Thank you for the quality entertainment. I am a new writer, with a handful stories, poems and articles published in both online and print periodicals, including (name a couple similar to Rednose, if you have them). My first book, Upper Columbia Flyfisher (Amato Books Press) was released last spring.

My piece is tentatively titled: Bats in the Belfry. I hope it is right for you. I am open to suggestions/modifications. Here’s a passage:

“………..your best passage…….blah blah blah……..” (should be about 4 paragraphs)

Thanks for reading. If you would like to see the entire piece, I would be glad to send it along.


S. Bird

(contact information)


Good luck in your quest for publication.


Writing A Query Letter © 2011 Steven Bird. Click Steven’s profile for more articles, stories, and links to his advocacy blog.


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