Between Dear Editor and Sincerely, you’re up-to-bat. Can you hit a home-run?
Amazingly, too many writers do not connect what they say in a query, to what an editor actually hears as the reason for a rejection. The lack of form and proper approach in the body of a query will end up in the “slush” pile known as file “13,” – the garbage can.
When the query is plagued with unprofessional mannerisms including self-indulgent writing, an editor may assume the article will be the same. There are no short cuts for training and experience. To knock an editor’s socks off with a high-impact pitched idea, conquer the art of query.
The one thing about editors is they are forever on a daily roller coaster ride shuffling through mounds of manuscripts and proposals well into the night slumped on the sofa. This fallible human being’s sanity is held together by a cup of coffee or a gooey candy bar, hoping, one well-presented idea will nudge their curiosity and tug at their sleeve.
Whether in the office or at home these weary souls are ravaged by mediocre attempts from writers who don’t have the basic rules of the query letter down pat. Give the editor the thing he or she wants most–a reason to read beyond the first paragraph.
The query letter is a sales tool to sell your work, as well as to save time, energy and money in breaking into print. The two biggest reasons one makes no headway is “Tired ideas and an unprofessional approach,” according to editors at the Long Ridge Writers group.
Editor, author and publisher Valerie Harms believes the opening paragraph is the most important; well worth the effort to make the pitch a blockbuster. Success starts and stops with the first or with the second paragraph. The following tips may help a writer to become part of the editor’s winning team. Good editors know how to make a talented writer, great.
Due to time restraints these scribes of the written word can’t read all of what comes across the desk. Therefore, a writer needs to capture their interest within 30 seconds. How? Captivate with a creative focused emotionally charged and dramatic use of words. Develop a fresh slant–in voice (style) keyed to the interests of the publication or literary agent’s needs. Editors want a clear picture of what is being offered.
Literary agent Alice Orr states: “Nothing turns an editor on more than to recognize the flash of talent on a page. . .I can tell you from personal experience that she wants and needs to be surprised.” So, next time surprise one of these species of English grammar and the lexicon.
You can’t tick-off Mother Nature, and you don’t want to tick-off an editor by rambling on. It’s the “kiss of death.” The debate goes on as to whether a writer should submit a one or two page introduction – one seems to be the preferred. Get to the meat of the issue, make every word count. A business format with the appropriate basic information for contact purposes on old-fashioned white paper is expected.
There are many ways to present an intriguing pitch. Present what they haven’t heard. Wow with word-magic. Let the editor know why you believe your manuscript is appropriate to their magazine.
Action word-verbs help to facilitate the art of better writing in creating stronger sentences, and in eliminating repetition and the use of the superfluous.
Grab attention by asking a question, use an anecdote, offbeat facts, humor or describe a place, thing or person by anchoring the editor to the subject with a lively description.
Credibility is a big issue. Briefly show through your ability to manipulate words, what the editor can expect to receive. Editors like to know where your information came from. Include any research and interviews supporting the article; title and include the word count. Don’t go off on a tangent. Everything should be pertinent to the lead. When based on personal experience, all-the-better.
Be safe. Never rush the composition of a query. Proofread the page for the proper form and revise as many times as necessary so every word in the last tweaking is vital with a “gee-whiz” influence. Don’t be afraid to reshape for a fictional version of the truth.
With the advancement of computer software, it’s almost impossible to not provide a clean copy of a query to meet any editor’s needs.
One of my all-time favorite leads was by an experienced writer named Zipora Ford. The first paragraph one reads: “Did you know that this summer more than 45,000 kids–and lots of grown ups, too–wished they were an Oscar Mayer wiener? The title was “Joy-Riding in a Wienermobile: The Story of the Fastest Hot Dog on Wheels.” I chuckled, then laughed and wanted to know more.
This “did you know,” is an attention-getter. It took all of about 10 seconds to read and decide I’ve got to read more. I indeed learned something from her pristine introduction of substance and form.
Before the close, humbly list any writing credentials and anything that may further peek the editor’s interest. Editors instinctively know by the approach the level of writing expertise they are dealing with. Submitting a couple of writing samples or published clips pertinent to the area of query will help. Enclose a SASE for the convenience of a response, or don’t expect to receive a reply.
We writers learn every day, when we dare to dream and click across the computer keyboard in search of our version of success. Becoming an editor’s preferred writer is part of the publication journey. The query is the road we all have to take to reach that incredible place called “In Print.” And, that’s the way it is.