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September 13th, 2012

shuchi 4Editors are a hard-to-please bunch, and why shouldn’t they be? Most are bombarded with over a hundred queries each day, which they have to sift and sort all by themselves. How then, do you make yours shine from underneath the pile and step up your chances of landing an assignment? Here are some tips to win over editors with a striking query letter.

Make a good beginning: Any correspondence beginning with Dear Sir/Ma’am will undo it for you even if you have pitched a brilliant idea. A generic greeting suggests that you have not cared to find out who you are writing to or worse, you have copy-pasted the same mail to many others. Not a good way to make a first impression. Almost all magazines and online publications contain a ‘Note from the Editor’ page, which will not only tell you their name but also tune you in to their style and sensibilities. If you cannot find it there, call up the publication’s office and find out.

Don’t waste their time: Make your query, crisp and to the point. A typical query letter is no longer than a page. Many writers make the mistake of including a long-winding introduction of themselves, their family, where they live and what they do.  If editors don’t find what they are looking for in the first couple of sentences, you are probably heading for their trash box. Cut straight to the chase and throw your idea as bait. You can always tell them about yourself once you lure them in.

Make it unique and unusual: Coming up with a curiosity-inspiring idea is probably the most difficult part of writing a query letter. Generic articles almost never receive a response. While there may be a million versions of “Benefits of Aromatherapy”, a well-defined angle like “Essential Oils for Use in Pregnancy and Childbirth” may fascinate the editor of a health magazine. Sometimes it helps to pitch more than one idea in a single mail (not more than three) as it increases the odds of the editor commissioning at least one.

Know your stuff: Before your pitch an idea, it should be clearly fleshed out in your head. Else, the query will come across as vague and uninteresting. Include a synopsis of your story, how you are going to approach it, who are you going to quote or interview, why it will be a good fit for the publication, and what makes you the right person to work on it.

Portray yourself as a good reader: If you are a reader of the magazine you are pitching to, you increase your chances of getting published in it manifold since you are already familiar with the style and tone. Try something like “I enjoyed the feature titled “Is the present generation losing touch with language?” and I am sure many parents relate to it. Perhaps a story on ‘Ten Vocabulary Building Exercises for Children’ would make for a good sequel and interest your readers.” Note: Refer to previously published stories only if they are relevant to your pitch.

Polish it to perfection: Remember, a query letter is the very first sample of your writing that the editor will see, so there is good reason to make it perfect. Sloppy query letters will never earn you an editor’s trust and will brand you as an unprofessional and incompetent writer. Edit your draft thrice over and iron out every speller, typo and grammatical error before you dispatch it to the editor.

Shuchi Singh Kalra has been writing professionally for over 7 years. Start-ups to corporates and publishing houses to popular magazines, she has a diverse repertoire of clients in her kitty. Shuchi is also the founder of Pixie Dust Writing Studio, a quaint little writing and editing firm that services a global clientele.  She also enjoys mentoring and connecting with other writers through the Indian Freelance Writers Blog. Pay her a visit at www.shuchikalra.com.

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