Your mother always told you how first impressions were extremely important. That’s why whenever you go to meet an editor, you dress impeccably, walk confidently and talk as if you just got out of training with Oprah Winfrey.
But as you sit down to write that email query, you forget everything your mother told you and send editors a query that couldn’t have lacked any more even if you wanted it to. The subject line reads “Query” or something in close proximity with the language spammers use—“Become Debt Free Today”. You write your email address and Web address, but leave out other information such as your address and phone number. And of course, since it’s an email query, you don’t include clips. After all, the editor explicitly mentioned no attachments, right?
After sending out a dozen queries of this sort, you sit in front of your computer, reading rejections and crib about the state of the publishing world.
But you know what, there’s a better way. You don’t have to be rejected all the time. You can write queries that can melt the toughest of editors and have them begging you to write for them.
For starters, get the subject line right. You’re a writer—so be creative. Instead of writing query or submission or even the name of the magazine, how about using the title of your article? And I don’t have to tell you that the title you choose should be informative, witty and creative. It doesn’t always have to be funny, but it has to be interesting. Here’s the format I usually follow for my subject lines:
Query: Creative Article Title
Try to avoid titles that read like spam. “Lose Weight Easily” can be rephrased as “10 Ways to Keep Fit”. Similarly, “Discover Singles in Your Area” is a line spammers love to use, so you could use something more attention-grabbing and less spam-seeming such as “The Top 10 Places to Find your Soul Mate.” Notice the difference?
Write your email query as if you were writing a normal query. Induce in it, the same passion, the same commitment and the same confidence that you would like to project in a query sent by snail mail. Forget the mantra that editors will delete long queries. Not a chance. If you’ve sparked the interest of an editor, do you think she’s going to stop reading simply because it’s too long? Nope.
Like in a mailed query, take the time and space you need to get the editor’s attention. But refrain from rambling. Generally, your query (email or otherwise) should fit into two pages or less. More than that, and you’re giving away too much. One page queries are even better. They’re succinct, to-the-point, and if you’ve done your job well, you’ll have the editor asking for more. Always include your address and phone number should the editor feel like calling and giving you the assignment.
Remember how editors are busy people? That’s why, instead of sending them hyperlinks of all the articles you’ve ever written, send in three or four relevant clips of your best work. And yes, attachments are strictly prohibited. Instead, include your article as text in your email. But what about the pretty pictures and the beautiful fonts, you wail. Well, that’s why, above the article, include the link to the article. If the editor has the time or the inclination, she can go online and view it in its full glory. If not, you’re sending the material in the email so she doesn’t have to wander around cyberspace looking for your great creations.
Email queries aren’t much different from snail mail ones. If your query is professional, presented in an original style and makes the editor sit on the edge of her seat, you’ve got a winner. And always remember what mom preached—first impressions do count.