When I first started writing, way back in the dark ages, I devoured a lot of articles about query writing. I was on a quest for the magic formula that would convert lead (queries) into gold (assignments). It was less alchemy and more mad science than I’d care to admit. Eventually, the test tubes stopped exploding and there were fewer singe marks on the ceiling. The result: A formula for writing fully developed query letters.
The formula that finally gelled is the one I still use today. I call it Formula 7B. If you’d like to learn it, step into my lab. Remember to wear your safety goggles, and don’t touch the green goo. I found it under The Boy’s bed, and I’m not sure what it eats.
Ready? Here we go. (A sample query for this post appears at the end.)
B1: Beginning (a.k.a. the lead)
After the letter’s greeting, it’s best to hook the editor with the lead for the article you are proposing. Play around with different leads for your piece, then when you find The One, plug it in as the letter’s first paragraph. (Feel free to dance about and shout “It lives! It lives!” if you so desire.)
What purpose does your article serve? Does it teach? Inspire? Inform? This part of the letter should tell the editor what his reader is going to get out of the piece. If you have no benefit, the piece may quickly be labeled as “fluff” — a monster editor’s despise. Mob, pitchforks, torches… you get the idea.
Think of this part of the query as the lab filled with the body parts for your project (some assembly required). Here’s where you want to break down the details of your article for the editor. Divide your article into three to five sections and give each one a bullet item in your query. Think “mini outline”. Keep each item simple. A tight sentence is plenty.
Now it’s time to convince the villagers that your creation belongs with the rest of the population. Add a few brief sentences that show you’ve done your homework. If the article would be a perfect fit for a specific department, or should run in a specific issue, let the editor know. An estimated word count belongs here, too. The less time the editor has to spend figuring out how, where, and when to use your article, the better your chances are of a sale.
The evil super-genius monologue goes here. Include a couple of sentences about your qualifications and credits. If you’re just starting out, skip this part unless you have professional expertise related to the subject that you can use.
The creature lives! Now it’s time to make your escape. Do this in two parts. First, invite the editor to buy the piece and offer a time frame for getting it done. Second, use your manners: thank the editor for his time.
Every evil genius’ favorite part: taking credit for the work. Be sure to include your signature and contact information.
A fully developed query for this post might look like this:
Dear Mr. Editorname,
Step into my lab and learn the secret formula for turning lead(queries) into gold(assignments): a fully developed query. (Beginning)
That’s the proposed lead for my article “The Mad Scientist’s Method for Writing a Fully Developed Query.” The remainder of the article will teach your readers a simple mnemonic (Formula 7 B) for remembering the elements to include in their query letters. (Benefit)
The secret formula covers these B’s:
*Beginnings: the lead
*Benefits: What does the reader gain?
*Breakdown: giving the editor a mini outline
I expect The Mad Scientist’s Method to run about 450 words. It would make a great addition to your Nuts & Bolts column for new writers. Given the theme, it might be a good fit for an October (Halloween) issue. (Basics)
I’m a veteran freelancer with hundreds of successful queries under my belt. My work has appeared in X, Y, and Z. My most recent work (title) appeared in the (date/issue) of (publication). My clips are available on request. (Blurb)
If you are interested in The Mad Scientist’s Method, I can have the piece ready for you within (timeframe) of assignment. (buy-bye part 1)
Thanks for taking the time to read my proposal. I look forward to hearing from you. (buy-bye part 2)
Remember Formula 7B the next time you step into your writing lab and give your creations a fighting chance at finding a home.