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The query letter—an introduction for aspiring freelancel writers

By David Hammond

A “query letter” is a formal letter you send to an editor to propose an article idea and yourself as the one to write it. It’s traditionally one typed page or 500 words, plus or minus.

Writing an effective query letter is vital to breaking in, especially with more competitive publications.

Many editors give the query letter more weight than samples of published work when sizing up a writer.

That’s because editors know submitted work is often reworked and improved by a publication’s editors.

Points to keep in mind when writing your query letter: 


  • Show respect for the editor’s time by making your proposal clear and concise.
  • Demonstrate you can follow directions by submitting the query letter just as instructed in the publication’s submission guidelines.
  • Keep your message positive. Display confidence you can get the job done.

Points to include in your query letter:


A query letter demonstrates your skill
to write the article you're proposing.
Address the query letter to the appropriate editor by name (no dear “editor” or dear“sir or madam").

If you don’t see the editor's name listed on the publication’s masthead, call and get it from the publishing company’s receptionist.

Include a short greeting of appreciation. (Recollect a meeting or drop a name if applicable.)

Describe what the article is about and how you’ll develop it.

Mention pertinent interviews you can line up, if that’s the case.

Include details such as the magazine department you have in mind and word count.

Give thought to the first few lines of your query letter, which need to catch the busy editor’s attention in a positive way.

Some writers begin their query with a paragraph similar to the lead paragraph of their intended article. For example, using a description, brief antecede, or quote.

Explain why your article idea is right for the publication's readership.

Give a reason the timing is right for your story idea. Perhaps it illustrates a trend or change.

After you make a case for the article idea, tell why you're the right person to write the story. Include a link to your portfolio website, or links to pertinent articles.

If you're a new freelance writer, stress your familiarity and knowledge of the article topic.

Ask for a response from the editor in a polite way, such as "I look forward to hearing from you."

Thank the editor for her or his consideration.

A few additional thoughts on query letters: 


Be sure you can deliver the article you propose.
  • Request an assignment that's consistent with your writing experience. 
  • Create an outline to make sure you can see the idea through. 
  • If you're a new freelance writer, start out proposing ideas for short, straightforward articles.
It can take a couple of weeks and sometimes more to receive a response to your query letter. And many editors will only respond if they're interested in giving out the assignment.

So, it's perfectly acceptable to follow up with a reminder after a few weeks or a month.  Express appreciation for any feedback you get from an editor, even if they don't use your story.

If at first, you don't succeed, take heart and stay at it. Breaking in when you're new often takes some persistence.