Too Weary to Query?

How to Craft a Successful Pitch for your Article or Manuscript

Writing a great query letter is an important step in the writing process. Queries are needed whether you are proposing an article idea to a newspaper, magazine or journal. They are also necessary components when trying to get an agent interested in your manuscript.   

And yet, they are so rarely done well, if at all.

As a literary agent, my agency, PriorityPR Group & Literary Agency, gets numerous emails from people who have found my website and do a scatter shot submission with what feels like a generic letter that they probably cut and pasted into their email message as they look for an agent. It usually includes a couple of chapters of their book, not much about themselves and a close that they are looking for an agent. The problem is their submission was a generic pitch without thought or research into where they were submitting their material.  

Put Your Best Foot Forward

The purpose of the query is to get an editor or agent's attention. So take the time to do it well and get our attention in a positive way rather than negative. When you don't do your research on who we are and where you are submitting, you got our attention all right. But not in the way you hoped.

If a writer won't take the time to do a little background check on the agent and their specialties, or on a magazine, their audience and what type articles they publish, then they are immediately getting our attention that they are a writer too lazy or inexperienced to do the work necessary to create a successful piece. It takes just 60 seconds and one click for us to send the submission to File 13. And really that's about how long we spend on a proposal query that isn't done correctly. We expect you to do your homework.

Steps to a Successful Query

1. Do the Research. If it is a magazine, newspaper or even a radio/television program you need to get familiar with what type topics they present to their audience, the best length for the article and who is their audience. Just as a piece of clothing that says "one-size-fits-all" really doesn't always work, so it is with writing. You need to tailor your piece and your query to fit the audience of where you are submitting. Submission guidelines are almost always readily available on a publication's website or an agent's website. Please do yourself a favor. Find them, read them and follow them.

2. Pitch Accordingly. Whether you have an article about finances, family or faith, you need to tailor it to fit the audience to which you are submitting. For example, an article "Work Smarter: The Successful Mom Home-Based Business Strategy" is going to look different if pitched to "Inc." Magazine as opposed to "Today's Christian Woman". Know your media. Know your audience. The query will reflect that.

3. Don't forget the Hook. Every article and query needs a hook. An entire pitch hook and a first sentence "draw me in" hook. What makes your article unique? Why is it relevant? Why does their audience care? These are all pieces needed in your query and needed to get my attention. It's up to you to connect the dots for the editor to let them know why their audience really needs to read this article and why it works for their magazine or paper.

4. Manuscript Query - As an agent this is the section in a proposal that is most often ignored by authors. Why? Because it takes thought and work. But guess what? It's also the reason that I typically turn someone down. This is your job to fill in the blanks.If you can't do this little bit of research you've just sent me a huge message. 

So be sure that when you query, that you include the stats of your manuscript (genre, target audience, word count, etc.) and at least three "comps" (relevant comparative titles that have done well in the marketplace).

Let me know the title, author, publisher, release date, price and how your book is similar and different. Really do your homework. Also, just a side note, I really don't want to see "The Purpose Driven Life" as a comp. For some reason it makes it on probably 80% of the proposals I see---and the connection is pretty tenuous most of the time! (For article queries, it is unnecessary to include comps.)

5. Your Qualifications. The bio paragraph and your close are important in a query. They should be short, sweet and effective. If you've got a great idea, but haven't convinced me you're the best writer for the story. We'll you've just planted the seed of an idea. Editors run with ideas, not to steal them but they germinate. A few days later that idea may grow and they don't even remember your query but it has now become their idea and grown further and so they find someone who can do it more effectively. So cast your vision for an article or book and then you need to let us know that you are the best person to write it and why.

6. Your Contact Info. It should go without saying that this is necessary,but I get lots of submissions without this important information. Also how it is submitted immediately pegs whether or not you are a professional.

If this is an article query or a manuscript your name, address, phone, and email address should go in the upper left-hand corner of the first page single spaced. (Magazines often request your social security number as well. In this day and age I don't often do that.) The rest of the article should be 1" margins, double spaced, Times New Roman font. Make it easy for us to read. Just sayin'

In the end remember, if you've hit on the basics well and conveyed the essence of your article or story and why it's a good fit then the rest is up to us. It's up to you to deliver us what we need to get our attention.

If you do that we'll, more than likely get a follow-up e-mail. You've just engaged us in conversation.

Karen Hardin - Literary Agent and Marketing Guru
PriorityPR Group & Literary Agency