Sunday, October 14, 2007

Query Letter Confessions...


The first query letter I ever sent out led to a writing assignment, but I have a confession to make about it. I stole it. Yes, you read that right. Stolen. Lifted. Five finger discount. And you know what? It worked wonders for me.

As a budding writer, I was eager and anxious to see my work in print. I wanted to be published, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get there. One day, as I was perusing a copy of the "Writer's Market", I came across the query letters that would eventually become mine. Now, when I say stolen, I mean that I took special care to analyze how the successful letters in the front of the book had been crafted. I read them over and over, until I had a good feel for their timing, rhythm and mechanics.

After doing so, I set out to write my own. As I wrote out the query, I made sure that the reading pace was the same as the others. I was careful to include all of the elements the others had - the hook, the pitch and the close all played out almost exactly as the others did. When it was finished, I could compare my own query letter with the ones in the book, and they looked exactly the same. Except, of course, that the subject was different.

When my query was complete, I carefully read it over to ensure that my spelling was good, and then pasted it into an email and sent it off. Several days later, I received the good news. The editor wanted to include my article in an upcoming issue of the magazine, and the rest is history. In my next pitch, with a few minor changes in the angle of the story I was pitching, I used the very same letter to sell yet another article to a different magazine. Since then, I have continued to use the same format in all of my query letters, with a rather high success rate.

If you are just starting out, I would strongly urge you to take the time to research the reasons behind successful query letters. Today, there is no shortage of examples available in various magazines, writer's books and on the Internet. To get you started, check out THIS ARTICLE by Moira Allen. She is an extremely successful writer and webmaster of In the article, she lays out several paragraphs of successful query letters, and explains why they work.

And don't be shy about copying the style, either. There is no sense in re-inventing the wheel, when those letters were successful for a reason. Steal their style. It works, I know!


This is probably going to sound weird, but I have taken to calling wherever I sit to write, the "wet spot". Why? It's simple, really. I have noticed that, for me, a good writing session is comparable to good sex. My girlfriend tells me I have a certain 'glow' after completing a long block of writing, and I even tend to follow my usual after-sex rituals. There's nothing like a cigarette to still the nerves after pouring your heart and soul out on paper, and I find myself taking smoke breaks between each article I write.

Now, I know smoking is bad for my health and, in all reality, it will probably be what kills me someday. Do not take this particular column to be my advice to you to start smoking, and don't think that I am saying you have to smoke in order to be a successful writer. I'm not. I am simply sharing some of my own thoughts & writing rituals with you. Let's say, for entertainment purposes only.

Anyhow, I have a couple of articles to write for, so I am going to go grab a smoke, then get back to work. In the meantime, beware the wet spot, and enjoy the rest of this post.


Everything I have read about successful blogging indicates that a little routine in the blogging experience is a good thing. Many of the bloggers I have talked to say that creating a routine helps the creativity, and gets you used to blogging regularly. Even though I tend to write whenever inspiration strikes (and more often when it doesn't), I have noticed that when it comes to blogging, I have developed somewhat of my own routine. This is what it looks like.

5 a.m. - The alarm goes off, and I stumble out of bed. After making a pot of coffee and breakfast (which usually consists of a bagel & cream cheese or a couple of chocolate toaster waffles) for my girlfriend and I myself, I see her off to work.

5:30 a.m. - I spend a little time looking over my research notes, check any websites & blogs to tie up loose ends, and get to the writing. Lately, this has meant posting here, writing an article or two for Helium, and then working on the various offline projects that are currently taking up my time. At present, I am working on several magazine articles and a couple of e-books. When November rolls around, I will also be spending some time working on my version of the Great American Novel for National Novel Writing Month. I will take breaks throughout the day to do a little laundry, change the cat litter and other miscellaneous household tasks. I have also been known to sneak in a catnap or two.

Somewhere between 3 p.m. & 4 p.m. - My girlfriend gets home from work, and we get to spend a little time together. That time is usually spent watching a few episodes of Tivo'd House Hunters, Grey's Anatomy, Men in Trees, and House, M.D. You know, the good stuff. Although my girlfriend has tried getting me to watch Desperate Housewives, I have thus far been able to resist.

9 p.m.'ish - After tucking my girlfriend into bed, I venture back to the computer, and begin making preparations for the next day's work. For me, that means writing up my blog post schedule, writing and answering emails, researching new markets and seeking out any other information I need for the following day's writing activities. Sometimes I get started on the next day's writing, but usually I am worn out and ready for bed before I finish research.

11:30 p.m. - 12 a.m. - I crawl into bed and fall asleep thinking about the writing I will be doing the next day. I find that, after a night's sleep, I often come up with new ideas or angles I had missed the night before. I also tend to find spots in my writing or research from the day before that could use filling in.

Now, it's your turn. Have you found yourself falling into a routine when writing or blogging? Take some time to write about it. If you post it on a blog, let me know about it so I can link back to it here in a future post.

#1 AGAIN...

My latest article on Helium, "8 Tips for Keeping Your Online Payments Safe", quickly shot up to the #1 position yesterday, and has put me just one point behind the current first place writer in this week's Computers & Technology category contest. Now I could write another article and hope that it ranks high enough for me to win first place, but the contest ends Monday night, and I would run the risk of the article not having enough time to get ranked high enough to earn the required points.

In this case, I think I am going to follow another strategy. Instead of writing another article, I am going to stop where I am at for this particular contest, and hope the leader decides to write another article or three. If he does, and they fail to rank high enough to earn points, he runs the risk of actually losing some of the points he currently has. Instead, I am going to make my first stab at the Helium marketplace, and see if my writing has what it takes to make the cut for the publishers currently advertising for needed articles. While the pay is nothing to note, it will keep me working towards my original Helium goal, which was to have fun and keep my writing skills sharp.

Again, time will tell. The next contest starts Tuesday night, and this time around, I am going to write more than my usual number of articles. Instead of writing six articles for the contest, which has been my average, I am going to attempt to double that figure. Perhaps that will lead to a first place win. In addition, I am going to begin work on a series of articles that will discuss my Helium successes a little more, and detail what I believe has led to those successes. Stay tuned for that!

Until next time...

No comments: