A great article idea is the most important aspect of a good query letter, but it isn’t the only thing that matters. You don’t just need to sell the publication on your idea; you need to convince the publisher that you are the best person to write the article. Part of this process has to do with your overall writing style and the professionalism of your presentation. The other part is your discussion of your experience, writing credits and other qualifications. You need to show your potential publisher that you can handle the assignment. This is not the time to be humble. This is the time to brag a little about your abilities and experience.
Before I discuss what you should tell a potential publisher, I should make sure you know what you should NEVER tell them:
- Never tell them that you are a first time writer who is looking for a break.
- Never tell them about your personal or money problems.
- Never tell them you don’t know the subject well but are looking to learn more.
Publications don’t care about your problems. They are looking for good writers. The last thing a publisher wants is to take a chance on someone who may not be able to deliver what they promise. Your goal should be to fill the publisher with confidence, not pity.
The best location to discuss your qualifications is just before the concluding paragraph of your query letter. You don’t want to waste time or space, so limit the discussion of your qualifications to those that are most relevant to the article you are proposing. For example, if you are proposing an article about retirement investment tax issues, it is relevant to mention that you are a financial planner with a track record in retirement planning, but those same facts would be irrelevant in a query for an article about living with chronic back pain.
You will want to mention a few of your past article credits. Again, they should be the most relevant credits you have. If you have nothing relevant, go with the most prestigious credits that you have, but relevancy trumps prestige. If you are employed as a writer for a particular publication, be sure to include that. If you have very few credits, just include the best that you have and don’t apologize for them. Just put them in and move on. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Here is a sample paragraph from a query letter:
I have been a certified financial planner for twelve years and a freelance writer for eight years. I have written extensively about the tax issues associated with retirement preparation. For the past two years I have written a weekly financial planning column for the Springfield Business Journal and have made several appearances on Good Morning Springfield as their retirement planning expert. I have also published retirement planning articles in Savvy Investor, Golden Years, and Family Advocate.
Finally, you should include, along with your query letter, from one to three writing samples. If you are emailing your query, it is acceptable to include links to articles, but if you are sending a query by regular mail, you need to include the actual articles. Remember that you want to include whatever samples are most relevant to your query.