Magazine Writing: The Query Letter part 2

Tuesday’s Writing Tips: 

Portable MFA in Creative Writing: Magazine Writing

The Query Letter Part 2: 

A query letter can be crafted with a straightforward approach, or it can be a little more creative. You may want to start with how you are going to begin the article. In other words, start with the lead-in to your article.

Query letters should contain:

  1. The lead, which introduces the editor to your idea—often by using an anecdote or even dialogue.
  2. The intended content of the article…focus on the details.
  3. Be specific, what will be in the article. For example, who you’ll interview, where you’ll get your information, what your point of view will be, etc.
  4. Tell why you’re qualified to write on this subject.

The following query letter is taken from the Portable MFA. It represents a straightforward, fact-driven approach.

Sample query letter written to Family Circle:

Dear _______:

“Mommy! What I really want for Christmas is this flying sparkle doll—see, Mommy, there she is, with glitter, see? But if I can’t get her, I want a baby that drinks from a  toy bottle and comes with her own diapers, or else I want a kitchen baking set with a real oven and cake mix, like Emily has, Mommy, please, please, please!”

And so the song begins in the aisles of toy stores and shopping malls the “I want” serenade. It’s a theme with infinite variations—”What I really want is Nintendo…Air Jordans…Gap overalls, size 10…a life-size walking fashion doll complete with her own wardrobe and hair accessories.” But the point remains constant: Whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa—and whether your kids are into diapers or grunge rock—the holiday season often means long wish lists, piles of presents, and a frantic parental effort to stay at least in sight of financial reality.

Families have to work hard to resist the multicolored, spangled “buy-me” blitz and kindle the spirit of the holiday season. I propose writing an article that would offer a dozen practical, inexpensive strategies to bring wonder and meaning back to the holidays. These strategies include activities in the home and in the community, and involve the whole family. Here a few examples:

Recycle your own good fortune. With your kids, sift through outgrown or cast-off playthings. Give your found treasures a spruce-up. Add a fresh ribbon to a teddy bear; wash and dry wooden blocks; treat that old, tired toy train to a fresh coat of paint. Once the gifts are wrapped and ready, take them—and your kids—to a family shelter in your community. Many shelters host Christmas parties and are grateful for presents for their clients’ children. Your family will see firsthand that kids can help other kids in trouble, and that you don’t have to be a grown-up to give from the heart.

[The writer gave three other examples so that the editor could see exactly what she had in mind for the article, a tactic that went  a long way in getting her the assignment.]

I would be glad to provide clips, or you can visit my Website (provide website).


Helen Zelon

The query letter should be no longer than 250 words. Add facts, anecdotes and a quote or two.

Haiku of the day:

dream big haiku

a night sky
sprinkled with glitter—
my soul shines bright

Those of you who write haiku, do you pay strict attention to the format 5-7-5?


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.