Day Twenty Six (Comment to this post to enter today’s drawing)

Welcome to day twenty-six of the Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. Today’s giveaway isThe Writer’s Digest Guide to Queries by Wendy Burt Thomas.

For any of you who don’t know Wendy, she writes the “Ask Wendy” column for Writers on the Rise and is a long-time writing mentor of mine. In fact, I “met” my husband, Jason, in Wendy’s “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” class nine years ago. (Thanks for teaching that class, Wendy!)

Enough about her match-making skills. Check out Wendy’s new book!

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Queries; Landing articles, agents and book deals
By Wendy Burt Thomas

Who says query books can’t be funny? Beyond the basic structural “how-to” of other writing books, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Queries offers beginning and intermediate writers a glimpse into real queries that landed article assignments, agents or book deals. Though the title may lead some to believe it’s strictly to be shelved as a reference manual, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Queries is a smooth read from cover to cover.

The 30+ samples of good and bad queries walk writers through the “must-haves” and “don’t-even-think-about-it” with a balance of clear instruction, examples and humor. Where similar query books just tell you to write a hook – it gives insight into what makes a good opening paragraph for an article, novel or nonfiction query.

There are special considerations for book queries by genre (from Romance and Mystery to Speculative and Thriller – plus everything in between) and the FAQs come straight from the author’s experience as a writer, author, magazine editor and book copyeditor. The “what editors/agents/publishers like” and “what editors/agents/publishers don’t like” are incredible resources, offering a look into water coolers throughout the publishing industry.

Much of the book is taken from frequently asked questions from students who attended the author’s workshop, “Breaking Into Freelance Writing,” which ran for eight years. Unlike other books which focus on only one particular type of work (such as how to write a nonfiction book query), this book recognizes that writers often have several interests: articles, nonfiction, genre fiction, etc. The Writer’s Digest Guide to Queries is a great one-stop resource for anyone who wants to go beyond format and structure and into crafting unique queries to get you noticed – and published.

Bio:
Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer, editor, copywriter and PR consultant. Her more than 1,000 published articles, essays and stories have appeared in such varied publications as Family Circle, American Fitness, ePregnancy, NYTimes.com, MSNBC.com, Woman’s World and Home Cooking. Wendy’s columns – on business, marketing, parenting, writing and healthy living – have appeared in countless newspapers and magazines.
Wendy’s previous two books, Oh, Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One and Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick were written with co-author Erin Kindberg and published by McGraw-Hill.
Her workshop, “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” has led her to a variety of speaking engagements on the topics of writing, PR, marketing and copywriting. She taught a version of her seminar at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference and to numerous business and networking groups around the region.
On any given day, Wendy is editing magazines, drafting ad copy, working on a column, writing greeting card copy, or doing PR consulting. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Aaron, daughter Gracie, son Ben and two black labs. Learn more at http://www.WendyBurt-Thomas.com.

***

Today’s question:

If you want to succeed as a professional writer, you’ll have to get the hang of pitching your ideas. On a scale of one to ten, how good are you at selling your ideas (aka: querying). Where could your querying skills use some improvement?

(Wendy’s column in the 2009 Writers on the Rise will focus on query writing. Subscribe to the e-zine now, so you won’t miss a single column.)

If this is your first post in the giveaway, please read “Da Rules.”

You may post your comments until midnight PST on September 26th.

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34 Responses to “Day Twenty Six (Comment to this post to enter today’s drawing)”


  1. 1 christinajclark September 26, 2008 at 12:19 am

    I think I am pretty good at pitching my ideas. I frequently get them accepted. The problem I have is just not coming up with enough ideas matched with the right markets.
    I have ideas I can’t quite put my finger on where to send, or a market I want to pitch and no ideas to go with it. I just need to get better at melding the two things into more workable queries.
    I’ve become too used to my blogging for hire format where I simply find a cool thing on the web and write it up in 300 words or less. When I try and come up with bigger ideas, worthy or more than 300 words, my brain kind of stalls.

  2. 2 Laura September 26, 2008 at 4:02 am

    First of all, I have Oh, Solo Mia, by this same author, and just love it, so I know this book will be a great read, and informative.

    On a scale of one to ten, how good am I at querying? About –1. I have absolutely no experience in writing a query letter. Thus far, all of my submissions have been in the personal essay area. The magazines I have sent them to are ones that want a completed essay sent for consideration, thus no query letters. My querying skills need some major improvement, and confidence!

  3. 3 Meryl K. Evans September 26, 2008 at 5:40 am

    I’m about a 5 in the query game mainly because I rarely do it. I would need to take an online class and do some more ready to perfect my query process. I do my research in studying the magazine and its target market — something many folks don’t do being on the other side of the queries. That’s one reason I prefer the business side of writing rather than publications — it takes a lot of time to query and success doesn’t come fast enough for me.

  4. 4 marnini September 26, 2008 at 5:42 am

    I’d like to say I am a solid eight when it comes to query letters but I really have no idea. I have gotten a lot of personal rejections from query letters I have sent (which I hear is a good thing).
    I do know one thing for certain, I can always be better and a book like this would help.
    I think the hardest thing about query letters is trying to say a lot with a little.
    Maribeth:)

  5. 5 Jennifer September 26, 2008 at 6:06 am

    On a scale of one to ten, I’d have to say zero at the moment because I have yet to sell an article through querying. I do think my query letters are getting better, however. They sure are getting easier to write. Maybe that’s the point of all of the rejection at the beginning. It forces you to practice, practice, practice until you find your “query voice.” (Hey, I’m trying to look for an upside…)

  6. 6 Jennifer September 26, 2008 at 6:55 am

    I’m such a new writer that I have yet to write a query, so this one’s starting to lose me!

    How good will I be at pitching my ideas? I don’t know, but I have a feeling I will be needing some coaching in the confidence area. Right now, it’s difficult for me to figure out who to query, much less how. I have ideas for essays and articles but they are stuck in various eddies in my hard drive, waiting for me to find a publication that fits.

  7. 7 Deanna Godman September 26, 2008 at 7:25 am

    I haven’t actually submitted a query letter to anyone yet. I have wanted to be a writer for a very long time, but I’m consistently afraid to submit my work. I’m afraid that it won’t be good enough and will turn the editors off so they will just drop anything else I submit into the trash. I just read Writer Mama, and I am feeling more confident having read that. I hope to start submitting smaller items in the next few weeks and longer items by the first of the year. I am currenytly a stay-at-home mom and would like to start supplementing my family’s income so I will not have to return to an outside the home job when the time comes. I think this book would help me a lot in the next few months as I start writing query letters. Thank you for this contest!

  8. 8 Laura September 26, 2008 at 7:56 am

    First of all, I have Oh, Solo Mia, by this same author, and just love it, so I know this book will be a great read, and informative.

    On a scale of one to ten, how good am I at querying? About -1. I have absolutely no experience in writing a query letter. Thus far, all of my submissions have been in the personal essay area. The magazines I have sent them to are ones that want a completed essay sent for consideration, thus no query letters. My querying skills need some major improvement, and confidence!

  9. 9 Laural September 26, 2008 at 7:59 am

    I have a list of publications that would be right for my work; I need to get going on the queries. I’m a 9 pitching to people I’ve already worked with, maybe a 5 pitching to a new editor. I feel like I need to learn more about that – it seems like a whole different thing. My successes have been when the editor and I know someone in common and that intro encourages them to give me a chance. I need to figure out how to make a query work when I don’t have that connection. Instead, I move it to lower on my to-do list. Bad me.

  10. 10 Cheryl M September 26, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Over the past few months I have purposefully submitted to magazines that accept articles without querying first. It seems difficult to submit queries without having clips, so I have focused on building up my clips. Now I that I have a few clips, I need to start sending out queries on a regular basis and see how it goes.

    Right now I would give myself a 2 for querying. I could definitely use some tips. I do have a few queries out there floating around for more than 6 weeks. I have received conflicting advice on whether it is appropriate to contact the editor after 6 weeks or so. Some books say definitely and others that if an editor doesn’t respond it just means they aren’t interested.

  11. 11 Erika September 26, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I would give myself about a 5 because that’s where I am on the learning curve – about halfway. I know how to write one and the last one I wrote did sell an article so I know I’m on the right track. Practice makes perfect so I have to just put myself out there and start doing it.

    I couldn’t sleep last night, but I came up with a great new idea for an article so maybe this is supposed to be my inspiration to start querying (ok, I also have to research the topic, write the article, etc. first…)

  12. 12 The Write Elizabeth (Elizabeth Humphrey) September 26, 2008 at 9:07 am

    On the scale, I’m probably in the negative zone. If there isn’t an area below zero, then I am 0. Having taken classes specifically to hone my querying skills, the feadback is that I get researching, writing and then I blow it on the target. I can visualize an article for a specific magazine or a book (mine!) for an agent, but can’t seem to get there with the query. I am much better entering a writing relationship without having to do the initial query or letter of introduction. After that, I’m fine. I can write any articles thrown my way, I can toss out ideas that hit the mark. But my queries stink, so I definitely need help in formulating the idea for the specific audience, so I can at move onto the scale.

  13. 13 rowena September 26, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Oh, I’m a zero. I have never written one. I’m not even sure where to begin on something like this.

    You are entering into the I-have-no-idea zone with me. Writing I got. Overcoming writers block, I got. Working on organizing and productivity and brainstorming, I got all that stuff. It’s the putting yourself out there and more… putting your words out there and asking for money in return that I am a complete, stumped novice at.

    Please help.

  14. 14 Cara September 26, 2008 at 9:29 am

    At this point in my fledgling writing career, querying skills haven’t really come into play so much, as all the writings I have submitted (48 to date) have been in response to an online call for submissions. So that’s easy enough: write the piece and fire it off using their preferred method for handling submissions.

    Website submissions are pretty straightforward; not much room for creativity there. Email submissions (which comprise the majority) are much more fun. I am totally in my element with email, as I have sent out, oh probably hundreds of emails over the years. The key here, I think, is to make the cover letter short, sweet and to the point, and give the editor a reason to remember you. Kind of what I had to do when I applied to college many moons ago!

    I’ve decided that my very next challenge will be to learn how to pitch to magazines and newspapers, something that is totally unchartered territory for me. To that end, I am signed up for a local class next week on that very topic. I’m always open to learning new things, and applying it to my work, so I’m psyched!

  15. 15 writerinspired September 26, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I have to agree with Cheryl M., I’ve been sidestepping publications that request a query first, even though I do have clips. You’d think with my marketing history, pitching my ideas should be second nature, but alas, I am FREAKED out. In my mind I believe that if I query and don’t match exactly with the market, I may lose that opportunity to re-angle my story to submit to them again. So, my score would be low.

    I think what would help is to find markets that fit my style and voice instead of me trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. My style has edge and in-your-face sarcasm, so those goody-goody articles, sure I can write them but they do fall flat. And how can I pitch a story I’m not passionate enough about?
    I need to take your next class, Christina!

  16. 16 Celestial Goldfish September 26, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I’ve gotten better at querying. In my experience, if there is something wrong with the query, that also indicates something wrong with the book/material. My first novel had that problem, and the query letter described the book well but still had an off vibe; no agents wanted it, and I can see why. For my second novel, I actually phrased the query before even writing the book, and that showed me the exact direction I wanted to take the story and my readers. Mind you, I still haven’t sold that book, so I can’t rate myself on any scale because there’s no success… But as I learn to write, I learn to query, and I know eventually that will pay off.

  17. 17 Rosemary Lombard September 26, 2008 at 11:53 am

    In-person queries about my book range from, say 5 to 9, though enthusiasm is a 10. Consistency would help, though now, at least, I have a consistent starting hook. Here’s why: I hadn’t queried an agent or publisher until a conference this summer. On query practice day, with a spurt of nerve, I signed up, but near the bottom of the list. Since I wasn’t sure of conventions and had little practice time, I wrote it and read it. The panel noted it was clearly my first attempt but demonstrated my writing well; nevertheless, it lacked excitement. So I launched into an intense extemporaneous account of the inciting incident, and that attracted a chapters request from one agent on the panel and apparently something of a buzz in the 80 onlookers, because throughout the conference people kept coming up to talk about the book and the research behind it. Later, when I chatted with an agent of interest in the hall, I was invited to pitch, and we sat down in a comfortable place. As I had just learned, I used the inciting incident hook to begin. We’re in the process of signing the Agent Agreement.

  18. 18 Amie H September 26, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I love watching book trailers on youtube. I don’t love writing queries but it has helped to think of them as mini trailers for my articles. It makes it more fun and takes a bit of the pressure off.

    I have only sent out 3 queries to magazines and newspapers. I’ve gotten those articles but I want to try to play it a little less safe and try some more challenging markets. I guess I would say I am about a 5 on the query scale if you factor in degree of difficulty. I need to work on clarity in expressing my ideas with editors. And of course persistence and patience.

    It’s difficult and nerve wracking to send off a query but a little bit of a high too – like playing the lottery. I just hope I have better odds.

  19. 19 Amber September 26, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    I suppose I’d be at the low end of the querying scale. I’ve finished one novel and have two partially written ones. I think of them all as learning experiences and wouldn’t submit them anywhere.

    August is when I learned how to query for a magazine article. I sent out one query and it was rejected due to the timing. The magazine wanted highlights of special one-of-a-kind events. The event I pitched to them is exclusive and is happening from September to February. Unfortunately the big unveiling wasn’t until the last day in July. Discouraged because of the timing I wasn’t sure where else to submit it.

  20. 20 Tequitia September 26, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    I’d say that I’m around a “5”. Queries make me nervous, especially when the topic may be dry or one of those evergreen topics. I have a hard time making them fresh. I think I also miss the mark fleshing out the idea in the letter, so that the editor knows exactly where I’m going.

  21. 21 Katrina September 26, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    For articles: I’m an 8-9 pitching to people I’ve worked with before. Little lower to new editors, but I still have a pretty good success rate, in part because I tailor my query to their publication, and even localize it if necessary. Although I always to to include a national source or two for potential resale, but resale is not my primary goal–sale is. I have the best response when I query for a publication, not for a topic, which means I don’t do a lot of simultaneous queries.

  22. 22 Pam September 26, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Forgive me if I post twice (like yesterday). I am having a few computer issues!

    On a scale of one to ten, I give myself about a 3.5 when it comes to writing query letters. I have had some success with query letters, but am by no means even close to being halfway good at them. I sent a query letter out to a few Gardening/Country type magazines and get an assignment from one of them that is to be published in May of 2009. It is exciting to be successful, but to be successful, I need practice. Maybe I should set a target of how many queries I send out a month.
    I need help in the hook line beginning of the query. I can only come up with attention grabbers if they are in the form of a quesiton. I also have trouble with summaries that are brief without gving the ending and excitement away.

  23. 23 Lori Russell September 26, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I’d say I am a “9” pitching story ideas to editors that I have worked with. I’ve had luck selling new articles, reprints and reslants to those editors with only a brief email. Yet, when it comes to pitching an unknown editor at a magazine or newspaper that I’ve researched, I’m about a “3”. While I’ve yet to place a story that way, I’m giving myself points for effort. There is some disconnect that I haven’t figured out yet. Is it that I know the audience for the pubs I already wirte for and my style fits?
    I’ve let writing queries to new editors fall to the bottom of my to-do list these past few months, preferring to take work with editors I already know. I want to begin sending queries out again so I can work with more national and regional publications, but have found that the editors lack of response to my queries has left me confused as exactly what to do differently.

  24. 24 Renee September 26, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I am slowly starting to learn the fine art of crafting a query letter, but I could definitely use more practice. I think where I fall short is not having quite enough research and experts already lined up and quoted in a query that calls for that. I have had query letters that were successful, and also received personal rejection letters, which I find encouraging. I would definitely love to see some solid examples of many different types of queries that were ultimately accepted so I could develop a better “formula.” I’m also not good at any sort of follow-up. I start to keep track of a spreadsheet with my submission dates and information, but then get busy and never go back to it, nor do I contact the editors to give them a gentle nudge. I’m too chicken:) So basically, the potential to produce some rocking query letters is there, I just need to work on it a lot more.

    The interesting thing is that I’m now working as a part-time editor for a magazine, so I’m already getting to read and respond to query letters from other writers as they come in. It’s been eye-opening, and hopefully I’ll take away some new skills from it!

  25. 25 Cathy September 26, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I think about a 5 or so. I’ve just started pitching my article ideas and I’ve got about a 50% acceptance rate. But I struggle with pitching my column (I almost never hear back one way or another) to the right markets. And I spend waaaay too much time coming up with that different angle when I do pitch. I need to streamline the whole process!

  26. 26 karen September 26, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    I’m going to dodge the original question and say that I’m getting better. Partly thanks to the pitching practice class from Christina. I’ve compared my before and after letters, and without a doubt, the afters are much more comprehensive and saleable. As I keep sending them out, I’m sure my opionion queries I write will slowly creep closer to a ten, but until then, I’ll keep practicing!

  27. 27 Mar Junge, c3PR September 26, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    As far as being able to sell my story ideas to magazine editors, I’m at least an 8. Probably a 9. After 30 years of doing this, I’d better be good. I know how to craft a pitch that explains why their readers need to know what I am writing about. And why I’m the best writer to provide that information. I also have the track record to prove that I will deliver what they expect, when they expect it.

    If it’s a magazine you’re pitching, here’s what works for me: 1. Check out the editorial calendar and tailor your story to a specific topic. 2. Send a one-paragraph email query. 3. If the editor replies, then you can invest time writing a longer query email. That’s where I’m sure Wendy’s column will come in handy. If no reply, then try pitching another story idea, or another editor, or another publication.

    Now as far as pitching a novel, odds are that blind queries land your manuscript in the slush pile. But maybe Wendy has advice on how to improve the odds.

  28. 28 Kelli September 26, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Query letters are still somewhat of a mystery to me. I’ve read a lot about them in writer’s reference books and in Writer Mama, of course, but I’d love to actually read some samples. This book would be a great resource to someone like me who is just now starting to pursue a writing career. I need all the help I can get! 🙂

  29. 29 alirambles September 26, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I’ve worked on my query letter but never sent it to anyone. I did successfully pitch my novel at a conference this summer, but for the most part I think I’m really not very good at the pitch, just like I’m not good at telling people why a movie that I just watched was good. I’m getting better at it. I’ve gotten feedback on it, and feel like I’m almost ready to move forward with querying….as soon as I get the book ready to go.

  30. 30 Heidi September 26, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    I get good feedback on my queries from my writing colleagues and some great feedback from editors, but still find it difficult to decide just how much to put in a query (how much research to do before querying, too). Another skill I need to hone is matching pitches to markets by doing more research on each market and their modus operandi. When I’ve really tailored pitches to specific niche markets or specific departments, I have pretty good success.

  31. 31 Christine September 26, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I think the pitch portion of my query is right up there — maybe even an 8. What I struggle with is the “how my idea fits your magazine” portion of the letter. How to sound like I’m in the know without sounding like a four year old hollering “pick me, pick me”. And the part where I actually submit the query. Without good clips and context that demonstrates my idea fits this particular magazine and market I am filling a file with interesting idea pitches but no hope of selling any.

  32. 32 Joelle September 26, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    My query score would be pretty low, but to boost my self-esteem I’ll give myself a two because I’ve read enough I could tell others what to do even though I can’t do it myself. I’ve really only pitched a couple of ideas by phone. My other few opportunities have fallen into my lap. If only that could continue. 🙂 I understand the mechanics but just can’t figure out where to send queries. I also sometimes have trouble getting the right angle on my ideas without spending too much time researching upfront, but that’s something I know I just need some time and experience to work on.

  33. 33 Stephanie Craig September 27, 2008 at 12:52 am

    I have never queried before. Everything I have sold or submitted has been by a full manuscript submission. In fact, the thought of writing a query kind of scares me.

    So I guess that I cannot even claim to be a one on the scale. I have some great ideas for publications that only accept queries, but I have been too afraid to continue further. So I am lacking in the confidence department. Maybe I just need to learn how to properly do it. I really haven’t looked into how to write a query.


  1. 1 Day Twenty-six Drawing: And the winner is… « The Writer Mama Riffs Trackback on September 27, 2008 at 9:10 pm
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