A query is a concise memo submitted to an editor by a writer seeking publication. It is basically an inquiry to see whether the writer's work is of interest to a particular publication. A query briefly details a writer’s experience and knowledge of the subject matter, and gives a summary or synopsis of the article the writer hopes to have published. An approximate word count for the proposed article or feature is also generally included.
A query, or query letter, is an opportunity for a freelance writer to showcase his or her work and to exhibit the ability to make a point in as few words as possible. It gives an editor a chance to gauge the writer’s professionalism, skill, knowledge, and writing style. A query should generally be one page or less if a writer hopes the entire letter will be read. Editors are notoriously busy and limited for time.
When crafting a query, a writer should “hook” the reader, in this case the editor, and move the page along with vivid use of language that entices the editor to want more, to continue reading. However, it is never a good idea to insert a teaser, hoping to make the editor curious so he or she will contact the writer. Editors need to know what to expect and want full details about a story, article, or feature, so they can make sure it is a good fit for the publication.
A query should briefly describe the writer’s relevant education, experience, and expertise or special knowledge of the subject matter. It should also give a detailed summary of the work. A query should also express the reasons a writer feels the work would be a good fit for the publication, why it is valuable to readers, and how it is different from other articles on the same topic.
For example, if a writer hopes to write an article on bathing a dog for a pet magazine, this is a subject that has likely been covered. The writer must craft the query to clearly illustrate how his or her article differs from similar titles, or show how it addresses different points or otherwise presents the topic from a different angle.
Many publications require a query before agreeing to read a complete manuscript, so a writer should take great care when writing a query. Producing a great query letter takes almost as much effort as writing the actual article.