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Query Letter Part 2: The Opening

Now that you understand what a query letter is and ideas for placing your contact information, you need to begin the letter itself.  I hope it goes without saying that the salutation should be addressed to a person—Mr. or Ms. Lastname—not to a generic term like “Editor,” although I have received many rejections addressed “Dear Writer.”  It doesn’t feel very personal.  Occasionally, you’ll have to call the publication to get the editor’s name.  Clarify any ambiguous names.  Chris could be a man or a woman.

 Now comes the hard part—the opening sentence.  The hook.  You want to catch that editor’s attention with your first sentence, drawing her into the letter just like the opening sentence of a story draws in the reader.  Perhaps a shocking statistic, an interesting quote, or a mysterious tease.  Here are a few examples that I have used:

  1. Getting sick in the Golden State could be hazardous to your health.
  2. “The most happy marriage I can picture . . . would be the union of a deaf man to a blind woman,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the eighteenth century poet.
  3. It was all the Lakers’ fault.    

Every one of these hooks was the opening sentence to an article I proposed.  It pricked the editor’s interest, made her want to discover the why or what next. 

 Another way to open your letter might begin with a question, which can provoke article interest, but beware of editors’ preferences.  Some are not thrilled with queries filled with questions that don’t deliver at least some of the answers or suggest that you will answer those questions in your article.

 Beginning your query letter with an outstanding hook just might sell your article.  Don’t ever use profanity or familiarity.  This letter is a business proposal.  You want the editor to see you at your best, professional writing self.  Anything that departs from that image will most assuredly hinder acceptance.  So, be creative with that opener.  Hook that editor with your creativity.

Next up, the body of the query letter.

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