Whether you want to publish a short story, article, novel, or nonfiction book – you’ll need to write a query letter. These tips on how to get published revolve around the single most important letter you’ll ever write.
Do you know how to write a query letter? Learn from the experts in Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. You’ll also get access to more than 7,500 listings for book publishers, magazines, contests, literary agents, and more – with daily updates in the online edition. You’ll also find all-new material devoted to the business and promotion of writing in the print edition of Writer’s Digest. Learn the secrets of six-figure freelancers, how to create a productive home office, and which publishing and writing apps make freelancing easier.
If you’ve never even seen a query letter, you’re in luck! I posted my example of a Successful Query Letter to Reader’s Digest below. And, I also share an editor’s insights into why and how I got published in that magazine. The bad news is that learning how to get published is hard work. The good news is that YOU CAN DO IT! If you’re willing to put in the effort.
How to Get Published
In How to Write Query Letters for Magazine Articles, I shared six tips on how to get published. Here, I updated those tips to help you write an even stronger, more compelling query letter.
Some literary agents, editors, and publishers believe the query letter is the most important piece of the publishing puzzle. Why? Because your query letter determines whether an editor or literary agent will even look at your manuscript. You’ll never get published if your query letter is weak or boring.
Be a convincing salesperson
Since your goal is to get published, you need to sell your article or manuscript, you need to be enthusiastic (but don’t use too many exclamation marks!!!!! That’s my problem).
You need to be persuasive, professional, and realistic. This is the tip on how to get published that I struggle with the most: you need to be good at selling your work. You have to believe in yourself, and you have to share your strengths.
Get specific immediately
The most effective query letters get into the specifics from the very first line. Your query letter is a CALL TO ACTION – not a list of features and benefits. You need to sell yourself from the first sentence. This is why I encourage you to read as many books on how to get published as possible, because you can’t learn too much! Find sample query letters that worked. Talk to writers who’ve been published – ask if they’ll show you their pitches.
For a sample query letter for an online magazine, read A Successful Query Letter to MSN Health.
Include some biographical information (but not too much)
Here’s what I say at the end of my query letters to magazine editors when I’ve never written for them before: “I’m a published writer; visit The Adventurous Writer for links to my most recent articles. My credits include MSN Health, Woman’s Day, Health, Reader’s Digest, Glow, alive and sometimes More.
Follow the rules on how to get published
When you’re writing a query letter for a magazine article, use a normal font and typeface (such as Times New Roman, 12 point), address a specific editor (such as the managing editor or assigning editor), and limit your query letter to one page. Include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and website.
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In How to Get Your Book Published, I encourage writers to learn as much as they can about the “rules” of writing query letters for publishers and literary agents.
Then, I tell writers to break those rules when necessary.
Follow up with the editors or literary agents
Okay, I’m the worst writer in the world for following up. I never contact an editor after emailing a query letter – though I have heard that writers get assignments when they do! This is one of those secret tips on how to get published that successful freelance writers do.
The editors in Writer’s Market recommend following up after the magazine’s response time has lapsed. Then, send a short and polite e-mail describing the original query sent, the date it was sent, and asking if they received it or made a decision regarding the editors’ decision.
Be professional and businesslike if you want to get published
The importance of remaining polite and businesslike when following up cannot be stressed enough. Making a bad impression on an editor can often have a ripple effect – as that editor may share his or her bad experience with other editors at the magazine or publishing company.
The publishing world is a small one. Be nice.
Don’t mention money in your query letter
If want to write for magazines, your goal is to get paid at least $1 per word (okay, that’s my goal). But, don’t mention money in your query letter.
“This step comes after an editor has agreed to take on your article or book,” say the experts in Writer’s Market. “Besides making an unprofessional impression on an editor, it can also work to your disadvantage in negotiating your fee. If you ask for too much, an editor may not even contact you to see if a lower rate might work. If you ask for too little, you may start an editorial relationship where you are making far less than the normal rate.”
If you have any questions on how to get published, ask below! I can’t promise any answers, but it never hurts to ask, right?
Sample of a Successful Query Letter to Reader’s Digest
Here’s the first query letter I ever sent to the editors of Reader’s Digest – and the first article I wrote for that magazine…
I searched the Reader’s Digest archives for eco-friendly Valentine’s Day tips and came up empty. Would your readers be interested in 10 green ways to say “I love you” — not only to their partners, but to the planet too?
Go Green on Valentine’s Day:
Ten Eco-Friendly Ways to Say “I Love You”
These timeless ways to express love come with a healthy green twist.
1. Write an original or classic poem on hemp, bamboo, organic cotton or banana stalk paper.
2. Send fragrant, organic flowers to the office.
3. Indulge with fair trade chocolate.
4. Dig for conflict-free diamonds.
5. Tantalize your tastebuds at a classy vegan, vegetarian or “green” restaurant.
6. Toast your love with organic wine, beer or liquor.
7. Sip organic champagne from recycled green glass goblets.
8. Explore vintage shops for unique, chic recycled jewelry.
9. Give eco-friendly bath bombs, body creams and fragrances.
10. Get romantic with natural massage oils, soy candles, and organic lingerie.
In 500 words, these 10 tips will include the most recent research findings and a brief explanation, which will make it easy to say “I love you” in an earth-friendly way. Eye-catching sidebars include 5 Green Valentine’s Activities for Kids and Green Adventures: 5 Eco-Tours for Lovers (an extra 300 words each).
Are you interested in this article – or a version of it – for Reader’s Digest? If so, I can have it to you within five business days, or whatever our contract stipulates.
To read my most current articles, click on the links in green below my signature line. I write for various publications (Good Times, Esteem, Today’s Health and Wellness, alive, cahoots) as well as weekly articles for the local newspaper. My degrees are in Psychology and Education.
Thanks for your time,
After posting my sample query letter here on Blossom, I received an email from a reader. She gave me a few extra tips on how to get published – including her thoughts on my Reader’s Digest query letter.
What Worked in the Sample Query Letter
Following the format of a book called The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster (which is fantastic, by the way!), I decided to go through your sample query letter and point out what I imagine the Reader’s Digest editors liked about it.
You showed your knowledge of the publication
Right out of the gate, you showed that you have knowledge of the publication, did your research. This would catch my attention as an editor. You found a gap and are filling it for them. This is an important thing to learn for writers who want to get published.
Your headline layout is extremely eye-catching
I know writers differ on this, but I like the headline centered and bolded on the page. You’ve also hit upon a hot topic and given it a seasonal twist. Who wouldn’t buy this article?
If I’m an editor, in your headline I see three words that will make my readers pick up this issue for this article: Green, Eco-Friendly, Valentine’s Day (and the 10 Ways is always a classic!).
The list is an asset to your query letter
Your query letter is very easy to read and the list works extremely well. It leaves no doubt in the editor’s mind that all 10 of your reasons are solid. I also like the concise paragraph that follows your list and expands upon your main ideas.
Sidebars are a great added touch – many freelance writers don’t know this tip on how to get published.
You indicate a quick turn-around for your article
If I’m an editor on deadline with a hole to fill, I would jump on this piece. I especially like the sentence “or whatever our contract stipulates?” That’s a great way to word it, giving yourself more time if it’s available. It also assumes a contract will be sent, which is not always the case with smaller publications, so it brings up the topic and presents you as a professional.
Your bio is brief and impactful
I like that you included a good, short bio with impressive credentials. I also like how you included the links in a complete sentence. Nice touch!
Fellow scribes, what do you think of these tips on how to get published? I welcome your thoughts below…and if you have any query letter tips, please share 🙂
When a man is willing and eager, the gods join in. – Aeschylus.