Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to write a query letter

If you want to write a book or a magazine article, it helps to write a query letter first. The query can be fairly short. You don't have to write the book or article, just describe it to the editor.

One thing that helps me in writing a query letter is to follow this basic form, with just a sentence or two on each topic:

1. THE PROBLEM. Why is this book or article needed? What's the gap in the market? What's the story that hasn't been told yet?

2. THE SOLUTION. How will the piece I want to write address that need? What is my piece not going to be? What other published works are similar or different? 

3. THE SCOPE. How big is this thing, how long, how many pictures? How much is finished already? What is the look, feel, tone, or style?

4. THE MARKET. Who is this work for? How am I connected with the audience? How big is the market? The actual marketing and publicity will be a joint effort, but authors often know their market best.

5. THE DELIVERABLES. What am I going to provide? Who will bring in the text, captions, permissions, and photos? How long will it take? What will I need help with?

6. MY QUALIFICATIONS. If the editor doesn't know me already, here's the chance to say why I believe I'm the best person to write the book.

As an example, here's a brief letter where I spend just one sentence answering each question. Brevity helps. One page is usually enough, two pages if you must.

Dear (Editor of ImagineFX magazine)

Workshop: 10 Tips for Working from Photographs

Artists are always looking for reference tools to improve the realism of their imaginative paintings. They know that photographs offer a useful tool, but also a potential pitfall. I propose to give your readers 10 tips that will help them use photo reference effectively, preserving their innate vision without the risk of photo-dependence.

I envision this article appearing in the Workshop section of the magazine, running about 2000-2500 words with approximately 12 - 18 illustrations. Several case study examples would show some works developed with drawings alone as reference, and some with photo reference.

As before, with the “Visual Perception” and “Lived-In Future” workshops, the completed article can be delivered to you in hard copy and/or via email within two weeks of your acceptance.

You can accompany the query with links to works that you've already written, and you might also include a résumé. You can submit queries as emails, but if you want to cut through the clutter, you can send it as a good old-fashioned letter. A query letter arriving by post is a rare diversion for editors these days.
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Previously on the blog: Using Photo Reference

12 comments:

Keith Parker said...

I always wondered how this worked. Awesome post! Thanks James.

Janet Oliver said...

Perfect timing! I'll be writing query letters very soon. Love the formatting.

Maike Bohlen said...

Nice! Good reminder - thank you so much!

Roberto said...

As usual your generosity and insight is remarkable. This side of the business is rarely revealed, but greatly appreciated by anyone attempting to make a living as an artist, or simply to share their work. It really is a jungle out there, but with the help of your books and this blog, you really make a difference. Thanks again for sharing your formidable talents and insights. You the man, man! -RQ

James Gurney said...

You're welcome. My pleasure to pass on these tidbits. I was given a lot of help when I was starting out, and a lot of what I've learned recently has been from other people sharing stuff on the web, so it all goes around.....

K_tigress said...

Saving for reference.
Thanks a bunch. :)

Annie C Curtis said...

Excellent advice, as ever. Thank you.

runninghead said...

As above, thanks James. Of all the material pros share, it's pieces like this that give the real intel on a world most never get to see.

Allen Garns said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and insights so generously. Good solid stuff.

J.D. said...

Thank you for posting this. I just sent out queries earlier this week, and I never thought of the problem-solution approach to writing them. I'm sure there will be another round of queries in a few weeks - I will be sure to use this idea for the next ones. Thanks again

Marek Zapletal said...

It's not that hard. Just remember to point out the main idea of your story as clearly as you can, with as few words as possible. Thinks of those great teasers you read on the back of romance books. I got some best essays from web on query writing.

Marek Zapletal said...

It's not that hard. Just remember to point out the main idea of your story as clearly as you can, with as few words as possible. Thinks of those great teasers you read on the back of romance books. I got some best essays from web on query writing.