My first query letter for a literary magazine was a page long.
It included what amounted to a film treatment for a 1,500-word flash fiction piece.
If you’re new to sending out literary magazine query letters and submitting your writing, you might wonder why this would be a problem. After all, don’t you need to grab the editor’s attention and make them as excited about your writing as you are?
Not so fast.
Sending your work to literary magazines is an important step in your writing life. It’s a simple way to get your writing in front of readers, and as you amass more publication credits, it increases your credibility.
But you don’t get there unless you follow the rules. And some of the rules for a literary magazine query letter might surprise you.
Allow me to lay down five tips for the process. You might be stunned by how complicated you’ve been making this.
You Can Start With “Dear Editor”
Don't lose sleep wondering how to start your query letter. Good news: a straightforward "Dear Editor" is perfectly acceptable and commonly used. It might feel a bit impersonal, but rest assured, this is standard practice in the literary world.
While writing directly to a specific person shows that you’ve done your homework, many literary magazines don't publicize their editors' names. That’s fine—you won’t lose points.
"Dear Editor" comes across as respectful and professional. It's a universally recognized greeting that will put you on the right path from the get-go.
You Don't Need a Lengthy "Hook"
If you’ve ever queried a publisher about a novel, you know that snagging their attention is key. Publishers get hundreds of manuscripts, and you must ensure that yours will stand out from the pack.
Literary magazines are different. The pieces being submitted are shorter, and the editors are often volunteers rather than paid employees and, therefore, have less time to devote to the effort. So, the focus here isn't on dazzling the editor with a fancy hook but instead on introducing your work in a direct, unpretentious manner.
Think of your query letter as the understated emcee at a poetry reading, not the slam poet commanding the spotlight. Its job is to subtly guide the editor's attention to the main event—your story or poem—rather than stealing the show itself.
So, no need for over-the-top, theatrical introductions. A simple presentation of your piece's title, genre, and word count will do.
I know it feels counterintuitive, especially when you're undoubtedly excited to talk about your work. But simplicity is the best approach here. Let your work do the talking, and let your query letter be the quiet, respectful introduction. This approach tells the editor that you believe in your work and are confident enough to let it shine on its own merit.
You’re Allowed to Be Brief
Navigating the thin line between oversharing and undersharing in a query letter can be tricky. But fear not, aspiring writer. Your aim here is to balance being professional and being you.
Let's talk about the length of your letter first. Remember, brevity is your best friend. Your letter should not read like a lengthy essay; it should be concise, efficient, and focused.
While your work is a testament to your imagination and creativity, the query letter reflects your professional persona. It's like your business card but in the form of a letter. It's an opportunity to present yourself as a serious and committed writer.
Stick to facts. Avoid narrating your personal saga or writing a comprehensive critique of your work. Instead, focus on presenting your piece and why it fits the magazine well. Remember, it's not about being cold or distant but valuing the editor's time.
We’ve already mentioned that a catchy first line can harm rather than help your cause.
So, here’s a plug-and-play opening that gets the job done:
Please consider my [word count]-word [short story/poem/essay] [“Title”] for consideration in your next issue.
Seriously. That’s it.
There are two other critical components to your letter, and they’re equally easy-peasy, but we’ll address them further down.
Also, just a quick note here about plugging and playing. You might be tempted to create a template query letter and then copy and paste it into a new email (I use the terms ‘email’ and ‘letter’ interchangeably because 99.9% of magazines require electronic submissions).
This is fine . . . but beware. All it takes is failure to change one editor name or key detail, and the person reading your query will immediately know you are copying and pasting information. It’s a common and even understandable error . . . but it looks really bad.
You Need to Include Your Bio
Let's chat about the bio, fellow writer. This portion of your query letter is a small window into your world as a storyteller and person. It's a compact showcase of your writing journey and accomplishments. Have you been published before? Do you have any notable writing accolades? Include them! Your bio should radiate your pride in your craft.
But what if your writing resume is still a blank canvas waiting to be filled with publications? Don't fret. Embrace the current chapter of your writing life and share what fuels your passion for writing or the inspiration behind your submitted piece. You can still sound professional while sharing what is important to you as an author.
Mainly, your bio is a testament to your commitment to writing. It’s your chance to communicate your dedication and enthusiasm, regardless of where you are in your writing journey.
Also—and you should be picking up on a theme here—keep it simple. Three lines tops. Remember, the time they spend reading your letter is time they could be spending reading your work.
Conclude with a Short Thank-You
Always end your query letter with an expression of gratitude. A short, sincere note thanking the editor for taking the time to consider your work. It's a small touch that shows respect for their effort and dedication to reading through submissions.
Like I said before, editors sift through piles of submissions, often in their own time. Recognizing their work in your closing remarks can set a positive tone and leave a favorable impression. Therefore, remember to keep it brief and sincere—no need for extravagant expressions of gratitude or over-the-top flattery. A simple "Thank you for considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you" will suffice.
Need More Literary Magazine Query Advice?
This post has a lot of good stuff, but if you’re new to the world of literary magazine submissions, you might need to talk more about the topic. You might be wondering how to find places to send your writing or how to know which ones are the best choices. Then there’s stuff like “simultaneous submissions” and themed issues and length—all important considerations that were outside the scope of this post.
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