Not long ago, freelance writers had visions of no stamps, no self-addressed stamped envelopes, and no prepaid reply postcards. They also wished that someday they wouldn’t have to use 25 percent rag-content ivory stock for your query, contained on a single page surrounded by one-inch margins. Their dreams came true with the advent of electronic mail, commonly known as Email.
Email had the potential of liberating freelance writers from these hallowed but time-consuming and expensive procedures. Though the majority of queries still arrived by regular mail, the electronic query would soon become standard.
But just as Email has done nothing to elevate the art of direct-to-consumer advertising, neither has it made queries any better. If anything, bad E-queries are even more annoying to editors than bad paper queries. If you do anything with Email, you know how aggravating spam can be in your own inbox, so you know how editors feel about inappropriate queries.
First rule of E-queries is not to send them unless you know the editor wants them. Believe it or not, an editor of an online e-zine refused to accept E-queries. Now how ridiculous is that? Don’t assume that all editors are fine with E-queries. If they’re under 30, they probably are, but those over 30 have the same problem as everyone else in that age category—they learned about computers after they were set in their ways. So check marketing directories to find out which editors are okay with E-queries before you send them.
Even if an editor accepts E-queries, it won’t be through his or her personal Email address. Search out their business Email or, better yet, find out if the publication has a special address just for E-queries. Do a search on Google for the publication’s name and go to their site for explicit instructions.
So what should an E-query contain? If you’ve sent paper queries by regular mail, you already know. What most people, especially writers, don’t realize is that the “electronic” in Email refers to the delivery system, not the format or content. In fact, you could send a copy of a one-page query you did previously, and an editor would receive it in exactly the same way. In either case, the editor looks at the content to see if he or she has recently run an article on this topic and then replies to let you know if you should send it.
The abbreviated message most often seen in Emails got its start with college students who saw Email as a way to defy the rules of letter writing and composition. So over time, everyone adopted this form and consequently some messages became almost unintelligible. Remember, an E-query is an electronic form of a business letter and must be professionally written and formatted.
Start by placing the proposed title of your article in the subject line. Then place your name, address, and phone number—both home and cell—in the upper right corner. Be sure to only use initial capitals, as anything else will be viewed as spam. The body of your Email query should be exactly the same as the body of your paper one, including the date, salutation and signature. It’s okay to just type your name in the signature line, but if you can create a signature using a script font in your word processing program, you can use it. Create this once and save it for future use
Keep the length of your E-query the same as your paper query. In fact, you may find it easier to write your query in your word processor, then copy and paste it into your Email. Remember, your main points still need to include why this topic will interest the publication’s readers, why you're the best person to write about it, how you'll develop the article, and when you'll be able to deliver it and with what kind of artwork or photography.
As with paper queries, use a block paragraph format and close by asking the editor if he or she is interested.
Response times tend to be faster with E-queries than with paper ones, because it's easier to respond. Some publications will acknowledge receipt of your E-query within a day. If you haven't heard back within a month, you should feel free to make a politely-worded inquiry as to whether the editor received your query and include a copy in case it wasn't.
The main difference between a paper query and an E-query is how you handle clips. While you would include copies of recent clips with your paper query, you’ll have to send them as attachments with your E-query. Scan each clip, saving it as a JPEG image file. Be sure the image is large enough for the editor to read. Then attach it to your E-query. Don’t send more than three clips as attachments. Be selective and send your best ones that are on the same topic as your proposed article or a related one.
Lastly, just as with paper queries, keep a record of the E-queries you have out, including the date sent and to whom, so that you can follow up on ones that for which you haven’t received replies.