How you open a query letter is crucial for your success as a freelance writer.
Editors are busy people. Unless you grab their attention right away they won’t read your query letter to the end and you won’t get the assignment.
You can capture an editor’s interest right away in a number of ways. Here are some time-tested methods. These methods work, whether you agree with them or find them “fair” or not:
1) Dive into the meat of your topic right away
In other words, don’t save the good juicy stuff to the end. Give it up right away for maximum impact. Once you stun the editor with the originality or significance of what you have to say, she will stay with you till the end of your query letter.
Until age 82 Lona Foster thought she was a woman. Then, thanks to an accident, she discovered she was not. This fascinating and incredible story came my way when I bumped into Ms./Mr. Foster at Chattahoochee Senior Center last summer and I’d like to share it with your readers …”
Did you know that Senirus Pretensis, also known as the Ceiling Bug, comes out from its underground nest only once in every nine years? And moreover that it’s mistaken for the common grasshopper and is cooked by some African farmers despite its deadly toxin? …”
2) Use hard-hitting numbers and statistics
Sometimes numbers tell a story like no words ever can. If you can come up with interesting statistics that would be an excellent way to arouse your editor’s curiosity and compel her to read your query letter to its very end.
68% of children born out of wedlock… 74% of adult men diagnosed with HIV/AIDS… 83% of women over the age of 56 raped at least once in their lives…
You say impossible? You wouldn’t if you lived in ABC, a regional tribal center in the heart of XYZ. My article “The Longest Shame” describes the fate of this community in striking details and color photographs …”
28 bullets a second is what the new 18 lbs Hoeckler submachine gun can fire, for 8.5 hours non-stop if need be, without jamming. The 8-men ROBG Special Forces Unit that ambushed an ABC camp last September used Hoecklers in their successful raid to release 56 prisoners without losing a single man.
This is their story as well as their miracle guns that saved the day…”
3) Use an emotional human-interest hook
If your article or book has a human-interest story that anyone can identify with then you can use it for your opener.
Here are some candidates: stories of redemption; love-lost-and-found; siblings and family members burying the hatchet and making peace after decades of warfare; a sick child getting well miraculously; stories of gratuitous kindness and altruism; stories of tremendous courage and self-sacrifice; someone lying for years in order to keep a secret in order not to hurt a vulnerable party; etc.
Janet was not the only 6 year old girl in Alamedy County who had leukemia. But, 40 years later, she became the only CEO in corporate America establishing a full-scholarship program for those college-age teenagers suffering from the same dreaded ailment…”
Found half-dead in a dumpster after being robbed and beaten savagely, Jimmy Goorandys could have filed charges and pursued his assailants. But he didn’t…
Instead, Mr. Goorandys enrolled in Highland Meadows Seminary to become a priest.
Ten years later he found his attackers, all at the end of their ropes, and converted them to a new way of life of success and riches beyond their wildest dreams.
I’ve interviewed Father Goorandys as well as five of his attackers during the last 3 months for my original article on this fascinating story…”