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Query Letter Surrealism…A Candidate for the Slush Pile Hall of Fame November 9, 2007

Posted by emsgeiss in writing/editing/blogging.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

or What Not to Write: An Editor’s Rant 

Query letters, as any writer knows, is how you get past the gatekeepers, how you present yourself before any editor has had a chance to read your work.  A bad query letter is bound to keep your work in the slush pile, no matter how fabulous your work might actually be. 

Yesterday, I received a terrifically horrid query e-mail from someone seeking an advertising copy writing position with my magazine theWAHMmagazine. Not that we’re seeking advertising copy writers, but even if we were, this is one letter that was bound for the slush pile hall of fame. 

Here’s why.

Here is the letter, as copied and pasted, with the name altered for the sake of preserving the poor soul’s identity: (The line numbers are my additions and are discussed after.)

1. Hi,
2. I am a well experienced Advertising Copywriter. I can provide quality service for
3. writing Articles, Web-content, Blog, Press release, Copy-for Advertising, Script for TV 4. commercial and Cinema, Newsletter, Brochure, Poster, Corporate Slogans…and
5. More…
6. I am keen to know more about your requirement.
7. An immediate response will be immensely appreciated.
8. XYZ

Big Mistake Number 1: Overall General Commentary:  
This is clearly a general form letter, written by someone using the “cast the wide net and see what I get” approach. Such a tactic is not endearing to editors. It shows that there isn’t even one iota of interest in the publication, at least not enough interest to find out to whom the letter should be addressed and how the person’s services can match the mission and style of the company.

Big Mistake Number 2/line 1:
Never, never, NEVER (yes, I’m yelling) start a letter to someone that you do not know and hope will employ you with “Hi!” How about To Whom It May Concern, or Dear Editor, or should you actually take the time to find out who is on the editorial staff, “Dear Mr./Ms. Surname”? Is that so hard? 

Big Mistake Number 3/line 2: Sure, you say you’re experienced, but are you really? If you are so “experienced” running spell check at the very least would have been among your priorities before sending off your e-mail.  I’m not impressed with the funky misuse of plurals. Wait, there aren’t any, are there? Ah, yes…there’s one “Slogans.” I’ve got a slogan….

Big Mistake Number 4/lines 2-3: Misuse of capitalization and plurals.  On one hand, given the strange syntax, I can tell that this was a poorly translated letter from another language into English. And because of the capitalization of nouns, I’m thinking maybe German to English…but wait, no, the verbs are in the correct locations for English sentence structure. What gives?  Here is a little word to the wise: Dear foreign aspiring writers, do not pedal peddle your services unless you have a truly fluent command of the language in which the publication that you seek to work for is written. (This goes for Americans soliciting their services abroad as well.)

Big Mistake Number 5/lines 2-5: A query letter should not sound like ad copy, even if you are seeking a position writing ad copy. Just don’t do it. It’s not clever. It’s not cute. It’s annoying and unprofessional. It tells the editor nothing, absolutely nothing about your skills or why you should be hired. No, let me correct myself. It tells the editor everything about why not to hire you.

Big Mistake Number 6/line 6:Nowhere in any job postings about the magazine, does it say that we are seeking copy writers. Again, this is a tip that the letter is a generic one, and that the person writing the query letter just wants a job and isn’t really interested in a job with our magazine.

Big Mistake Number 7/line 7: Do not demand that the editor respond immediately. Most writers know that querying is part waiting game. Editors try to reply as soon as possible, but it’s not easy. The blatant disregard and disrespect for an editor’s time and the pure arrogance of assuming that we should somehow respond to them “immediately” as if there were no other queries before theirs as exemplified in this correspondence, is just a big, old turnoff.

Big Mistake Number 8/line 8: Um…who? You just write your initials? Who does that? Not to mention, there isn’t even a proper closing or contact information?  Sure, I could just hit “reply,” but how am I supposed to actually address the person? Dear XYZ?  (Those aren’t the actual initials of the person, but initials and only initials were used.)

So the moral of this mildly uncensored rant, is to show how the query letter is the vehicle that separates the wheat from the chaff, long before an editor even gets to the heart of your writing.

If at the very least, you avoid these eight irritating query letter mistakes, you may find yourself one step further away from the slush pile.



1. Helena - November 9, 2007

Your statement above, “do not pedal your services … ” should have been “peddle”. 😉

2. emsgeiss - November 9, 2007

Oops! Gotta love spell check! 😉 Thanks!

3. Dawn Allcot - November 10, 2007

I’m with you, I don’t think English is their native language. It might not be a translation, but the writer is definitely not fluent.

Why would a magazine require an advertising copywriter anyway? LOL

At least you got a query letter.In paintball, sometimes I get a sentence: “Hey, I’m gonna be at [insert game and field here]. Can I rite a story for u wile I’m their?” [sic]

Mind you, these are not from regular contributors, or people whose work I’m familiar with. And they’re not pitching well-known games at high-profile fields. “WHY? WHY should YOU (in particular) cover this specific game for me?” I want to shout into the computer.

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