In this post are two query letter samples. The original query letter sample was written by a published travel writer invited on a 4-wheel cross-country tour across the mountainous Greek interior. The second query letter sample is my revised version.
I have the opportunity to review a lot of query letters written by
travel writers. Some of the writers I coach are beginners and some are already
Typically, my writers have little difficulty dreaming up good story ideas. It’s fun to see the different story angles they dream up.
But, conveying the
excitement of those story ideas in a query letter isn’t always as easy. In fact, it seems
to elude many writers until they get some experience by writing a few
To give you a brief synopsis, the cross-country tour for this query letter includes driving through valleys, past pristine lakes, monasteries, olive groves, cascading waterfalls, crossing streams and rivers. The tour group stays in small lodges and visits Delphi, the ancient center of the world. They visit old flour mills, eat the best Greek cuisine and drink robust Greek wines every night.
In other words, the trip of a lifetime! The catch is this travel writer needs an assignment in order to go on this journey. The pressure is on!
Here’s the original query letter:
This query letter sample shows that the travel writer did some research from the website of the adventure company that offers the trip to create this query letter. He fired it out to a number of likely candidates for which the story seemed like a good fit.
Unfortunately, there was no response.
After receiving no response with his query letter, the writer contacted me and asked me to review his query and give him some feedback.
After reading through the query it was clear to me that although the basic information about the trip was solid, the query letter lacked pizzazz.
In other words, it didn’t convey the excitement or the ‘oomph’ of the off-road odyssey.
So I got to work on it, and spiced it up to produce the following query letter sample which is the second query the writer sent out.
Here's your job - read both query letter samples and compare them. Then compare your notes with mine at the end of this article.
Here’s what I changed in the revised query letter sample, and what you can do to improve your queries:
1. Make your masthead look more like a professional business letter. Remember, this isn’t just an email to a friend - it’s a professional business letter. Do your best to make it look like one, even though it’s an email version of a letter.
2. Get straight to the point in the first sentence. Many writers like to do a little ‘dance’ first, circling around the topic, but not really stating it. By getting to the essence of the pitch in the first sentence, the editor will either reject it immediately, or read on. This seems counterintuitive, but you want the editor to make a quick decision.
I moved the writer’s initial lead-in
paragraph (from query letter sample 1) down to the 6th paragraph because
it didn’t address the story idea immediately. Then I used my Direct Pitch Technique in the first paragraph to catch the editor's attention.
3. Make your pitch flow. In query letter sample 2, I re-arranged the sentences to make the pitch flow better overall. It reads more like a story and gets the editor involved in seeing what the trip is all about.
4. Beef up the information about your journey. After looking at the adventure company’s website, it quickly became clear that the writer had not included enough ‘jam’ or juicy details about the journey.
I expanded the details about the journey from 3 paragraphs to 7 paragraphs in the second query letter sample. Now it’s juicy!
5. Spice up your descriptions. For example, “We’ll navigate rivers boiling with white water rapids” sounds a lot more exciting than “We cross streams and rivers waist deep in the water”.
The overall effect of this is to give the editor a sense of place and help the editor conjure
up pictures in his mind. Once you get an editor thinking like this,
These five tips will transform your query letters from good to great. Remember, your query letter is your one big chance to sell your story concept to the editor. You’re trying to paint a picture for the editor of what your story will look like.
By elaborating on the facts of the story, and making them flow better, you paint a higher resolution picture of the story and show greater depth. And the end result is a greater chance that the editor will pick up your story.
You’re probably wondering, did the writer successfully sell the story using my rewritten query letter (sample 2)? I told the writer to pitch exactly the same publications with his new query letter - and he did. It worked!
I’m happy to report that a prestigious, glossy adventure magazine that specializes in stories about off-road journeys accepted the story on spec—subject to the writer submitting a well-written article along with a gallery of suitable photographs.
Since the story will be about 2500-3000 words, at $100 per page his take-home pay will be $1000-$1200, depending on final length of the article. Snagging this assignment enabled the writer to go on an exciting adventure tour, write about it and get paid when the article is published, and add a prestigious byline to his portfolio.
My sincere thanks to the travel writer who
so graciously allowed me to share his original query letter with you for this learning experience.
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Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past ten years, he’s had more than 1000 articles published in 200 magazines, trade and specialty journals, in-flights, on-boards, blogs and websites and has traveled on assignment around the U.S. and to dozens of international destinations.