The first line of your query letter is the most important line you’ll write. If you capture the reader’s interest with the first line, your chances of selling your article will improve dramatically. Every writer should take at least a little time to study copywriting and sales letters, because a query letter is essentially a sales letter. You are attempting to sell an article by writing a custom sales letter to a single potential publisher.
The best way to start off a query letter is to treat the first line like it was the headline for your article. Center it above the rest of the text and make it as provocative as possible. Try to match the style of your target publication when you write the headline. Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day are both publications aimed at women, but their style and content are different. In most cases, you would want to write a different headline for your query letter if you were pitching it to one magazine rather than the other.
Beyond being provocative, the headline should give the editor some idea of the format and style of your article. For example, “Ten Ways to Smash Christmas Debt” would clearly be a list article while, “Do You Blow Your Christmas Budget?” could be a list but sounds more like a quiz or a series of questions and answers. Here are some provocative headlines from recent articles on the web. Note that the style of headline matches the style of the publication. Also remember that I am discussing the headlines, not the content of the articles.
- Beat the Holiday or Financial Blues: 9 Tips for Making Yourself Happier in the Next 30 Minutes — Zen Habits
- How to Deal with Cranks, Flamers and Trolls — Men with Pens
- I Got Off My Ass and Did It –Â Someday Syndrome
- What Freelancers Can Learn From The Dog Whisperer — Beyond the Rhetoric
- The 10 Free Resources Every Writer Needs — Write to Done
- When witnesses take over the news — BuzzMachine
- Doctors Observe First Known Case of Sleep E-Mailing — Techcult
- What Do Prostitutes and Rice Have in Common? — Freakonomics
- Social Media Bought My Car — Remarkablogger
After your headline, consider writing a subhead that provides additional information and clarity. A headline that is meant to attract attention is not always as informative as it is provocative. The subhead gives you a chance to explain the content of your proposed article. You want to capture the editor’s attention, and then you want to give them the essential flavor of your article before you move on to the meat of your query.