Plato and the Perfect Pitch – Elements of the Query Letter
The Greek philosopher Plato said that in any interaction in which we must appeal to someone else, there are three appeals we can use, Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Each represents a separate element of appeal, and each one of these also corresponds to the elements of a successful query letter.
Pathos – Appealing to the emotions and passions.
Whether it’s the title of your story, the opening paragraph or an eye catching graphic, the reader needs to be pulled in to read the whole of your article, and this is especially true of an editor. When a query letter goes before an editor, you have perhaps a sentence or two in which to grab their attention, snap them out of their current state, and get them interested in your article. This is done with a hook or lead.
In order for your article to see print, the editor has to not only consider it, they also have to like it. If they never consider it, you have zero chance of getting published or getting a paycheck. Thus, it is essential for you to arouse in them a passionate response – one that leads them to keep reading. Maybe it’s a major current event. Maybe it’s a shocking statistic. Perhaps it’s just a well worded question, or a clever quote. The bottom line is that you must initially catch their mind, and get them involved in your query.
Logos – Appealing to logic and reason.
Once they’ve begun to read your query, you need to then appeal to their sense of logic. Give them solid reasons to want your article. Explain what it’s about, why it’s a good fit for their magazine and why their readers will want to read it. Include information about your expert sources, include statistics, include anything that will logically convince the editor that this is a good idea and will be a great article for them.
Ethos – Appealing by way of credibility.
Lastly, once you’ve sold the idea of the article, you need to sell yourself as a writer. This begins the moment they open your letter. Is it cleanly organized? Is it well thought out? Is it free from spelling and grammatical errors? The overall professionalism of your query will say volumes about your level of professionalism as a writer.
Lastly, you need to include some information about yourself. What have you written before? Where have you been published? What qualifies you to write on this specific topic? The main thrust here is credibility. If an editor loves your article idea but you appear to be an untrained novice, your chances for publication are slim to none. You must convince the editor that you are the right person for the job, so act accordingly.