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Chapter 9 Querying and Related Issues

Chapter nine topics
  • Querying and related issues
  • Why you should query
  • Writing the query letter
  • The query is three parts
  • How to get guidelines from online Content Sites
  • Multiple submissions (subs)
  • Notification of sales
  • Following up on queries
  • CHAPTER 9 - Querying & related issues
The way you sell your work is by writing a query letter.
This is the single most important piece of writing you'll do because it is your
  1. Introduction to the editor
  2. Sales pitch
  3. Resume
Only in exceptional circumstances should it exceed one single-spaced page.
Why you should query
B.J. Lawry, former editor and freelance writer explains it well in her article, The Difficulty of Getting Published (c)
"Having been a managing editor of a nationally circulated, monthly print magazine, I'll tell you what goes on in an editorial office. First of all, a publisher is in business to make money.
"Therefore, his staff is going to be as small as he can possibly make it and what naturally follows is that the pay is going to be as small as he can make it, too.
"My day started before 8 a.m. if I wanted to make it to the lunchroom for a cup of coffee that I could, at least then, carry to my desk. An editor doesn't sit down to a clean desk. Sometime during the night, notes have been left -- the printer needs you to call him before 9; the publisher will be out of town until Thursday, take his calls; delivery of such-and-such is delayed until next week, etc.
"Before 8:30, the mail arrives. It's always a stack, at least 30 or 40 pieces. It's been gone through by no one except the receptionist who has received it and gas slit each piece open to save you time.
"Half or more of the mail is garbage. You know that but you still have to go painstakingly through it, just in case. Some of it is checks that must be passed on to the accounting department. The rest is manuscripts, none of them solicited. Solicited mail usually comes by courier, by fax, hand-delivery by the author or by some other special means.
"By now, the phone has started to ring, the daily meeting of department heads is at 10 and will last until lunchtime. Each department head leaves the meeting with at least one directive: Cut costs.
"After an industrial lunch in the company "cafe," you go back to the stack of manuscripts on your desk, which has been added to the stack you've received already and have not been able to wade through, and the stack has now grown to at least two feet in height. You turn them upside down and work from the bottom.
"Beside them, you place the preprinted rejection notes that you'll clip to each so that your secretary can ship them back to the authors before the day is through.
"What you find is amazing. There truly will be a couple of manuscripts with coffee stains. There will be others that are written in longhand (believe it or not). Still others will just be so unprofessionally presented that you'll suspect the writer of not checking his facts or committing libel against a lost lover. Some will have notes attached.
"These are just a couple that I remember: "My mother is a good friend of the publisher." (That one immediately goes into the reject pile.) "Please publish my story. You don't even have to pay me." (Poor thing. He/she has been working so hard and you know the difficulties, but this is an amateur.
"You don't have time or money for amateurs. But you give it a once-over; you might be discovering a new talent. One hundred percent of the time, it ends up in the reject pile, too.)
"What's left are possibilities. Maybe two out of fifty. They'll sit in a special "in" basket for further consideration -- yours, the publisher's, maybe even the accounting department will have a say. So the manuscript will sit there for two or three months. After all, it's not something you've asked for to fit into the themes you've planned for the next six months.
"The writer waits. You know the writer is waiting, and that preys on your gut but there's nothing you can do about it. Finally, the decision is made: The manuscript just doesn't fit within the realm of possibility -- theme, cost, etc. So it goes back.
"The rejection has nothing to do, in these cases, with the quality of the writing or by any stretch with the quality of the writer. It just can't be bought, no matter how hard you, as an editor, have fought for it. The writer may get a printed rejection with a hand-written note: "Try again," "Sorry, just not for us" -- your way of telling him/her that you tried but forces greater than you made the final decision.
"The writer's life is a cold life. It's a lonely life with no one to share the pain of yet another rejection. But if it means enough to try again, try. Just don't quit your day job. bj. ~~
Use book search at for BJ Lawry's books, Desert Heat and Dance Lesson and Other Stories. ###

Writing the query letter
When e-mailing to an editor always, always put the query, article, invoice, or whatever in plain text in the body of an email. Never send an attachment unless specifically asked to do so. Always send it in the format that was requested. If no format was specified, then ask. It is also a good idea to ask the editor what computer operating platform s/he's on: PC, MAC, Unix, etc.

The query is three parts
  1. The lead. Get the editor's attention. *No "I would like to write an article on...." or he won't go any further. The editor's daily grind is is "open, read, reject" as many query letters as possible, finding only a few "useable nuggets." You have to have a really catchy opening to get the editor to continue to read instead of tossing yours into the reject pile.
  2. Elaborate: Introduce the topic, what you will say, what the benefit is. One sentence should cover the preview and show the benefit. This is the age of "service journalism" -- the goal is to reward the reader for the time spent reading. You may offer a headline (editors would rather you came up with a title); word count. Write short. If Writer's Market says they use 1000-3000 word articles, offer 1000 if you're new to them. They're more likely to try a new writer on a shorter piece.
  3. Resume: Why are you the person to write this? Write what you know. Once you have many clips, the editor will trust you. Don't sell yourself short. Only put in things that will make the editor say yes. If you don't have any credits, skip this point. (Don't say, "this will be my first article", etc.)
Always address a specific editor.  Landing an assignment boils down to finding that editor who shares your sensibilities.

If you spell out everything in your query letter -- your topic, your approach, an outline, your sources -- editors know what they will get when they give you the go-ahead to write the piece. The more complete your query, the better your chance for a sale. However, don't elaborate so much the editor can assign a staffer to write it!

How to get guidelines from online Content Sites
Here's an example of how to approach the site owner. Send an email saying,
"I am a freelance writer who specializes in (Blah, blah - the topic you've chosen to write about.) Do you accept submissions from freelance writers? If so, could you email a copy of your writers' guidelines to me at: (your e-addy.)"
Multiple submissions (subs)
Here's a sample of what you must tell editors when you submitted manuscripts simultaneously to different magazines:
"Although I believe this story will find its' best outlet in (Whatever Magazine) because the information is important to so many (xxx), I am also submitting the story idea to other non-competing magazines. I look forward to hearing from you in the enclosed SASE at your earliest convenience."
Professionalism is respected, as is promptness on both ends of querying and sales.

Notification of sales
Immediately e-mail, snailmail, or phone the other publications you submitted a manuscript to for the same article saying,
"You know that article you've been hanging onto, ("titled xxx") I just sold it to (xxx magazine) so I must withdraw it from you."
*Absolute rule: Articles will not be sold to publications with overlapping circulations. But, what if a e-Zine picks you up? In theory, it has a universal circulation. What then?

Question: I am sending a query to a magazine. In the course of working onthe article I was hit by another idea that was also suitable for this publication. They are actually very different from one another. If I send two queries, should I send them in the same envelope or in two. Which looks more professional?

Answer: I would definitely send them separately. Each query needs to be sent to the correct editor who handles that section of the magazine. If you are sending five queries to the same editor, IMO, you could send them in one envelope provided that you enclosed the SASE's for each one.

Think of querying this way. Good Housekeeping, has many editors who are in charge of various aspects of the magazine. So if you were to send an article to one editor and enclose the other queries that are not under her jurisdiction, she would then have to forward each editor their respective queries. Would you want to be her? How will you know the correct editor received it?
Following up on queries
I don't always follow-up on queries. If I do, I follow the guidelines to find out when. If they say they respond within three months, then I follow up at just about that mark. With the follow up, I basically immediately state what I am following up (title and date submitted), enclosing a copy of the original query, and say that I'm "excited" about doing a story on ....blah blah subject matter and hope you'll have time to respond to the query I sent.

  1. Write a query letter to the editor of each of three magazines you have targeted for your story idea. Tip: To do this, you'll decide on THEME, SLANT, STYLE. Offer, in your query letter, to HELP the editor's readers ENJOY learning about your topic. Make use of the publications style and jargon.
  2. Write a make-believe follow up to the query letter you wrote earlier.
Advice FromThe Pros:

4-1, Active Voice or Passive Voice:

4-2, Grammar Tutor Online:
4-3, Improving the Query Letter:

4-4, The Internet - Your Road To Successful Writing and Marketing:

4-5, Writers and Networking:

4-6, The 'Rights' You Market:

Next, Chapter 10 - Manuscript Preparation:

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