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Cool Advice from Hot Editors about Queries
by Beth Fowler

Don't send another query until you've read this roundup of advice from editors.

According to the editors I interviewed, freelancers are irritating editors with lukewarm queries. Queries that lower an editor's opinion of a writer can kill potential sales.

Number One Gripe: Many editors echoed Francesca Kelly of Tales from a Small Planet (www.talesmag.com), when she said, "Know my publication and read the writers' guidelines." Poorly targeted queries expose a writer's careless work habits.

"Don't send me queries on subjects I don't publish," advised Dan Case of Writing for Dollars! (www.writingfordollars.com). "It's obvious those authors haven't read our newsletter nor our writer's guidelines."

Kim Lisi of HOMEBusiness Journal (www.HOMEBusinessJournal.net), said that potential contributors gain an understanding of the type and style of articles a magazine publishes by reading back issues or viewing archived articles at the magazine's website.

Kim went on to say, "HOMEBusiness Journal targets home-based entrepreneurs. Writers who submit queries on topics such as 'Combating Office Politics' and 'Is Your Boss A Jerk?' (pretty funny when you consider our readers are self-employed) prove they're ignorant regarding the type of editorial submissions we're looking for."

Karen Schmitt, a freelance editor based in Taiwan, said, "I appreciate a writer that is sensitive to the publication's demographics and submits a story that targets readership. It makes everything a whole lot easier for everyone."

Don't Pester Editors: After assurance of anonymity, an editor of an international magazine told me, "We're busy and we'll get back to you when we can. We remember the names of people that have bothered us and it's not in a good way."

Pat Samples from The Phoenix is more likely to show interest and give time to writers and their work if they have shown respect for Pat's (and readers' time). She added, "Don't put me on your e-mail distribution list."

After a vacation Marcia Buckingham returned to Denlinger's Publishers (www.thebookden.com) to combat a deluge of 800 e-mails. She begged writers to hold off sending e-mails.

Anna Genoese, acquisitions editor at Tor Books (www.tor.com), said, "If an editor says she will get back to you in two months, give her a few more weeks. I don't want to work with someone who's always asking, 'When are you going to do me?'"

Busy editors appreciate writers who resist the urge to ask about the status of queries until a reasonable period has passed, who send in their best work the first time (as opposed to submitting minor changes and revisions after the piece was accepted) and who don't ask questions that are answered in submission guidelines.

E-mail Etiquette: "Don't think that because you're querying by e-mail, you don't have to be polite." Patricia Linderman, (Tales from a Small Planet), bristles at messages like "Hi! Thought you might like to read this!" with a link to an essay on the writer's website. Patricia is "not inspired to use my limited time to follow up."

Too many writers put "submission" or "query" in e-mail subject lines. When an editor wants to locate that e-mail later, but it's buried in tons of other e-mails with identical subject lines, wellÂ… "It helps if the subject is what the article is really about," Francesca said. Travel writers who type "buying pottery in Belize," or "Korean street food," for example, in subject lines make e-mail editor-friendly.

Editors are reluctant to open attachments that come without an introduction in the body of the e-mail. "As our e-mail volume gets higher," one editor warned, "I'll just delete these."

Patricia summarized the editors' perspective on e-mail etiquette. "I expect writers to present the same information they would in a written query letter: who they are, what they've written and why they think their work fits our publication." Visit http://www.fau.edu/netiquette/netiquette.html for more info on etiquette.

An Exemplary Query: The basic components of a solid query comprise a salutation to the editor by name, an introductory paragraph establishing familiarity with the publication, and the topic of the proposed article. The second section summarizes (tantalizingly) the gist of the article. Next come the author's qualifications to write about the topic, and then relevant publishing credits are listed. A polite final line and signature round out the letter.

Editors will give a query containing the basic elements, as this one does, two thumbs up.

"Dear Francesca Kelly:

I've been an enthusiastic fan of Tales from a Small Planet for three years. I feel that the attached essay, in Rich Text Format, about everything going hilariously wrong during a scuba diving expedition in Bali captures the right tone for your magazine.

As an expat living in Bali, I want to stress that this essay isn't a tourist travelogue, but a real glimpse of what local life is like where I live. Using incidents from my own experience, I'll show how foreigners can go hopelessly astray without someone local to help them.

Going Places, Destinations and Islands Ho! have published my articles.

I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience."

An actual query should also include the author's first and last names and all contact information. These can be automatically inserted in e-mails with the signature function. "I'm always impressed when a writer provides several contact numbers and addresses and welcomes a chat every now and then," Karen said.

Â…Furthermore: "Include your byline on the article you submit," said Mark Berriman (New Vegetarian and Natural Health, www.veg-soc.org.)

Don't send me articles full of grammatical errors and misspellings," Dan Case reminded authors.

"Nothing's more refreshing for an editor than to read a query that takes him completely by surprise," Betsy Lerner wrote in The Forest for the Trees: Editor's Advice to Writers (www.booksnbytes.com/reviews/lerner_forestforthetrees.html).

Our expat in Taiwan agreed: "I like a twist. I like to guess. I love surprises, especially when stories involve mundane topics."

In How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters, (http://www.writersstore.com) John Wood wrote that queries should be professional, novel, provocative and creative, focused and customized. Authors should show they are reliable and qualified.

Follow editors' advice and their positive replies to your hot queries will grow.

© Copyright 2003, Beth Fowler

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