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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
"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
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, well
"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
Going Places, Destinations and Islands
Ho! have published my articles.
I look forward to hearing from you at your
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.
Furthermore: "Include your byline on the
article you submit," said Mark Berriman (New Vegetarian and Natural
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
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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