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Submitting to Success
by Deborah Clark

Every writer wants to be published. Several writer friends bemoan the fact that they are seldom in print. When I ask them why, they elaborate. Whenever they have an idea, they write the piece then send the completed manuscript to a publication they think will accept it. Then they ask me how I manage to be so prolific.

I tell them that I use query letters to generate interest in my ideas. I set a monthly goal of how many queries I am going to send out to new markets. There is no magic formula. When I first started out I decided, arbitrarily, that I would send out four. Out of these four, I often received one acceptance, usually on speculation. Now I send out ten and my rate is closer to eight, usually half are still on speculation. But there is no magic number. I know that it is not because I am sending out ten rather than four, that my numbers are up. It is simply because I have been doing it for three years and have gotten better at writing the queries and judging the markets' needs. I have learn the value of asking for guidelines, studying back issues and watching for trends.

Often my friends declare they have never sent queries, or that queries are a waste of time and money. I point out that a standard query letter is more cost effective than sending a complete manuscript by snail mail. A complete manuscript needs a more expensive, over-sized envelope. It still needs a cover letter, tearsheets and a return envelope. The weight of the package alone would require additional postage and the cost increases again because of the envelope size. In contrast, a landline query requires two business sized envelopes, a #9 for returns and a #10 to mail the package, the tearsheets and the query letter itself. All of this for the cost of two first class stamps. Best of all, when guidelines are requested, they will outline editorial requirements. Nothing is more aggravating than having a piece returned with the comment "Great content. But too long/wrong focus for our needs." Electronic queries are even easier. A quick note to an editor's email address asking whether the publication accepts electronic queries often nets a set of guidelines with the response. Otherwise, electronic queries are the same as snail queries.

Submitting a complete manuscript via email is fraught with pitfalls. Some on-line publications have very specific formats or text requirements. Few accept attachments. Not following formats can cause your email to be deleted without being read. Incorrectly formatted or submitted manuscripts can wreak havoc on the publication's computer system. There have even been instances where such submissions have crashed the system. Not the impression a writer wants to make on an editor.

But, what if the guidelines say to submit only complete manuscripts? Personally, I like to query first anyway. It saves a lot of exertion, especially with non-fiction pieces. If I have never submitted to the publication, or editor, before I use a modified query. I use the hook, inform the editor of the inclusion of the completed manuscript and pitch several other ideas as well. Often, I get a follow-up on one of the other ideas, although the submitted manuscript was declined.

Another areas my friends ask me about is multiple submissions. Writers are told the editors abhor multiple submissions. They have good reason in most cases. No one wants to begin planning to include a piece, only to be told that a competitor has just picked it up. My spin on multiple submissions is simple. I never send query letters about the same idea to competing markets unless the information is time sensitive. I do send many queries to non-competing markets for the same idea, just with different slants. When I think that the markets may overlap. I will make each editor aware that another publication also has been contacted about the same idea.

But what it all boils down to is wanting to get your work out into the marketplace, then following the path that leads to the goal. Query letters are the most cost effective way to become published. Editors get a snapshot of your idea and examples of your abilities packages together in a quick read format. A one page format is a much faster read than a twenty page manuscript, and more likely to elicit a positive response. But even when the response is negative, queries return to the sender more quickly than a completed manuscript.

So, brush up on the postal rates, decide on a quota and watch the responses roll in. Eventually, as you obtain guidelines, learn to read the markets more critically and hone your query letters, you will generate more acceptances than rejections. Then all that's left is to write the articles.

© Copyright 1998, Deborah Clark

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