Queries and multiple submissions
Published: January 31, 2002
|How do I write a query letter? What do I need to include?|
A query is a letter, fax or e-mail to an editor "pitching" a story idea for his or her publication. It's also a way to introduce yourself and develop contacts. The letter should summarize the topic, demonstrate your professionalism and show how the topic would appeal to the publication's targeted market.
In addition to presenting your ideas, the query should describe your writing experience and include samples of your work. Explain to the editor why you are the best writer for this particular assignment. What experience do you have or what research have you done that makes you uniquely qualified?
Editors who indicate "queries not necessary" would rather see the entire piece and weigh its merits. This happens primarily with fiction or poetry submissions. Editors who "prefer queries" generally don't want to wade through an entire manuscript, because they already have stacks of them piled on their desks. They would rather read your letter and decide if your story idea suits the publication's needs. They also will look closely at your writing credentials.
"We use volunteer writers exclusively," explains Kathryn Sargent, editor of Aquarius magazine. "Their levels of expertise can vary, and reading a query letter is sometimes my first clue as to their levels of competency."
Unpublished writers may feel they need to submit a finished piece to demonstrate their capabilities. But you could write a great article and have it rejected because the publication ran something similar a month earlier, which is frustrating, says Eva Shaw in The Successful Writer's Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. "Writing a query could take you a few hours; writing an article could take you a few days or even a few weeks." The bottom line is "queries are cost effective," she writes. An editor may reject your idea but like your letter and samples enough to consider you for a future assignment.
"I like to find out what their interests are, as that tells me what kinds of assignments they may be interested in doing," says Sargent.
What is the general rule about multiple submissions to magazines?
The term "multiple submissions" refers to the practice of submitting the same idea or manuscript to more than one publication at a time. The advantage of multiple submissions is that you get your work out to more markets, which gives you more opportunities to get it published and make contact with editors.
On the down side, some editors may not want to work with you when they learn you've submitted your idea or manuscript elsewhere, especially if it's to a competitor. To avoid surprises, ask the editor up front how he or she feels about multiple submissions.
Many writers send simultaneous queries, but generally not the same manuscripts, to noncompeting markets, says Kelly James-Enger, a freelance writer whose work has been published in many consumer magazines.
"My rule of thumb is that it's OK to simultaneously pitch the same story idea to noncompeting markets. For example, I would never pitch the same idea to Woman's Day and Family Circle, but I might pitch a story on the hidden cause of fatigue to Woman's Day and Fitness, recasting the idea to suit each publication.
"If two magazines assign the piece, I write two completely different stories using new sources and quotes. You don't want either editor to feel shortchanged," she says.