This may seem like a no-brainer, but this oversight costs writers—and editors who read them—valuable time. If you needed a new transmission for your car, you wouldn’t drive around town for an hour looking for a mechanic only to arrive at one who only did oil changes.
That hour is only a fraction of the time it takes most writers to develop an article and to write a compelling query, but you get the picture: Don’t waste your valuable time focused on things that have little or no possibility of success.
It’s fairly easy to find out all the pertinent information about a publication before you query it. Find out how often it publishes, what specific types of articles it normally includes and how often—if ever—it publishes freelance writers. Each of these will play a pivotal role in how you query the publication.
Many people peruse a writer’s guide and come up with dozens of publications to query without taking the time to determine if a particular publication fits their specific query.
For example, over the years I’ve worked for several religiously-themed publications and have received countless queries that would in no way be appropriate for us. It’s obvious that the sender didn’t even take five minutes—or in some cases one minute—to determine if the query he was mass-sending to publications was appropriate for each one. It’s the shotgun approach: send out as many queries as possible and hopefully one sticks.
This rarely works. It also puts a bad taste in an editor’s mouth and can make further querying from that person even more difficult. If an editor receives several unsuitable queries from a particular person, she is likely to block that person’s email or just delete every email that person sends without ever reading it.
By determining the basics of each publication, the writer can tailor the query to fit the specific needs of the publication and its audience. Some argue that you should read several back issues of a publication before you query them. That’s fine and certainly is helpful.
However, most writers don’t have that kind of time. Do your best to familiarize yourself with the publication through perusing its website and conducting Google searches for the name of the publication and your topic—to determine if it has previously done something along the same lines as you are proposing.
Find out from a writer’s guide if the publication uses freelance writers and how often. Some writers will go through the effort of composing a query and sending it to a publication without checking to see if it even uses freelancers.
Also, some publications will use freelancers but only on assignment or only those with significant clips to their name. By determining this simple requirement, you can save a lot of time, energy and emotional well-being.
Finally, determine the frequency of publication for each magazine/journal you query.
When I was at Decision magazine, we published 11 times a year (we had a combined
June/July issue). We also worked seven months ahead of schedule.
So, if it’s June and you are querying the magazine, we are already working on articles for the January issue. So that means if your article has a seasonal focus or in some way is more suitable for a certain time of year, then you need to be mindful of this when sending your query.
This can also serve as an advantage for the prepared writer.
If your query relates to the importance of fathers, sending it several months ahead of Father’s Day can give you a head start on other freelancers who are hoping to query on the same topic.
Knowing the publication you are querying can also earn you points with the editor.
If you are a regular or committed reader of the publication, don’t just say “I’m a committed reader of The North Shore Review.” Show the editor that you’re a committed reader by referencing a previous article in the publication and how that might relate to your query.
This isn’t a necessity, but if you have the ability to tie your query into something previously published—without it being the same type of article—mention it and demonstrate your knowledge to the editor. Things like this can only help; they rarely hurt.
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