Know it or Blow it: Querying a Publication

Know the Publication’s Guidelines

The easiest way to find out what a publication wants is to let them tell you. Many publications post their writer’s guidelines on their web site. If you can’t find the guidelines on the web, contact one of the editors and ask for them to email or snail mail you the guidelines. don’t be afraid to call or email for more information.

A publication directory such as Writer’s Market can be helpful for your initial search, but don’t rely on them for all of your information. Any number of things can change between the publication of those listings and the day you decide to send your query.

Not only do writer’ guidelines tend to address content issues, but they can also tell you what format the publication prefers their submissions in. One publication may want you to email them a text file, another might want you to send a paper copy and a third may want you to upload a Microsoft Word file. You won’t know if you don’t do the research.

Sample Guidelines:
Clarkesworld
The Writer
Smithsonian

Know who the publication’s editors are

Knowing the right person to send your query to is one of the little details that can make a big difference when you are trying to make a sale. If you query the wrong person, any of a number of bad things can happen. The person who receives it might dismiss your query and throw it away because it isn’t what they are looking for. The person who receives it may know who should get it and plan to give it to them, but never get around to doing so. If your query does finally get to the right person, they may hold the fact that it was addressed to the wrong person against you.

Always take the time to find out who the right recipient for your query is. Check the publication’s masthead (a listing of editors and other staff) for the latest information.  Don’t be afraid to call or email to confirm your choice.

Sample mastheads:
Boston Magazine
Seventeen
Cosmopolitan

Know the publication’s editorial calendar

In addition to writer’s guidelines, many publications have an editorial calendar that covers such things as publication lead times, deadlines for holiday or seasonal items and upcoming special editions or subject focuses.

Many publications dedicate issues to a single topic or maintain an ongoing series for several issues. Knowing what a publication is looking for and when they are looking for it can give you a serious advantage over the competition. When you request submission guidelines, be sure to request the editorial calendar as well.

Sample Editorial Calendars
Alaska Airlines
Chicago Magazine
Bass Angler

Know the publication, front to back

Don’t assume you know what a publication wants just because you have read their writer’s guidelines. The proper way to research a publication is to read it. Get your hands on a copy of the publication (the more copies the better). Check the publication’s website.

You don’t have to read every word of every article, but take the time to get familiar with the different sections and the general writing style. Writing styles can vary widely from one publication to the next. Be sure that what you are proposing fits in well with the publication’s approach to content and style.

Know how to write a query letter

Your query letter needs to demonstrate both the quality of your idea and the quality of your writing. Additionally, it should demonstrate that you know how to follow the publication’s submission guidelines. Many editors receive dozens of queries each month. For major publishers, the number of queries can climb into the hundreds.

This may seem intimidating, but the number of queries that are actually well-written and well thought out is quite small. Most queries are terrible. They are badly written, inappropriate or fail to follow the publication’s guidelines. It is easy to rise above the crowd if you know what you are doing and you are willing to make a genuine effort to create quality query.

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2 thoughts on “Know it or Blow it: Querying a Publication

  1. Great tips. Can you be a little more specific about reading the masthead to identify the correct person to send a query letter to? Generally speaking, what should their title be?

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