What a freelancer should know before querying a magazine

Know the magazine’s submissions / writer’s guidelines

The easiest way to find out what a magazine wants is to let them tell you. Many magazines post their writer’s guidelines on their web site. If you can’t find them online, contact one of the editors and ask for them to email or snail mail you the guidelines. A 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 magazine may want you to email them, 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.

Know who the magazine’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 magazine’s masthead for the latest information and don’t be afraid to call or email to confirm your choice.

Know the magazine’s editorial calendar

In addition to guidelines, many magazines 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. Some magazines dedicate issues to a single topic. Knowing what a magazine 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 calendar as well.

Know the magazine, front to back

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

Why they Rejected your Perfectly Good Submission

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell. ” A publisher’s rejection letter to Stephen King

Rejection is an unavoidable part of the publishing world. If you want other people to publish your work, you are going to have to accept rejection and criticism.

Some of the reasons writers get rejected are entirely the writer’s fault. These reasons should be obvious, but some people just don’t seem to understand. You will probably be rejected if you do any of the following:

  • Send an inappropriate submission or query, such as an article about guitars to a magazine about drums.
  • Send a poorly written or unprofessional sounding submission or query.
  • Address your submission or query to the wrong person or department.
  • Fail to follow a publisher’s submission guidelines.
  • Fail to study the publication well enough to be clear about what they want and use.

Those are major errors that will almost certainly get you rejected without a second thought. Lets assume for the moment though, that your submission or query is appropriate, well-written, properly addressed and follows the publisher’s submission guidelines. There are still a number of legitimate reasons that it might be rejected, which do not reflect poorly on you. For the sake of brevity, assume that “editor” means anyone who is deciding whether or not to publish your work.

Because of tastes or requirements

Every publication’s editor has tastes that may not be reflected in the submissions guidelines. They may prefer a specific approach to the subject matter that they publish. They may prefer that their writers have a certain background that you do not have. They may not like your sources or your use of commas. None of these things mean that you did something wrong, it just means that the editor wants something different from what they are seeing.

Because the editor prefers certain writers

Just because a publication says that it is open to new writers, doesn’t mean that they are specifically seeking new writers. The editor may already be comfortable with the freelancers her or she is working with, and not be willing to break in someone new. Some writers are especially good at building relationships with editors, and those relationships pay off down the line with additional assignments. If you are a new writer to this editor, and don’t have a reputation that matters to them, then you may lose out on that basis alone.

Because your submission was not unique

Your idea may be similar to a submission that the editor has already received or published. Some publishers have long lead times between submission and publication. The idea you had may have already been pitched by another writer, or it may have appeared in their publication a year or two earlier and you just didn’t catch it. These things happen.

Because they are saturated with submissions

Some publications receive more submissions than others. This is especially true of major magazines, web sites, and book publishers. If an editor has one slot and twenty worthwhile submissions, then you might get pushed out by the sheer numbers. It doesn’t mean that your submission was bad. It just means that someone else’s work met their needs in a way that yours did not.

Look for positive signs and helpful feedback

In many cases, you won’t receive any feedback with your rejection. Some editors are just too busy to give feedback to every writer that approaches them. If you do receive feedback though, and it isn’t overwhelmingly negative, then the editor is trying to give you some hope or advice for the future. Listen to what they have to say. If they tell you to submit again, do so. If they tell you specifically why they rejected you, look for ways that you can overcome that obstacle in the future. Also, remember that a rejection by one publisher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try another publisher. If you like your idea, find an editor who does as well.

Surprise! More Writing Articles

New Years Eve Snow in Tucson
New Years Eve Snow in Tucson

Howdy to my massive fan base. After my last missive, it would be odd if you suddenly started seeing a bunch of posts about writing again, wouldn’t it? It would? Ok.

The explanation is that there are still a bunch of old articles that didn’t get back up on the site after it got hacked a while back. I had completely forgotten about them, but ran across them yesterday. So, a bunch of “new” articles are about to come down the pike. Long time readers may have read them before, but nonetheless, I thought it would be a good idea to get them back out there. Why? Because Content!

On the topic of the fiction I plan to release, it is coming too. I am setting up a sub-site for my first release, and going over the story with my writing partner Leigh, who is thrilled whenever she gets mentioned, so I am mentioning her. The story, Model Home, is a dark comedy about paranoia, corporate intrigue, bad sex and home ownership. I am busy chopping it into bite-sized chunks (and rewriting what was essentially a first draft). Hoping for a launch date of February 1st.


Changing Paths at PoeWar

I wasn't quite this young when I started, but it sure feels like I was. I am definitely that old now and getting older by the second.
I wasn’t really this young when I started, but it sure feels like I was. I am definitely that old now and getting older by the second.

I wanted to let people know what direction the site is taking this year so that they can make up their own minds about whether to continue following.

I started this a long time ago. I first started posting articles about writing in 1993 at the wizened age of 25. That was over 20 years ago now. While it isn’t quite half my life ago, it is long enough that it feels like it. Over the years, my goals for this site have varied, my activity has varied, and the success has varied. At one time, this site had a heavy focus on jobs, and it was quite successful when I did that (multiples more visitors than there are today), but it was no real fun for me.

It has also been, and remains, a how-to site. There are plenty of how-to articles here, and there always will be, but I have run out of things to say about how to write. For the most part, all I know enough to talk intelligently about, when it comes to writing and poetry, is already here. I could find new ways to say the same things. Some blogs have been doing that for years, but that is not fun for me, and so… no. I don’t have time to work on projects that I don’t enjoy. I have a wife and two kids now and a demanding (but satisfying) job. I’m also trying to lose weight (again). I have a pretty full plate (of vegetables).

I have considered spending time writing about what I am doing as a technical writer. It would be a great way to further my career. But every time I start to write about it, I get distracted by other things. That is a pretty good sign that I don’t really want to spend my time writing about that, so no to that as well.

When I think about what I want to work on this year, what comes to me is that all I really want to do is is indulge in some creative writing. So, for better or worse, that is what I am going to try to do. This brings up a few concerns though.  The primary concern is audience. This site, in its current form, is all but “G” rated and aimed at information. Now, I will be adding creative works that are not “G” rated.  This can present certain problems. I will most likely lose some readers and get some angry comments. I strongly considered just starting a new site, but PoeWar is my site and it does have a following. I know that if I post here, I will get readers. Trying to build up a new site would mean starting with almost no audience, and I want readers, so I will have to accept a few issues in order to get the benefits. The alternative though, was to just stop writing here, so even if the content isn’t what you wanted, understand that the other choice was nothing.

What I plan to do here, is write a continuing story, a serial that crosses a few different genres. I might also, if my writing partner Leigh agrees, publish a novel we worked on a few years back. It isn’t quite serialized, but it’s a fun/weird story and could probably survive being broken up into chunks. It would be nice for it to see the light of day. I also have a few other pieces that may make their way in, dated as they are. I’ll also throw in some poetry prompts along the way, if interest seems high enough. I hope to post some other more personal things as well, and just have some fun.

So, if you want to come along for the ride, great! If not, thanks for the time you spent with me.

Starting the revision process again

The process of editing a novel is a continual one. If you’ve been following the path I laid out here, you have done the following:

  • Read through the first draft
  • Performed a light edit
  • Created a chronology
  • Edited as you read
  • Created an information guide
  • Created a new roadmap for revision
  • Added and revised scenes
  • Edited with an eye towards continuity
  • Had someone read and review your novel

At this point, based on the reviewer’s feedback and your own feelings about your novel’s progress, you will probably want to repeat some or all of these steps. For example, based on the critique given to you by your reader you can now reread your novel (step one). You can evaluate the novel in light of the feedback you were given. I recommend reading the whole novel first though, before acting on their feedback. You may find that you like things the way they are.

Once you have reread the novel, you can go through the process in order, or skip to the parts that you think apply to your second draft. You won’t, for example, want to create a new information guide from scratch but you may want to update that guide as you read through what you have. You may not feel you need to go through several steps before adding or revising a scene, and that is fine. After one person has critiqued your work, you may feel as if you are ready to face a workshop or writer’s group and get more perspectives. The process is up to you. These articles are only guideposts.

Good luck revising your novels! If anyone makes it to the point at which they are ready to submit their novel to publishers, let me know. If enough of you get there, I’ll start writing about the submissions process.