I’m learning about queries from getting so many. When I’m back to freelancing, hopefully I can remember all of this. Want to know what I’ve learned? Ok, here you are:
–When those write advice columns tell you that you should read the magazine/web site before querying, they’re right. I get a lot of queries that clearly come from people who are shooting in the dark. Some of them are proud of this: “I’ve never read your magazine or other pregnancy magazines but I’ve been pregnant and think I have an interesting take on the subject.” Ummm, doubt it.
–Be specific when you query. I get pitches that are way too broad. I don’t mind it when I get this from a writer that I know and whose work I know. If they send me something that says, “Morning sickness, what do you think?” We can go back and forth and whittle it down to, say, “Morning Sick at Work” with tips for handling it. (This is a good idea actually, someone pitch it to me!) But if it’s from a writer I don’t know, I’m not really going to feel motivated to go to all the trouble working it out with them because they may not have the chops to do a good job on it. Now it’s fun to figure out topics with writers I know so go ahead and give me a great specific query and once you’ve done a really impressive job with that one, we can play around with your other article ideas. Also, if you send me a wonderful specific query that I’ve already assigned and you have good clips, it’s very likely that I’ll end up giving you another idea along the same lines. Basically I want to work with you but only if you show me that you want to work with me, too.
–Don’t waste your first paragraph. I don’t need to know your experience right up front; I want to know what you’re trying to sell me. And sell it, dangit, don’t just vaguely toss it up there and hope I have the imagination to see what a great idea it is. Again those writing books are right: Statistics are not nearly as compelling as an interesting, specific hook. I’d rather hear, “For the first three months of my pregnancy, I was throwing up in my office trash can and spraying room deoderizer because I didn’t want my boss to know I was pregnant!” than, “Did you know that most women experience morning sickness and since most women work, that must be really hard!” C’mon, you can see the difference, right?
–Your pregnancy history doesn’t mean that much to me. A lot of people finish their query with something like, “And I think I would be a good fit because I am pregnant now or was pregnant once.” I really don’t care. If you’re a good writer, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve been pregnant.
–Read the submission guidelines carefully. We don’t accept personal essays for the site no matter how compelling your story is.
–Watch your bias. I’ve had people rail against doctors or give me a conspiring wink about epidurals in their query. That just convinces me that you can’t see both sides of a story. I may personally be a pretty crunchy-granola person, but as an editor, my goal is to meet the information needs of our audience, many of whom have viewpoints entirely different from my own. Besides, you don’t know me. For all you know (well not really you, dearest blog readers), I could be a gung-ho, pro-epidural, homebirth sucks person. By the way, I have gotten some queries that would have insulted me back when I was knee-deep in my infertility. So watch it, folks.
–Include clips!!!! People don’t include their clips. I personally dislike attached clips because it clutters up my computer but I won’t hold it against you if you send them. I’d rather people go make a homepage or something with a link in their letter. If you don’t have professional clips, include something anyway. I know we’re a fairly low-paying market and although we have some hard-core writing professionals writing for us, we have a lot of newbies, too. I’m happy to hire newbies because I was one myself. If you’re a newbie without clips, just include something that proves you can string words together decently, ‘kay?
–Don’t assume your god’s gift to me. Confidence is fine but don’t act like you’re doing me a favor by pitching to me. Aggressiveness is a turn-off especially when you’ve never been published anywhere but your church newsletter.
–Don’t tell me that you would prefer that I came up with your article ideas for you. I’ve had several people write and say, “I prefer to work on assignment so why don’t you send me some article topics.” Listen, once we’ve worked together and found out that we’re a good fit, assignments are entirely possible even probable but if I’ve never even heard of you, I want you to prove yourself.
–Proofread your query! If you can’t spell or write a grammatically correct sentence in your query letter, I’m not going to hire you to write for me.
Whew! Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!!!