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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Four Reasons to Send a Query--Even for FOBs

Last post I talked about the FOB and why it's the best place for new writers to break in. You may be surprised that even for a short piece, I suggest you use a query (as opposed to writing the piece and sending it in).

It seems illogical at first. For a short article, why not just write it up? Why bother with a query?

1. It shows you "get it." That's what professional freelancers do--we query. Writing an article and sending it in looks amateurish. (The exception is if you're pitching an essay, where you send in the completed piece.) Show the editor you're a serious freelancer, not just a reader of the publication, by querying her.

2. You save time. Your editor may have already assigned a piece on the subject, or have a similar piece in inventory. You don't want to spend time writing a piece that has no chance of selling because your editor is already covering it.

3. You stay out of the delete pile. Most national magazines don't accept "unsolicited submissions" (i.e. completed articles) but they do accept queries. Easy decision. right?

4. You boost your chances of success. When you write a piece, you decide on the subject, angle, length, format, sources, and tone. What are the chances you're going to make all the same choices with your story that the editor would when you're basically writing in the dark?

A query tells your editor how you plan to approach the piece, but lets her have the final say. Maybe she wants more words, or fewer. Maybe she likes the basic idea, but wants you to take a different angle. Or maybe she wants you to use an expert and a real person source, not just an expert. Regardless, when you query, you give the editor a chance to assign you the story she wants instead of writing the story you want and crossing your fingers that she'll say yes.

Make sense? Readers, do you agree or disagree?


  1. Sounds logical to me! Thanks for the great advice. I've been freelancing for many years, but haven't approached the nationals - too afraid I guess. With this information it doesn't seem so scary.
    BTW, I've read both your books and think they're great learning tools for freelancers.

  2. From what I've seen, a lot of magazines specifically request you send the completed manuscript. If the guidelines state that, I always follow their instructions.

  3. Thanks, Amber! Don't be afraid to go after the "biggies." The worst that can happen is that they'll say no--rejection is part of the biz.

    And Anonymous, I agree...if the magazine's guidelines request the complete ms, then yes, follow their guidelines.

  4. Agree 100% on this one. I hate writing on spec so much that I even pitch essays instead of writing them first (which, oddly enough, has totally worked for me so far). Plus, even though I like to think I'm getting really good at querying, I find it's great practice to get the story down & polish even better queries for the nationals — as you've said Kelly :)

  5. I have a whole file of stories I wrote without pitching first. It's frustrating to have all that work with no place to send it because the intended publication didn't want it. I've learned my lesson. Even the magazines I write for the most and think I know what they want, I query.
    Thanks for all your great tips, Kelly. Your blog has been a great encouragement.

  6. Hi Kelly,

    I respectfully disagree. Not sending a query for some writers is simply a matter of a differing mindset and strategy, and a time saving measure.

    A scribe can be "amateurish" whether he sends one or not, depending upon how he approaches an editor and also the quality of his writing.

    Good writing is never wasted in my opinion. If one editor does not accept a completed piece, you simply shop it around until one does. It's worked for me.

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  7. Thanks for weighing in, Jennifer! If you're talking about completed articles (not essays), what length are you talking about? Just curious. :)

  8. Hi again,

    I'm talking roughly about 800-1000 words. Eliminating queries (when possible) allows me to get paid quicker, enjoy resell rights sooner, and work smarter, not harder. That's just my two cents. :-)

  9. Thanks, Jennifer! Just shows there's always more than one way to approach and succeed in this business! I like the idea of getting your reprint rights more quickly...if you read this blog regularly, you know that reprint sales are second only to royalty checks in terms of my "favorite" kind of money to make!

    Thanks again for weighing in. :)

  10. I think it all depends on type of pub you're aiming for, but I agree that sending a query for even a short piece is the best way to go, certainly for nationals but also larger regionals. I have had way too many experiences of submitting idea that is already in the works -- and I'm glad I didn't write a full article.

  11. I actually broke into Psychology Today and Details by sending entire shorts -- but I faxed them, just to give you an idea of how long ago that was. These days, I recommend to my students that they query everything, even FOBs. Writing seems to be a much more competitive industry nowadays, and chances are good that the magazine already has something similar to what you're proposing in the works. Also, as you said, editors like to give YOU the specs, so you don't have to guess at word count, etc.

    On the other hand, if someone really, really wants to write up the whole short because they're so excited about it -- sure, why not? Just be aware that if the editor accepts it you may have to rewrite it entirely.

  12. Thanks for your comments, Joanna and Linda...and Linda, good point about the possibility of having to completely rewrite the piece, per an editor's request. And I remember the days of faxing...and sending stories in on a disc, too.

  13. I'm querying EVERYTHING these days, mainly because of the time factor. As far as the "send complete ms." pubs, I either cross them off my list or (if they align perfectly with my goals) send them a query anyway. I know, this violates the "thou shalt always follow writer's guidelines" rule, but I figure that if I wait to send them a complete ms., I'll never get to it.

  14. Thanks for your comment, John--I think you have a good point with the time factor. After all, we all have a limited amout of time for work so we want to make the most of it!

  15. Kelly,
    Freelancing is my most desired choice, as in this field one gets free to perceieve the object
    with different angles,and as free as possible the required suiting the subject.Amateurs like me feel much pleased to find you with your tips on the way to be professionals. To accept the No is essentially Yes to be professionl, I agree with you that query mindset is the ahead sign of writers. A few short notes I have written and am used to write further notes but feel scary of the big canvas.I have written stories also but only in the file. May you help my freelancing choices on the canvas of professionals.