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    Know the Traget Before Firing the Query

    Spraying the publishing landscape with poorly targeted queries rarely leads to a bull's eye with editors. Haphazardly aimed queries from unfocused writers demonstrate laziness and lead mostly to rejection.

    When you send a query to an editor, make sure you have done at least the minimal amount of homework required to get your query considered. Otherwise, your laziness could thwart any chance of getting published. Here's an example of a lazy writer who didn't care enough to take the extra few minutes of effort to personalize his pitch, which led to a quick rejection.

    This recent query jumped off my monitor to inform me the writer was not a serious candidate for an assignment. The heavy stench of gross laziness led to its prompt deletion from my in-box. This particular query was sent to my e-mail address, which indicated the writer had the right person for submissions. Then, the words "Articles Editor" and "Dear Sir or Madam" smacked me with a brand of indifference and laziness that compelled me to send it to the trash bin without replying.

    After the first few lines I could tell this same letter had been sent to dozens of editors listed in some database -- a blanket approach that isn't personal enough to catch the attention of any editor. The writer must have failed "Freelancing 101." Anyone serious about writing knows and understands that impersonal queries do not spark attention.

    Then, the query got worse. The self-proclaimed "author" began his query with his credentials: An active author for seven years, eight hardback and four paperbacks to his credit, 55,000 copies sold, etc. They were solid credentials, but they were jammed down my throat before the writer so much as attempted to sell me on a story idea. Sell the story first, then sell your abilities.

    After forging through the credentials, which rambled on at a length inappropriately long for a query letter, I finally made it to his pitch. In this case, the writer suggested a series of 2,000-word stories addressing a legal matter -- a topic already covered monthly in my magazine by a contributing editor. This freelancer failed to take the time to conduct a five-minute Internet search, which would have revealed:

    • the editor's name is Joe Kelly;
    • he is a "Sir," not a "Madam;"
    • there is no "Articles Editor;"
    • the magazine already covers the subject being pitched;
    • the subject being pitched is covered by a regular columnist who is also a contributing editor for legal issues;
    • the columnist has written monthly for the magazine for several years; and the magazine rarely runs stories of a 2,000-word length.

    Less than midway through the query I had discovered that the writer was lazy, didn't do his homework, and didn't have the slightest chance of earning an assignment. He bypassed the simplest of required research. Without saying it directly, he told me he didn't care about my magazine or its readers. If you can't take a few minutes to learn something about the magazine you are querying, you won't land many assignments because you don't deserve them. You probably won't get as much as a rejection letter.

    The greatest credentials in the world will not overshadow a lazy query. In the editor's mind, a lazy query always precedes a lazy story. If you don't do the simple research required before sending a query, what kind of lazy research will appear in your story? I don't care if John Grisham sends me a query. If he addresses the letter with "Dear Sir or Madam," he won't get the assignment either. That's how editors think. By understanding how they think you can gain a competitive advantage.

    If you want to minimize rejection, minimize laziness. Do your homework and make sure the publications and editors you query might be interested in your story idea. Then, pitch them directly in a short query that focuses on the story, not the credentials.

    In the end, the goal is to find a suitable target, send out a focused arrow, and hope for a bull's eye. If you can direct your query to the right person, address him or her properly, pitch a great idea, and sell your ability to write about that idea, your chances increase tenfold. Let lazy writers spray the publishing ranks with futile attempts. Their laziness could be your payday.

    Copyright © 2001 Joseph M. Kelly

    Joseph M. Kelly, who is editor of Electrical Contractor magazine in Bethesda, Md., and a Baltimore, Md.-based freelance writer, has been published in daily and weekly newspapers, national trade magazines, newsletters and online. His work has appeared in The Maryland Coast Dispatch, Hardware Age, Home Improvement Market, LBM Retailer, Garden Supply Retailer, Decorative Products Retailer, Outdoor Power Equipment, Association Publishing, Writing For Money, The Baltimore Press, The Enterprise, Electrical Contractor, AWritersLife.net, Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel, and several other publications.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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