Let’s face it querying is a crap shoot or, as one person put it, a moving target. I say this as editors don’t always know what they want. One editor will take a one paragraph query, while another wants a one page query. The fun part is when a junior editor wants queries one way and a senior editor wants them another. Also an editor might take queries on one subject one day and reject queries on the same subject the very next day. Occasionally an editor will actually admit they have no clue what they want. I once had one tell me that, while my query was good, they were rejecting it because it didn’t catch the person’s fancy, whatever that is. Another editor might have assigned me the story. Sometimes an editor will reject a perfectly good query that’s right on target for no other reason than it’s late in the day and they just want to go home or they might be under a lot of stress when your query is read.
I once picked up an assignment on the basis of one sentence in a letter of inquiry to a magazine I didn’t know too well. On the other hand I sent a well-crafted query with a unique angle to a magazine I knew very well. Initially the editor was very encouraging and invited me to call. When I did the editor turned me down because I did not work in their field, something the person already knew. It was a complete waste of time.
In all fairness to editors they receive A LOT of queries that are totally inappropriate. The potential writer may demonstrate they haven’t studied the publication by querying on a subject that has just been covered or that they never cover. The potential writer may simply not know enough about the subject they want to write on. Editors also receive a lot of queries that are too broad and not focused enough. The writer might propose an article on women’s health, for example, instead of narrowing it down to a specific aspect of it. I confess I’ve made all of these mistakes at times much to my regret and embarrassment.
While querying is generally a serious and maddening business sometimes it can be funny too. Back in snail mail days Writer’s Digest, which was supposedly writer-friendly, used to send out rejections that were hilarious. It was a form rejection that rambled on and on and on about why they hated using form rejections, but here’s why. This continued for a while even after they published an article about using check-list form rejections. I don’t know what they do now as I haven’t queried them or looked at the magazine in years, but hopefully they’ve grown since then. I still recommend Writer's Digest for beginners.
Bottom line is while querying is quite a bit of a crap shoot, studying the market, having at least a general knowledge of the topic you’re proposing will definitely increase your odds. Finally above all keep your sense of humor you’ll need it.
By the sorry for missing the November post, but it was web host renewal time and as they only sent me the invoice the day before they blocked access to my website I couldn’t post anything. Frustrating.