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Is Your Query Editor-Ready?

By Mary Charlebois

It was a beautifully crafted pitch, for a story matched perfectly to the publication. I’d worked on it for several hours, writing a query and editing photos. Finally, after numerous changes, I thought there were no more improvements to be made. I hit the send button.

The perfect pitch was on the way. But before I poured that glass of champagne, I noticed a spelling error, the magazine’s name. I never heard from the editor, even after an apology and subsequent queries.

Before you hit that send button, make sure your query is editor-ready. Misspelled words, grammar errors, wrong email addresses, and lack of clarity, cause many an excellent query to hit the bin.

Try this checklist against a query you’ve sent recently and see if it was 100% editor-ready.

Editor-Ready Query Checklist

□ Proofread, check spelling, punctuation, and grammar
-If you are using Microsoft Word, there’s a spelling and punctuation checker built-in. Turn it on, so it’s an automatic function while you’re writing.
-I use Grammarly. It’s more comprehensive than Word’s checker. There is a free version that is excellent and works nicely with MS Word. The paid version digs deep and checks for plagiarism.
-Use a read-aloud function. It’s surprising how many awkward sentences, and wrong words such as bear instead of beer, or fine instead of find. Both are spelled correctly, but not the right word.

□ Verify names and addresses
-Double-check the name, spelling, and email address of the person designated to receive queries.
-Sometimes there isn’t a person’s actual name, it might be something like ‘submissions@acmemagazine.com’.
-If you use a gender identifier like Mr. or Mrs., be absolutely 100% certain of the individual’s preferred gender title.
-Verify the magazine’s name. Spell it precisely as they do. Examples: GoNOMAD, not Go Nomad; ByWAYS Magazine, not By Ways; or AFAR, not Afar.

□ Verify links and attachments
-Check links to the internet that you have included in your query email. Click on them, be sure they go where you intend.
-Is your attachment attached?

□ Read writer’s guides
Read and reread them, especially if it’s your first query to this publisher. Be sure you are following their instructions.

Does your query answer these questions?

□ Who
-Your name, brief bio, and contact info.
-Links, if any, to your portfolio, website, social media, and relevant stories you’ve published.

□ What
-Include a story synopsis. Tell what the piece is about. I also include my stories working title and my intro paragraph as a ‘story preview.’

□ When
-What issue are you pitching for (if any)? When can the story be submitted?

□ Where
-What part of the publication is the piece intended for? Is it a feature, front of book piece, particular column, a sidebar, etc.

□ Why
-What makes the story right for the publication? What will readers like about your article?

In addition to telling an editor about your story, a query is your way of showing you are a professional writer.

In the excitement of pitching a story, it’s easy to overlook details. Use a checklist before you hit the send button, so your query is editor-ready. ~TPM