Here are two questions I am often asked about the query letter process:
- Can I submit my query to more than one publication?
- How long should I wait after submitting my query to one publication before submitting it to another one?
You can submit a query to more than one publication. That’s called a multiple submission. If you send a multiple submission, you are supposed to let the editor know you are doing so.
However, many editors don’t like multiple submissions. For some, it’s an ego thing. They want to know you have picked their publication and only their publication. But most worry that your article might appear somewhere else before it appears in their publication—a legitimate fear, especially if the publication thinks it is buying first print rights (more on various rights later in the book), so it is just easier to say no to multiple submissions. In short, you are better off sending the query to the publication you think would pay the best and/or be most interested in your story.
That leads us to question two. How long should you wait before following up? Some editors reply immediately to queries. Others take weeks. Magazine editors can take a month or more. Some never reply.
Here’s my strategy—and it is an important part of my sales and marketing effort: I give editors up to four weeks to reply. This means, of course, I track when I send out my queries and to whom I send them. It also means I have many queries out there at any given time. When a reasonable amount of time has passed, I follow up—email or phone the editor.
When I call, I have a 30-second blurb ready. Even if I get voice mail, I get my point across, and my point goes something like this:
Hi, this is Paul Lima calling. I sent you a query two weeks ago on what organizations can do to ensure they profit from office automation through taking a planned approach to training. I’d like to write this article for Human Resources Monthly. I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to look at the query? Please let me know. You can reach me at (416) 555-1212.
The last sentence, of course, is for voice mail only. If I get voice mail and don’t hear back from the editor within another week or so, I call again:
Hi, this is Paul Lima calling. I’m following up on my query on what organizations can do to ensure they profit from office automation. I’d like to write this article for Human Resources Monthly. If, for some reason, you want to pass, I’d like to send my proposal elsewhere. Please call (416) 555-1212 in the next day or two if you’re interested in the article. If I don’t hear from you, I will pitch it elsewhere. Perhaps we can work together in the future. Thanks.
This message is not delivered as an ultimatum. It is stated in a professional and polite tone. Even if I only get voice mail when I follow up, I know within four to six weeks if the editor is interested in the article. If the editor does not reply, I can pitch my query elsewhere.
There are exceptions to this process. If the article has been sent to a daily and is time sensitive, I would call sooner. If it is hot news, I would email my query and follow up by phone within days or hours, depending on how hot the news is. If an editor said he or she was interested and needed more time to think about it or had to review it at an editorial board meeting, I’d give the editor more time (unless the query was time sensitive and I had another hot market to which I could send it).
If a pitch does not sell, revise it and look for a new publication. Do that two or three times. If you don’t sell the idea, cut your losses and move on with other ideas. I usually have three to six ideas in circulation at any one time, except when I am too busy writing to pitch ideas, which happens a great deal with me because, I have repeat business!
If you are pitching an article proposal related to seasons (winter, spring, summer or fall) or an idea pertaining to a holiday celebration (Christmas crafts, Easter celebrations, Halloween safety tips, and so on) keep in mind that many publications plan their seasonal or holiday issues far in advance of the season or holiday—especially monthly magazines.
For instance, Chatelaine, a monthly magazine, “puts to bed” its Christmas issue in September. That means you should be pitching Chatelaine Christmas-related article ideas in April or May, at the latest.
While daily papers have more latitude, they also plan special sections a month or more in advance. Keep this in mind when pitching your seasonal or holiday-related article ideas.
As a rule of thumb, pitch monthly publications three to four months in advance of the time you think your article should run. Pitch weeklies (or weekly sections of daily newspapers) about four weeks in advance. Even pitch daily publications at least two weeks before an event, if timing is important, so the editor can allocate space to your article.
If an idea is hot and timeliness is an issue, you might get away with less lead time, but don’t count on it.