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Query with confidence

Make a success of querying dream publications

A query letter is the first step toward getting published.

Querying, however, can be challenging and, at times, emotional. There is nothing quite like the gut punch of an editor turning down hard-won ideas, and well-crafted sentences. Or worse, not answering at all.

Surely, the idea proposed is brilliant, original and just the kind of article people need to read. Today, if possible. That is what I used to tell myself.

An idea, fully formed or partially naked, makes itself known, usually while I am hiking, dumping detergent on grass stains, or soaping my scalp in the shower. To the laptop I go, occasionally dripping wet, towel drooping precariously downward in my haste, the cat lapping up wet footprints tracked across the hardwood floor.

A writer friend suggested displaying personal items near my writing space to banish doubt when it lay heavy on my shoulders. Alongside an antique camera, Christmas bell, a painted rock, and an early edition Nancy Drew is a wish list of publications that dangles from a corkboard. 

I select the magazine most likely to accept my pitch. Ideas, potential interviews, and editorial passages run riot through my head. By the time I remove my reading glasses and prepare to breathe life into my idea, the paragraphs are writing themselves.

Keep in mind, the query has yet to be accepted.

To my detriment, I spend more time daydreaming than planning.

My first query was sent earlier this year to a local publication and was immediately accepted. Bolstered by success, I set my sights on a national publication. I was familiar with its editorial content, but neglected to explore the submission guidelines, or spend seven dollars to own a copy. I believed, with the passion of twenty kindergarten students let outside for recess, this magazine would accept my pitch. 

My five-line proposal was returned in record time. 

‘Thanks so much for your pitch, and your interest in our magazine. However, we don’t see a perfect fit. I’m sorry this isn’t better news. Take care’

Rejection stings. It hurts your pride. You doubt your talent and wonder why you decided to write in the first place. It’s nauseating. You get angry. You may blame the editor for not recognising talent when it bounces into their inbox.

Writing strong query letters

Over time, I realised editors are busy people who receive many proposals a day. So, I began doing the research and planned my strategy which involved being careful to: 

Good query letters put forward relevant, engaging ideas so the editor can see the possibilities and the potential for something that will captivate their readers. They will then want to work with you. 

This approach doesn’t guarantee success every time. I still get rejections but now, knowing I’ve done everything I can to present the ideas effectively, it’s disappointing but not gut wrenching. Often, rejections are merely practical, for example a similar piece was published recently.  

If you want to pitch your work, whether it’s to an editor, literary agent or publisher, do your research, tailor your idea and submit it with confidence. 

I hope you will achieve success every time but, if not, stay calm and query on.

About Connie Boland

Connie Boland is an award-winning journalist and creative writer in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her writing credits include Downhome, Atlantic Business, Saltscapes, and Today’s Parent magazines, the Western Star and Telegram newspapers. A list of ‘Dream Magazines To Query’ hangs by her desk.

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