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E-mail Queries and Submissions: How to Keep Editors Happy
by Moira Allen
Return to Queries, Submissions & Market Research
· Print/Mobile-Friendly Version
A decade ago, only a handful of periodical publishers listed
The Writer's Market provided e-mail addresses.
Now, nearly every publisher in that directory does so. While
some editors still prefer paper queries sent by surface mail, an
increasing number prefer e-mail queries. Among electronic
publications, such as e-zines and e-mail newsletters, that
preference is almost universal. Many electronic publications
will not even consider paper queries.
E-mail queries save postage and time. Your query will reach the
editor in seconds rather than days. You may also receive a
response within days (or even hours).
E-mail queries also have disadvantages, however. A common
complaint of editors is that many writers don't bother to prepare
e-mail queries carefully. Many seem to be written in haste, with
little consideration for style or presentation, and no
proofreading. E-mail queries are often casual, chatty, even
"cute" -- qualities editors rarely find endearing.
Another problem editors frequently encounter is impatience. Just
because your query may arrive within seconds, that doesn't mean
the editor is going to read it immediately, let alone respond
within minutes. Nothing annoys an editor so much as a writer who
starts nagging for a response within days (or hours) of sending
an e-mail query.
While e-mail queries contain many of the same elements as
traditional "paper" queries, they also contain elements that need
special attention. These include:
With e-mail, you can't impress an editor with nice paper or a
snappy letterhead. Instead, you must rely on your header to
provide vital information about yourself and your query. Be sure
to put the right information in these sections:
- To: Address your query to the right person at the
right address. Try to locate the exact e-mail address of the
editor you wish to contact.
- From: You probably wouldn't sign a traditional query
with a tagline like "Crystal Windsinger" or "Rafe Moondragon."
If you use such an nickname to communicate online, however, it
may slip into your query by mistake. Be sure to set up an
alternate, professional "personality" in your e-mail program that
includes your real name and a professional-sounding e-mail
- Subject: Include the word "Query" in your subject
line, along with a brief (two to three word) description of your
proposal -- e.g., "Query: Cancer in Cats" or "Query: Writing for
Pet Magazines." Never leave this line blank. Avoid cuteness or
excessive informality; a subject line like "May I have a moment
of your time?" looks too much like "spam" and could cause your
query to be deleted.
The easiest way to handle the text of an e-mail query is to treat
it just like a traditional query. (See How to Write a Successful Query Letter for
details on what to include in a query.) However, many editors
find that they actually prefer shorter queries by e-mail. This
is partly a display issue: The less the editor has to "scroll"
to read your query, the better.
Thus, more writers are turning
to brief, one- to three-paragraph e-mail queries. The hook is
often eliminated entirely, allowing the writer to get straight to
the pitch, followed by a single paragraph of description, and
closing with the writer's credentials. Here's an example of a
query I received from a regular contributor to Inkspot:
Hello! I promised you a query, so here you go.
"Flash What?" is an exploration of the (at-first-glance) strange
medium of flash fiction. The article does not attempt to define
the form, as flash is virtually undefinable, but it does identify
the many styles of flash, and its many names. I cite such writers
as Lila Guzman and Pamelyn Casto and their thoughts on the form.
Following this, I segue into a general how-to segment on writing
flash, listing three essential questions every flash writer must
ask. Once that's finished, I close out with market listings and
With flash fiction becoming more and more prevalent in the
literary community, especially the online publishing world (whole
zines are devoted to the medium), I think that this piece is very
useful to Inkspot's many readers who double as fiction writers.
"Flash What?" is about 1220 words long. I'll be happy to send
along the full piece if you are interested.
Thanks! Looking forward to your reply.
When crafting an e-mail query, therefore, give serious thought to
ways that you can "condense" your information into a compact
summary that the editor can view on a single screen. Just be
sure that your summary actually covers all the salient points
that you wish to make!
Credentials and Clips
It's perfectly acceptable to list your credentials in an e-mail
query just as you would in a traditional query. Many writers,
also use this opportunity to provide a link to a Web site where
editors can learn more about the writer's qualifications, or
perhaps view writing samples. Here's an example:
I have been chosen as a Poet of the Year 2000 for the poetry that
I submitted to Poetry.com and have been invited to Reno Nevada to
receive a trophy and a medallion for my poetry from the actor and
poet, Ed Asner. My poetry can be seen at
Some editors will check the sites you list; some won't. It's
wise, therefore, to state your credentials explicitly, and offer
Web sites only as a backup. Never send "clips" in an
The Address Block
In a traditional query, your name and address and other contact
information would go at the top of the page (or be incorporated
into your letterhead). In an e-mail query, it should go at the
bottom, below your typed signature:
1042 Gloriana Lane
Whippet, IL 60606
(555) 123-4568 (fax)
The Signature Block
You may wish to use a standard "signature block" to include your
Web site and any special credentials you'd like to list. You can
also include your surface-mail address and contact information in
a signature block, but be sure you only use this block for
queries and professional correspondence; you don't want to
broadcast that information on the Web. Avoid overly cute
signature blocks, or blocks that involve graphic elements. Save
the cats, dancing weasels, and emoticons for more personal
Removing the Gibberish
Sending a query or manuscript electronically isn't
simply a matter of copying your material from a wordprocessing
file (such as MS Word) and pasting it into an e-mail. All too
often, a straight cut-and-paste results in a message that looks
something like this:
%Please don,t reject my manuscript,@ the author cried,
pleading ? but to no avail, as the editor wasn&t in the
mood for such %gibberish@!
Even a single line of this can be annoying; having to wade
through an entire query -- or worse, a manuscript -- of this
nature is beyond the patience of most editors. Kind-hearted
editors will send such a submission back and ask you to fix it;
less-understanding editors will simply send a rejection.
Gibberish and "nonsense symbols" are the result of transferring a
word-processed document directly to e-mail without "undoing" many
of the special characters and commands that such a program (like
Word) automatically embeds in your file. Unless instructed
otherwise, for example, Microsoft Word will automatically convert
dashes (--) into a special dash-symbol, turn all apostrophes and
quotes into "smart quotes," transform ellipses (...) into yet
another special character, and superscript the ending of words
like "1st" or "7th".
These special characters look nice on the printed page, but are
the result of hidden codes in your electronic file that do not
"translate" when copied into an e-mail document. Instead, those
codes are converted into various symbols and odd characters. Any
formatting codes in your document (e.g., bold, underline, italic)
will be similarly transformed. Converting your document to "RTF"
format, or even "text," does not always remove all embedded
codes. (While it usually removes formatting codes, it may not
remove "special character" codes, such as dashes or smart
To prevent these and other e-mail problems in your submissions,
be sure to take the following steps before submitting a query or
- Turn off all special-character commands. In MS Word, you can
do this by going into the "AutoCorrect" menu under "Tools." In
the "Autoformat as you type" and "Autoformat" menus, uncheck
everything under "Replace as you type." In the "Autocorrect"
submenu, look at the list of automatic corrections, and delete
the correction that replaces an ellipses with a special
- Replace special-character commands in existing documents. If
you're submitting a document that you prepared before turning off
these "replace" commands, you'll need to do a search-and-replace
on the problem characters. For smart quotes, simply enter a
single quote in the "find" and "replace" box and do a "replace
all"; this will correct all apostrophes and single quotes. Do
the same for double quotes. To replace a dash, use the keyboard
combination [option hyphen] to enter the dash in the "find" box;
replace it with [ -- ]. To replace ellipses, use the keyboard
combination [option ;] in the "find" box, and replace with [...].
- Double-space between paragraphs. E-mail wipes out tabs, which
means that a manuscript that relies on tabs to indicate new
paragraphs will end up as a nearly solid block of text.
If you don't want to double-space manually, simply do a
search-and-replace on the "paragraph" character. (In Word, click
on "More" in the find-and-replace menu. The paragraph command is
the first item under "Special" -- hit this option once for the
"find" box and twice for the "replace" box.
More Do's and Don'ts
Editors will be even happier with your electronic submissions
if you follow these guidelines:
- Do use a large, readable font. Sometimes I feel the urge to
send a query back simply because it seems to be written in
electronic micro-print. Make sure your font size is set to
"normal" -- or to a minimum of 12 points. If you're not sure how
"large" your type looks (it may look fine on your own screen),
ask someone else how your e-mails look.
- Do include an appropriate subject header. A header such as
"QUERY: (article title/subject)" or "ARTICLE SUBMISSION: Title"
always works well.
- Do keep e-mail queries as short as possible. While paper
queries should be kept to a single page (if possible) because
that's easiest for an editor to read, keep in mind that an e-mail
"page" often translates to the size of an editor's screen. Try
to present your query succinctly enough to minimize (or
eliminate) the need to scroll through your message.
- Don't use HTML formatting in your e-mail. Not every
editor has their e-mail program set up to accept HTML. Turn off
any commands that automatically convert your e-mail to an HTML
- Don't use colors. Just as you wouldn't type a query in yellow
ink, don't send an e-mail query in any font color other than
- Don'tuse emoticons. These are more appropriate for personal
- Don't send any "involuntary" attachments. If your e-mail
program is set up to send a "vcard" attachment, turn off that
option. Editors have been worried about electronic viruses long
before they began to worry about surface-mail viruses, and many
will delete a message that is flagged with an attachment without
even reading the e-mail itself.
- Don't send "clips" as attachments. It's always difficult to
send clips with electronic queries. One option is to state the
availability of clips, to be sent by e-mail or surface mail on
request; another is to provide links to online clips. (It's
perfectly acceptable to set up a website of your own where you
can place scanned or HTML'd copies of your previously published
articles, to use as a "clip portfolio" -- even if you don't make
the material "publicly available.")
- Don't send a submission as an attachment unless a
publication's guidelines specifically state that this is
acceptable, or unless you have authorization from the editor.
- Don't expect an editor to respond to an e-mail submission
"instantly." Although some editors do respond more quickly to
e-mail submissions than to surface mail, assume that a
publication's published response time still applies, no matter
how you submit material. Nothing irritates an editor like a
writer who asks after a submission only days after sending it
- Do keep a copy of all correspondence with editors. This will
make it much easier for you to send a copy of your original query
if you need to follow up. One way to handle this is to create a
folder in your e-mail directory for "queries and submissions"
that are still awaiting response, and another for queries and
submissions that have received a reply. By checking your
"awaiting response" file, you can easily determine, by the dates
of your e-mails, when a submission should be followed up.
The ability to contact editors electronically has made life much
easier for writers around the world. To retain this ability,
however, we must make sure that we make life as easy as possible
for our editors as well!
Find Out More...
- How to Write a Successful Query, by Moira Allen
- Sample Query
- What to Do if You Don't Have Clips, by Moira Allen
- Queries vs. Articles: Which is Best? by Moira Allen
Copyright © 2004 Moira Allen
This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.|
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.
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