Queries vs. Articles: Which Is Best?
by Moira Allen

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Q: Which comes first, a "query" or an article? You could wait 6-8 weeks for a response to a query; why not devote that time to writing an article, and submitting the completed article instead of a query? I don't understand the benefit of waiting so long for a nonbinding indication of interest -- or perhaps I don't understand the purpose of a query.

A: When trying to make this decision, it may help to remember that "query vs. article" isn't so much a question of what you should write first, but how to best market what you write. In some cases, writing the article first may be your best choice, either because you risk losing enthusiasm for the idea if you wait, or because you aren't sure exactly how the piece will turn out.

Even if you do write the article first, however, that doesn't mean that you should ignore the query process. Think of the article as your product -- and a query letter as the marketing tool that will help you sell that product. Simply put, a qury letter is a sales pitch for your article.

To be an effective sales tool, a query should contain the following information:

Why Bother?

But if you've already written the article, you may ask, why bother sending an advance sales pitch? Why not let the article "sell itself"?

There are several reasons:

The Question of Commitment

Chances are that even if you receive a positive response, it will be "nonbinding" -- e.g., "go ahead on speculation." Is that worth waiting for?

Yes. Although "on spec" isn't a promise, it is a commitment on the part of an editor to give your article careful consideration. Most editors won't give such an assignment unless seriously interested -- and though we've all heard horror stories, most won't reject an on-spec piece unless it is seriously flawed.

Those flaws, however, are the reason for on-spec assignments. Every editor has been burned at one time or another by a writer who made glowing promises but didn't deliver. New writers, therefore, are rarely given "firm" assignments. Instead, they are given an opportunity, on speculation, to prove that they can deliver well-crafted material.

If you can prove this, you're well on your way to "real" assignments. Better yet, editors may start calling you with their own ideas. You'll also need to spend less time on queries to editors who know your work; you don't have to dazzle them with your style or your credentials, but can simply pitch a brief summary of your article idea. (Such as: "How about an article on the basics of query letters?") But don't try this in the beginning!

Unless a magazine's listing says e-mail queries are OK, don't use this method to approach an editor for the first time. Instead, wait until you have a relationship (or permission) before e-mailing queries or submissions.

Ten years ago, it was much easier to approach the market with an unsolicited manuscript. Today, queries have become an industry standard; they are expected of the professional writer. Rather than viewing queries as a time-consuming "middle step" between writing and selling, think of them as a tool that will help open doors to your writing -- doors that might otherwise remain firmly closed.

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

Preparing E-mail Queries and Submissions, by Moira Allen

Copyright © 2001 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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