by Sarah Hamaker, reluctant marketer

Last month, we talked about how to find outlets for your articles. Today’s topic is how to pitch those articles to editors in a query. In our fast-paced world, writers often have only less than a minute in which to make a good impression on editors, producers and publishers. That’s why every writer should hone a fantastic query or pitch for each piece of work, whether it’s an article, a book, or a radio or TV segment.

Because this is a big topic, we’ll break it into three smaller chunks. In July, we’ll cover basic query don’ts. In August, we’ll discuss basic query dos. We’ll wrap up in September with the anatomy of a query letter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Basic Query Don’ts

  1. Not knowing what outlet for which you’re writing. When I worked at the National Restaurant Association, a trade association for the industry, we received queries offering to write restaurant reviews…even though our submission page clearly stated that’s not what we do. Needless to say, those submission was automatically deleted.
  2. No irrelevant details. Ask yourself if what you’re including is absolutely essential to what you’re trying to sell—and if it’s not, delete it.
  3. No weird fonts or stationery. Let your words speak for themselves and don’t use flowery fonts or strange spacing in an attempt to be more “literary.”
  4. Don’t do a sales pitch. This is not the time to say how much money the publisher will make with your work.
  5. Don’t go overboard with descriptions of your piece or yourself. At this initial stage, all the editor wants to know is a bit about your work and you—not a long autobiographical treatise or a very long synopsis.
  6. Don’t think too highly of yourself. Check your pride/arrogance at the door and be humble. After all, you’re the one seeking publication.
  7. Don’t include how old you are, your marital status or your religion. Unless it’s absolutely crucial to your article or idea, leave out the personal stuff.
  8. Don’t include cute/cool stuff in your email. Flowered backgrounds, provocative quotes under your signature, animated .gifs, emoticons, and Internet abbreviations all created a too-casual impression. Make your email query nice and clean.
  9. Don’t use an email account with ads. Upgrade if you have to, but don’t send queries from free email accounts that also send advertisements to recipients.

What other don’ts related to queries have you seen? Next month, I’ll cover query dos.


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