Posted in journalism, publishing, query letter, writing

Getting to the editor

Working as the editorial assistant for a newspaper has given me some insights about getting past the general email account and to the editor’s virtual desk.

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I work for a small, local paper, but we still get a crazy amount of submissions and requests for op-eds and guest columnists. It was pretty overwhelming at first to learn how to filter these. The editor gave me the basics my first day and spent a couple weeks answering my questions about what was important and who was interested in what. I think I’ve gotten the hang of it pretty well now, and it’s taught me a few things that can be applied to both submitting fiction and articles.

Dear Editor

This isn’t a new realization, because this is the first thing I learned when I started querying fiction, but being on the other side of the query has impressed the importance of this piece of advice.

Figure out who you’re sending your query to!

Addressing an email to Dear Editor, the name of the paper/agency, hello everyone, or no salutation at all is a waving red flag to click the trash button.

Why?

For one, it shows the sender didn’t bother to do two minutes of homework to find out who they should be sending their query to. Second, it’s a clear indication that the sender used the BCC to hide that it’s a mass email to every publication they could find contact information for. Laziness, on both accounts. These types of emails are the first ones I weed out in the morning.

Why would I care about this?

Then next thing I look for when culling emails is relevance. As I said, I work at a small, local paper. Aside from AP wire stories, we only cover local issues and events. The first thing I check on media releases and PSAs is the dateline. If it’s out of our coverage area…trash.

The next thing I look for is whether or not it’s relevant content. For the newspaper I work for, this means it not only has to be a local issue, but it has to fit into one of our sections. We don’t have a technology section, or an aging gracefully section, or a rap music section. I still get emails about random topics or locations we don’t cover every day.

This applies to fiction publishers as well. If the agency or publisher doesn’t work with your genre, don’t waste your time querying them. It’s annoying and wastes their time, too. Your query is not going to make a publisher suddenly decide to take on a new genre any more than it will make a newspaper add a whole new section their readers aren’t interested in. Do your homework.

The lonely link

I am not clicking on random links. I’m just not. If some sends me a link or list of links saying So and So Author has a new article available, I am not clicking on it. To the trash it goes. Same goes for attachments with no description or information.

Let me tell you how to do your job…

There is a difference between doing your research and providing all the pertinent information (section, date, topic, etc.) and attempting to tell someone how to do their job. Emails demanding I place a certain PSA in a particular section on a particular day when neither matches up with our publishing schedule and section requirements is a quick way to irritate whoever is reading your email.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Do your research! And be polite. Demands rarely go over well with anyone, and certainly not publishers and papers who receive dozens, if not hundreds, of submissions a day and have rules and requirements for every inch of the paper.

Be direct

Unless submission requirements specifically direct you to use the general account, send you query directly to whoever should actually be reading it. Newspapers, agencies, and publishing houses have specific people who deal with specific topics or genres. It takes more effort for me to figure out who should be looking at something, and it’s much more likely to get deleted.

If there’s a list of who handles what, and you’re invited to submit directly, for the love of God, figure out who might be interested in your work and send it directly to them! Your chances of it being seen will be much higher if the person who makes the decision sees it first. I don’t think I’m alone in prioritizing emails specifically sent to me over ones that are forwarded.

So, what should you do?

Basically the opposite of everything I just said.

  1. Address your email to the right person (and spell their name correctly).
  2. Only send relevant content the organization has stated they have an interest in.
  3. Provide a full and interesting description/query, not just a link or lazy “Are you interested in this?” with an attachment.
  4. Provide all the relevant or requested details without being pushy or demanding.
  5. Send queries to the right person.

Basically, put the time and effort in to figure out how to query an organization correctly and be polite about it.

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