Query Letter Writing: More Silly Mistakes

You when they say that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff?  Well, I would agree except when it comes to query letter writing – that’s when the small stuff can really break you!  From catching random typos to making the gaffe of saying “Dear John” when you’re writing to Emily, first impressions count, so make ’em good.

I do receive pitches for my travel website pretty regularly, and I thought I’d share some of the silly things that people come up with that they really should have left off their query letter.

“My last editor decided that she didn’t want this, so…”

Now there’s nothing wrong with shopping a failed piece elsewhere.  But there is no need to advise to an editor that they were a second choice.   Bad move – it doesn’t do anything to sell your angle, so just leave it.

“I would really like more than $300 for this, plus payment for images and any royalties from…”

Woah there!  We just met.  Isn’t it a little early to be talking about money?  Some publishers include payment information in their submission guidelines, and other’s don’t.  If it is the latter, you pitch and then once you get an editor’s interest, you can start to talk cash.  If you start talking about the moolah up front, what’s an editor to assume that you’re just in it for the dosh and really could care less about their readers?

“I have attached several 5MB files with images that would be perfectly suited for this piece….”

Ok, so you’ve just zapped yourself, because if your potential editor’s Inbox is anything like mine (or worse, Deb’s), it will have broken the whole system, and to fix it your email will have been deleted.  Plus with huge files, one is quick to assume it might be a virus.  Spam filters also love to squirrel away messages with attachments, so just don’t add them.  If you know of the perfect image, put it on Flickr or somewhere on your website, and just include a link in the email.  Just say no to attachments.

“I am the perfect writer for this because I’m happy-go-lucky and I’ve read a copy of your [magazine/site] before….”

You shouldn’t mention you’ve read the magazine before – if you haven’t then you have no business applying, because if you haven’t read it, you couldn’t know if your pitch is a good fit.  Secondly, you should only include the information that is pertinent to why you should write that particular article.  So if it’s a piece about motherhood, you can mention you’re a mother.  If it’s about personal branding and you’ve got 50k Twitter followers, mention it.  What set of specific facts about you make you the absolute best, if not only person who can do this piece justice?

“I’ve included a piece on spec, but it’s pretty rough and needs a lot of work….”

Don’t send ‘rough drafts’ – your editor is an editor, not your schoolteacher proofing your homework.  If you’re unclear about the column you’re pitching for, try to get in touch and get the clarifications you need before submitting.  If that’s not possible and you do just have to send in something on spec, then ditch the negative tone – using words like rough and needs work are telling your editor that your work isn’t very good, even before they read it.

A few other mistakes that I’ve not seen myself, but have been highlighted here at FWJ recently:

  • Ditch the Humor:  while having a personality and style is ok, being funny doesn’t win any awards – or gigs – if you cross the line.  Are you being unique or are you being a funny jerk?
  • Tell them Why its Newsworthy:  Kymlee, an editor I interviewed here at FWJ last month, says you should tell her why the piece is newsworthy – why should she care?  Or more specifically, why her readers should?

What other silly mistakes have you made or have seen in a query letter?

Photo by plindberg





15 responses
  1. Amy Harrison Avatar

    I’ve received ones which don’t even start with my name but jump right in to the email.

    I’ve also received ones which are far too informal for having only just met.

    Having said that I would add anotherm which I used to be guilty of, and that is not to sound apologetic when you contact them. “I’d really like to write, but you’re probably too busy to read something from me, and I’m probably bothering you right now, I’m really sorry I’ll just crawl away agin now…thank you. And sorry…”
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Queens Park Books Brighton Hiring for Website Project =-.

  2. Andy Hayes Avatar

    Hey Amy, pal, buddy…. 🙂

    Excellent points.

    Oh, yes, the apologies I get all the time too – can’t believe I forgot that. “If its awful I’ll rewrite it” does not inspire confidence!
    .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..Photo Essay: Cool Bicycles – Bikes Around the World =-.

  3. Peggikaye Avatar

    After spending years with my family bugging me to publish (which I had no real desire to do so) I decided to get them off my back by making a half hearted effort to get a few things published. I obtained a Writer’s Market Guide, found a magazine that I was familiar with that stated they used mostly in house, and very rarely accepted unsoclicited articles. PERFECT! They’d reject my article and my family would get off my back.
    Except a week after I mailed it, I recieved an email “We WANT IT!” (they didn’t word it like that, but you get the point). Not only that, but they paid me $175. Um, er, uh … backfired. They wound up soliciting a few more from me, and I published a few other places, some for pay, some for not, and got a poetry book published, which I had no desire to promote.

    My family finally got the point that I write for me, for my friends, family but not for a job, it just took the joy out of it.
    .-= Peggikaye´s last blog ..Unusual Ways to Use Baking Soda at Home =-.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      It was probably because you had nothing to loose, you put it all out there, and no doubt the editor liked what they saw. Nice work!
      .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..How to Travel with Confidence =-.

  4. Adam Avatar

    As someone who is relatively new to this whole thing, it was quite helpful to read some of these. Since my confidence level really isn’t up there yet since I’m just starting and am trying to figure everything out, I have definitely been guilty of apologizing. I didn’t even realize it until I read it in the comments either. But right when I did, I thought to myself, “Wow, I have totally done that on many occasions.” Makes perfect sense, but sometimes you need someone to hit you over the head with it to make you realize it. So thanks!!
    .-= Adam´s last blog ..Initial Decisions to Make When Starting a Travel Blog =-.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      Adam, I look forward to hearing less apologies from you and more success stories =)
      .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..How to Travel with Confidence =-.

  5. Rebecca Avatar

    I just started submitted query letters and pitches. Does it really take six weeks for editors to get back to you or is this just what they tell writers? If you don’t hear back in six weeks, is it all right to start pitching to other publications? What if the editor gets back to you in the eighth week? These are some questions I’ve been thinking about since I sent my pitches and queries a few weeks ago.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Don’t be Frightened to Pitch Your Ideas =-.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      Rebecca, the problem is that every editor is different. My travel site is small in terms of the bigger picture, I think, but it can take me a couple of weeks to reply to someone.

      So yes, patience is a virtue. I’ve had editors get back to me MONTHS later.

      Feel free to shop it around. I’m not sure how it works for you, but for me, I can pitch a totally different angle to each magazine, which means if an editor comes back to me later who was the first one I pitched, I can still rework it and keep everybody happy.
      .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..How to Travel with Confidence =-.

  6. P.S. Jones Avatar

    This came at a good time. Up until now, I’ve been fortunate enough that either I was very familiar with the editor I was querying or I was approached to write the article. Querying someone I didn’t know was very rare. But I’ve been telling myself that I need to query more and not rest on “good enough” in my career. I hope to start branching out in the next month or so.
    .-= P.S. Jones´s last blog ..What Sex and the City Gets Wrong About Being a Writer =-.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      If you don’t query, your chances of success are zero.

      If you query, it’s 50% – yes or no.

      I know where I’d place my bet.
      .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..How to Travel with Confidence =-.

  7. Pat Steer (Gaelen) Avatar

    What other silly mistakes have I made? Alphabetically, or as they come to mind?
    Three weeks ago, I sent a cover letter, resume and clips to a potential client for a ‘just perfect’ freelance gig – reading research study reports and summarizing them into 500-1000 words in layman’s terms. That’s what I do in my day job, and I do it very well. My clips are mostly in food and nutrition, but I have a couple public cancer survivorship pieces that show my grasp of the medical language. So I sent off the package and waited for ‘the call.’

    The call I got was that the editor never got my original submission. Yikes! I raced to recompile all of the parts, and decided to tweak the cover letter before resending the package on Monday. Rush, rush, email – re-read the cover letter on Tuesday morning and discovered not one but TWO typos in the just-added paragraph. Which part of “leave well enough alone” was unclear to me?

    I’m going to call the editor. Don’t know what I’ll say yet, but the job is too important to just piss it away over “form” instead of “from” and “tranlate” instead of “translate.” I hope.
    .-= Pat Steer (Gaelen)´s last blog ..All multi-tasking, no breathing just makes a mess =-.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      Hahah – the joys of freelance writing, eh Pat? 🙂
      .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..How to Travel with Confidence =-.

  8. scarlet05 Avatar

    I had one query from a major publication about a week ago. Everything was going smoothly, there was good communication flowing between myself and the editor of the magazine. I pitched two ideas. She got back to me about one of my ideas and wanted some more information on it. So then I explained my pitch stating exactly what my angle was on the article. Then it seemed to go downhill from there. I guess my pitch wasn’t strong enough to get the editor to act on it. I kick myself now because I have a feeling that I didn’t use enough creativity in coming up with the angle I was interested in pursuing.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      Scarlet – no kidding, just push harder next time. 🙂 You are almost there.
      .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..How to Travel with Confidence =-.

  9. blah Avatar

    Ironic how this article starts with a typo. Even funnier that no one seems to have noticed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.