Has this happened to you? You write a query letter to a new publication you haven’t worked for before, you send it off…and then nothing.
Since I do, I thought I’d ask an editor or two about the volume of queries they get and the reasons they don’t respond to all their queries. I got feedback from several of my national-magazine editors about why this is–I’m not naming names here to prevent them from being inundated with even more queries!
Here are a few possible reasons editors haven’t responded to your query letter.
1) They get too many queries to respond to them all. One editor of a niche online vertical site for a national business magazine, for instance, let me know she gets 100 queries daily weekdays, and more come in on weekends. So think 600 or so queries a week. And she’s editing a niche online site for this publication, not even working for the print magazine! Imagine how many queries editors at big print publications are getting.
2) They haven’t looked at your query. Sometimes, editors fall behind–on long weekends, after vacations, on production day. They really may just not have read it yet, even though it’s been weeks.
3) They’re too busy with other tasks. Editors have a lot of responsibilities writers may not know about. They are not simply sitting at their desks editing copy and reading queries all day. They go on retreats, plan future issues, take meetings, work on budgets, work on layout redesigns, plan layoffs, take trainings to learn new technologies, interview prospective full-time hires, and brainstorm with their established writers. They are some of the busiest people I know. For instance, my BNET editor signed on to work at 3:40 a.m. one morning this week while also “upchucking” from a flu, and I routinely see him on at 11 pm as well.
4) They looked at your query, and it was lame. When editors get really bad queries–ones that aren’t remotely appropriate for their publication–they often just move on. I think they don’t quite know what to say. And they get so many queries that fall into this category–most editors I’ve ever worked with expressed disbelief at how many utterly amateurish, poorly crafted queries they receive.
Writers like to gripe about how editors can’t do them the courtesy of answering their query. Well, are you doing the editor the courtesy of sending them a stellar pitch?
Instead of focusing energy on perceived editor shortcomings, you’ll be better served by focusing on improving what you send them. If you’re not getting any bites, assume your queries could use improvement. Study your target publication carefully before writing. Read some of the great books out there on how to write query letters and ratchet up your skills. Query Letters That Rock is one good recent book on the topic. Also, send more queries to more publications and up your odds of success.
I’ve never met an editor who doesn’t live for the moment they find that rare query in their pile that knocks them out. It’s a fresh idea, sharply written, and they know right away this is a new writer they’ve just got to call. It just doesn’t happen that often. Good queries are like tiny masterpieces–they should be so great you almost want to frame them and put them on your wall instead of sending them in.
If your query is really strong but the idea isn’t a perfect fit, you can often still get a gig. This happened in the past week to one of my mentees–after we buffed up her query, a national magazine passed on her original idea but assigned her four marketing pieces instead. Invest some time and energy in mastering the art of querying and it’ll open a lot of doors for you.