Cat Got Your Editor’s Tongue? How to Break into a Publication
IGNORED, UNLOVED, UNCHERISHED: 5 WAYS TO STOP EDITORS IGNORING YOU
Rejection isn’t the worst that can happen. The real bummer is when an editor ignores you. Blanks you. Leaves you swinging in the wind.
With an outright rejection, you can move on and send your proposal elsewhere. (That said, if more than a few editors have said “no thanks,” you should consider changing tack. There’s the distinct possibility that your idea is drivel.)
But let’s assume that you have a great proposal — or a finished article. In your opinion, it’s well-written. It’s timely. And it’s the perfect fit for your targeted publication.
In its guidelines, the magazine’s editor says she responds within four weeks. She hasn’t. So what’s happened?
Yes, I already know what’s running through your mind… You’re thinking a halfwit intern deleted it before it reached the editor’s desk. (Possible, but unlikely.)
Or that lowlifes stole the office computers… and your query and contact details are now languishing in some seedy pawnshop. (Extremely unlikely.)
Or even that work overload has led to alcohol-induced editorial breakdown. (50/50 chance.)
The question is, what now? Should you email or call asking why you haven’t heard back? Or simply send your story elsewhere?
In part, this depends on whether you’ve written for the publication before. If you have, then send a friendly email on these lines:
“Have you had a chance to consider my proposal on Haunted New Jersey for the October issue? (Submitted on XXX as a follow up to my story on XXX.) As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, it’s a time-sensitive story.”
If the magazine is a new target, then understand that you’re not the only travel writer out there. You have competition — lots of it. Most publications get hundreds of unsolicited stories every week. One editor + many writers = mountainous slush pile.
An editor may start out intending to respond to every submission. Indeed, the guidelines may even promise this. Yet time is limited. Factor in staff cutbacks, and good intentions often fall by the wayside.
There will always be exceptions. But if you haven’t had a response within the guidelines’ timeframe, don’t hold your breath. Just accept that this story idea didn’t hit the editorial sweet spot. The painful truth is that it’s almost certainly been canned.
Great stories and eye-catching proposals almost always emerge from the slush pile. There’s so much dross in there, anything really good twinkles like a diamond.
That said, nobody will shoot off your kneecaps for sending another email (never phone, they hate it) to put your mind at rest.
In your initial cover letter or query, you could also finish by saying you are offering ABC publication first option to the story. If you don’t hear back within a stated period of time, then you intend submitting it elsewhere. An editor won’t be offended. They all understand that writing is a business.
Sure, it’s disheartening if editors don’t respond. But follow these five rules and you’ll maximize your chances of hearing back — and breaking into a publication.
** 1. Read the publication’s guidelines
Don’t submit anything before studying the guidelines. Follow them closely. Never send a story proposal and ask for guidelines at the same time.
** 2. Target the right editor/department Only idiots open emails sent to ‘undisclosed recipients.’ Unless guidelines specifically ask for it, addressing emails to ‘The Editor’ is equally stupid. People have names. If you’re too idle to find out theirs, expect to be ignored.
** 3. Don’t be too informal
Emails are often less formal than old-fashioned letters, but you wouldn’t address any editor as “Hey, Dude.” (Well, I hope not.) A query must be more structured than a one-liner saying: “I want to write for you, shall I start with my California road trip?”
** 4. Grab an editor by the throat
Not literally, but you have about five seconds to make an attention-grabbing pitch. Use your story lead or proposal’s introduction paragraph wisely.
** 5. Be professional
Black text. Normal font. Name and contact details. No photo of yourself looking “writerly” on cover pages or at the top/bottom of emails. No pictographs of inkwells, suitcases, Eiffel Towers or passports. And definitely no smileys, pink fonts, or colored backgrounds.
Also, in response to this gentleman specifically, I wouldn’t pitch more than one idea at a time. If you’re writing in with a general email and a list of topics you can write about, you’re not doing your job. Pitch one, very specific article idea at a time. And use Jen’s tips from yesterday to do it.
Other than that, sadly, there’s no guaranteed method to make editors respond. If I could reveal a way, I would. However, if I ever get a travel editor’s job, you can bet I’ll always be open to bare-faced bribery. Promise me a date with Nicolas Cage, and I’ll definitely be in touch…
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]