The dumbest query I ever sent to an editor


In retrospect, there have probably been 100, or 800, queries that I would do differently—and in the olde days (before computers) that retrospect might have been ten minutes after I put a stamp on the envelope and sent the query off because it took so long to retype each query to make changes, type the envelope, address the SASE, and so on…

But the dumbest has to be the time I somehow got interested in motion sickness, in the newest medicine to counteract it, and what mareo was and how it happened.

For me, that was a typical article at that time: I wrote by interest only—mine. Then I found the most logical publication, and off went the query to its editor.

If I had read or heard something intriguing about the “nose,” I quickly convinced myself that everybody was likewise on the edge of their chaise lounge champing to read about the “nose.” I’d head for the library, find the encyclopedia, read about the nose, and make a page or two of notes. Then I’d find a book about the nose, or face, or whatever, and I’d find another 5-10 interesting facts. From that I created the query, slanted it to the imaginations of the kind of folk that I thought read a general magazine and were nose-eager, and off it went. (If I found three angles about the nose and three different, eager magazines, their editors each got a similar but reslanted query. If all three said yes—I can’t remember that ever happening—each editor would get her own article tailor-made.)

But the dumb thing about the motion sickness query wasn’t the query itself, it was the target I sent it to. I had sold a lot to Air California Magazine so I sent the query off as quickly as possible to that editor.

His reply came back about as fast: “Burgett, are you crazy? The magazine readers are flying in our airplanes when they read our magazine. And you want me to run your article about air sickness? Why not an article about air crashes? Or toxic in-flight snacks? I’ve got a better idea. Why not send this query over to P.S.A.? I think their readers would be delighted!”

P.S.A. was their in-California short-flight rival, and they had a magazine that bought from freelancers too!

Do what I didn’t: just think twice about the worst topic you could query a respective editor, and don’t send it. If you’re stuck for a topic, try the ear or the tongue.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk about querying in the Travel Writer’s Guide.

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