Your Submission Questions Answered (Part 1)

As promised, this is the first post where I’ll respond to your submission questions. My experience comes from trial and error, study, conferences and conversations.

This week I will tackle the submission questions I’ve received and next week I’ll cover questions about contests. This is the plan. However, I am open to changing it. If your question has not been answered, please ask.

Now, drumroll please…

Guidelines and Submission QuestionsWritng-woman-freelance

1) What are some sources I can use to create an effective cover letter for my pitch? I’ve heard that this is important, but is it possible to be overly concerned about this? Are editors as critical of the cover letter’s contents, or are they more interested in your actual story idea?


The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (2009)

How to Write Irresistible Query Letters (an older book, but has good basics)

How to Write Attention Grabbing Query Cover Letters

Answer: The query letter is important, but you can be too concerned about a couple of things: your exact wording and your credentials. An editor is going to look at your Writing - Magazineinquiry letter as your ability to write so, in that respect, it’s important. Although, that same busy editor is scanning for a great idea that will fit their current need. They pay special attention to your credentials if you’re pitching a 2,000 word feature article. But, if you start small and pitch a shorter piece for a regular feature, such as Writer’s Digest’s Inkwell, you don’t have to stress about your credentials as much.

 2) Should you pitch “over your head”? For example, if I have a super-duper idea that I think is perfect for Forbes magazine, is it possible that they’d accept my story idea, or do they generally use only their regular writers, those with experience at that level?

Answer: Again, it is good to start with the smaller sections of a magazine, but don’t shy away from larger ones. Try a variety of places. Larger magazines do have regular writers, but they look for new writers too. If your idea is worthwhile, but an editor is not sure you can write it, they may still pay you an idea fee and then assign the article to a more experienced writer. I actually read about a writer who was offended by this and refused the money; the editor still used the idea (See copyright note below). I think making money for only coming up with an idea and not having to write it is sweet.

3) Is it politically correct to submit the same idea to different publications? I’ve done one magazine at a time, and have heard conflicting reports about the correctness of dual submissions.

Answer: Yes, in mWriting: Shorts and Statsost cases. Most publishers understand that working writers may need to submit an idea to more than one place. So much so, that if they want an exclusive idea they will state in their guidelines, “No simultaneous submissions.”

If you send a completed article out to more than one place and it sells, and later a second place is interested, you do have to make them aware that it is no longer available for first rights. They may be interested in reprint rights for a smaller amount. If you pitch only an idea and two places are interested, it is possible to write two articles that are quite different based on the same set of ideas.

See related posts: Surveying the Magazine before Submitting

Can You Really Trust the Magazine Editor?

4) How can I protect my work?

Answer: This might sound trite, but it is already protected. Once an original expression exists in a tangible form, that expression is protected by copyright laws. Here is a good quick summary of copyright laws. Note: Ideas and titles cannot be copyrighted, only complete works.

5) Can I resubmit a query after it’s been rejected?

Answer: Yes. If you don’t mind I will quote myself from an earlier post (receiving and rising above rejection).

“Here’s a secret, unless your words were astonishingly bad, an editor who sees thousands of manuscripts a day is unlikely to recognize seeing the same one again. Wait six to eight months, look it over, and send it again. A whole new line-up of ideas and needs will be on the table. What didn’t fit before might fit now. (There might even be a new editor at the desk).”

6) How long should a writer wait before following up on a query?

Answer: Many guidelines will tell you, but if they do not, 90-120 days is standard. If you email your submission, it will be logged in on the day it is received, so keep track of that. I did this all wrong in the beginning. I would send an email and when I didn’t get a response, I’d send a second slightly agitated email stating “second mailing”, etc. My friend Thomas Smith told me to try something along these lines:

Dear (insert kind editors name),Writing - Mechanical-Pencil_hand writing freelance

I am writing regarding my submission titled, 21 Ways to Spend a Million Dollars, sent, 4/20/13. I am not writing to see if a decision has been made. I realize that it takes time to find the right article for the right issue. I am simply writing to see if you received it. If not, I would be glad to resend it. Thank you for your time.


When I tried this I got two responses from the same place about two hours apart. Not only did they look up the one I inquired about, they looked to see if I’d sent anything else and responded on the other submission about an hour later. Neither resulted in immediate offers, but I was so excited to get a response. I got another response the next day from a different place. Courtesy goes a long way. Lesson learned.

7) If your short stories or articles keep getting rejected, how do you know if it’s time to give up on that piece or try to improve it?

I’m not sure I can answer this one. It’s different for everyone, and like most writers I am ¾ optimist and ¼ pessimist. If you have a critique group or partner, they can Writing - Computer hand typing -freelancecertainly help you with fine-tuning your piece. I have pulled out rejected pieces, worked on them, and resubmitted them often. I also know of someone who had a piece rejected several times. She brought it to our writing group and, with a few suggestions, tweaked it a bit and it was later accepted.

Also, the more time I’ve invested in an idea, the less likely I am to want to abandon it. Perhaps my advice would be to set it aside and work on something else. Come back to it at a later date and see if you still think it has merit.

On that note I will end with this quote from Isaac Asimov:

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”

Was this helpful? If so, pass it on, or leave a comment below. Thanks, see you next week.

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4 comments on “Your Submission Questions Answered (Part 1)
  1. Cate Macabe says:

    Thank you for the answers to many of my query questions. I especially like the suggestion of how to handle sending a follow up to ask if your query had been received — great idea.

  2. dmswriter says:

    Thank you, Peter! I can see that a lot of thought and care went into this post, and I appreciate that very much. I’ve had a few ideas lurking around, and your suggestions about the pitch letter will go a long way toward helping me submit these ideas. Thanks a lot!

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