Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Query question: simultaneous querying in magazines

Dear Million-Toothed Goddess of the Sea,

I am currently reading "You Are A Writer (so start ACTING like one)" by Jeff Goins. and in Chapter 10 he said something that made me feel compelled to seek your advice. In this chapter, he focuses on building writing experience by submitting writing pieces for publication in magazines.

He said, "Try pitching to several publications or publishers at once, following the appropriate guidelines for each...Now, this doesn't mean to just blast the same idea to every publication. Most publications consider simultaneous submissions to be unethical. But you can create several different articles from a single idea."

That threw me for a loop. First he said submit to multiple publishers at once (following guidelines). Then he said to don't blast the same idea, but to create several different articles from a single idea or else it'll likely be unethical. Let it be known that I have zero experience with magazines. From the book industry, we submit to multiple agents at a time for the same piece.

Obviously, Jeff's experience is more broad, but he's said some more things about magazine publishing that just aren't done in the traditional book publishing process, which equates me to the usefulness of a potato. Can you clarify the basic magazine submission process? I really don't even see magazines calling for submissions anymore [those were the days, eh Stephen King?]. Thank you, because I hate being a potato. Unless there's bacon. Always say yes to bacon!

Querying for articles in a magazine is very different from querying for books. For starters, you're going to be querying NON-FICTION articles almost exclusively.  If you're submitting short stories, you follow the submission guidelines and often they DO take simultaneous subs.

For non-fiction articles the idea is to have some sort of topic that you know a lot about and come up with different stories for it.

For example, I know a lot about query letters. I might pitch The SharkBait Writer's Guide to commission an article on "Effective Queries for Fish." I'll use the same knowledge base to query the Carkoon Prison Times for an article on "How To Query From Prison." I can pitch those outlets at the same time.

Two separate story ideas, but essentially the same topic.

What I can NOT do is pitch "How To Query The Big Fish Agents" to two or more different magazines at the same time UNLESS their submission guidelines say it's ok.

See the difference?

There are a lot of places now to publish articles that don't require querying first at all. The danger there is if your writing isn't up to par, you can damage your career pretty easily.


ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Like the person who asked this question, I don't really know anything about the magazine trade of submissions, so this was all interesting info to pack away should I decide to start looking at that angle and begin research on that.

The part that most intrigued me, though, was your last add-on, Janet:

"There are a lot of places now to publish articles that don't require querying first at all. The danger there is if your writing isn't up to par, you can damage your career pretty easily."

I'm not quite sure what this means. ie: the publication will remember your first sub-par submission and it will prejudice them for future attempts? Or that they might actually publish it and others will see this sub-par quality and make judgments from there? Or...?

I imagine we have plenty of blog participants who work in this venue that can help me with this part of the post?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

"if your writing isn't up to par, you can damage your career pretty easily."

That's one of the things that worries me. (yup, woodland creature) I sent out queries for a non-fiction book awhile back and received a phone call from the vanity press of a publishing company I admired. The admired company had a contest. Their attached vanity press was willing to publish my book. As long as I paid them, stored the inventory, and marketed it. I said 'no thanks' and crossed them off my list of likes.

I have wondered, when I read non-fiction in my area of interest, if some of the smaller or newer publishing companies have less stringent editing?

Colin Smith said...

First, let me start by saying THANK YOU to QOTKU and everyone who participated in yesterday's surprise writing contest. I was more than surprised. I was blown away. Didn't expect it, and everyone rose to the occasion with some truly great stories. What a way to feel loved! :D You guys are the best. :D Yes, I had a marvelous birthday, and that contest yesterday was the frosting (icing) and cherry on the cake of an already wonderful day.

Now, to the question of the day. I wondered the same thing, Janet R. After all, a query and pages early in one's writing career won't prejudice an agent against a writer. How is it different with a short story submission to a mag? Stephen King submitted lots of stories to mags that eventually published him, but I'm sure some of those first ones were less than what we expect from the fiction master.

BTW, QOTKU, we have a business relationship with the Warden and Chief Editor at Carkoon Prison (AKA The Buttonweezer Correctional Facility). A chap by the name of Nigel Buttonweezer. Anyway, if you're interested in publishing that article, I'm sure one of our team would be happy to negotiate a deal. Just send the article, cash in a suitable currency (the gronig is popular here), and a large bottle of scotch, and I think we can make your dreams come true! :)

Craig said...

A couple of years agone I had, I thought, a series that would fit in an e-zine. They didn't get it. Since then I get the occasional e-mail from them describing various ways in which my writing sucks. It seems that they have short memories and long records. When they are short a story they dive into their records looking for filler. If they still don't wish to use it they will tell you about it each time their eyes fall upon it.

In more important news I was wondering if you are going to make Colin pick a winner? He deserves to have to pay something for all the effort we put into it.

If he is going to have to do can we keep on his case to make sure a winner is known before his next birthday?

Anonymous said...

I've thought of dipping my toe into the magazine publishing area more than once, so this was an interesting post. Having said that, I've been a real potato about it. Such a potato, I've grown eyes. Many, many eyes. They are useless at helping me foresee my writing future however.

The other thing with writing an article for mags is I seem to also be a waffle. (It's all a bout food today, people) I'm a waffle b/c I review submission guidelines and start to write, only to worry that I'm not working on my "real" project, i.e., the next book. So I bail on the article and go back to writing the book. Then the article, then the - you get the picture.

Colin's Birthday surprise contest had some amazing entries! I was in Raleigh all day with Mom, but I tucked the five words away in my head so I could try to finagle a story in between helping her run errands. We were in the Time Warner Cable office, getting the account switched to her name only and they called her number. She was trying to get up - she has a cane - while I sat staring out the window.



"Can you...,"

"Oh! Sorry Mom."

"It's okay. Were you writing?"

I love my mom.

Julie Weathers said...

My former editor, Diane Ciarloni, so we don't confuse her with our Diane, used to make a very nice living selling freelance magazine articles.

She spent one summer horseback with a packhorse following a wild horse herd and writing stories about them. She also had a very good entertainment lawyer who was quite versed in rights. Her biggest market for these stories was in Europe. Depending on the rights sold, she might be able to resell the exact same story. Other times, she'd rewrite that incident from a different angle to make it a new story. Which is exactly what JetReid said.

I've actually thought about rewriting some stories I did for the magazine I wrote for and approaching some new magazines. Diane has been encouraging me to do so because I enjoy doing short stories and articles and money is money. It beats taking in ironing.

I've done horror stories related to some game characters I wrote. I intend to shop to horror magazines with the blessing of the game company.

Publishing credits are always a boon to an aspiring writer.

To the OP, there's an entire, very large Writer's Market that has listings of Novel and Short Story Writer's Markets. I used to buy it, the Lit Agent catalog, and the Christian Writer's Market every year.

I'll probably invest in the Market guides again soon.

I've just painted myself into a corner and done what your are not ever supposed to do once you start querying, made some major revision to the wip while agents have it. So, for now, I am finishing that and getting my ducks back in a row.

S.D.King said...

I write regularly for a girl's magazine, but I got the gig on recommendation, not by querying or submitting spec.

I sold first serial rights, so I am thinking of taking those same (or slightly revised) stories and offering them to other children's publications, but I am a little hesitant. I just don't really understand all the lingo in their submission guidelines. It sometimes seems to conflict with the Writers Market listings. Makes me nervous.

Sometimes I want a critique partner, sometimes I want a paid editor, and sometimes I just want a pat on the head. And of course I want my dream children's agent (R.S.) to email asking for full.

Colin Smith said...

Craig: I think Janet should judge this one--we need someone impartial. I would be prone to give weight to the stories that said nice things about me, or that were Doctor Who-related (serious props to S.D. King!). Besides, there were so many good ones, I don't know how she manages to pick finalists, let alone one winner!

And there's also the fact that one of the entries is mine. :)

Anonymous said...

I did a lot of study in the non-fiction magazine business back when I first started thinking seriously about writing for a living, back in the '90s. (I've happily been lucky enough to be able to do that for the last decade without going freelance.) I never did query non-fiction articles, as I didn't feel I knew enough to write articles for the magazines that could pay enough for the work. And the market has been shrinking.

Anyway, I think what Janet meant is that there are websites where you can now post content and they'll pay you a bit (more like a pittance, in most cases, like a few pennies an article, or they'll pay you per 'like' or use some other reader-input method) and the more articles you write, the more small amounts of money you might make. The thing is, anyone can submit and their work will most likely be published. The problem with these content-oriented sites is that your work will be online forever (you know how the internet works - nothing is ever completely erased, even if you're allowed to take it off the content site), so if your earlier work isn't really all that good, it's going to be there for the high-paying magazine editors to see if they go looking.

One thing to take away from querying non-fiction magazines: Don't wait until you've finished writing the article to query, unless you want to prove to yourself you can write that article. Non-fiction magazines buy ideas - very unlike fiction magazines - and they'll reject the idea, too. They don't want to see a full article until they commission it, based on your idea. Since you wouldn't sell the same article to two magazines (even similar magazines have different focuses and styles), you'll just be rewriting the article again.

Basically, the difference between fiction and non-fiction magazines is: Fiction magazines buy writing. Non-fiction magazines buy ideas, and they assume you can write the idea. This latter is why it's good to have 'clippings' - articles or other writing you can point to, to tell the magazine 'See? I can write goooood.' Of course, that's where the catch 22 comes in: magazines want you to have previous published pieces, but you can't get those unless a magazine will publish them.

If you feel your non-fiction writing on your chosen topic is professional enough, you could start a blog about it, to get pub credit and followers. I believe it's not difficult to get a blog on io9, and it may attract more readers. Or, if you're able to market your blog, you can do that, too.

Generally, though, if you want to publish a novel someday, you'll do better to submit stories to the fiction magazines. If you want to publish non-fiction, though, then yes, you want to query appropriate magazines with stories in your specialty, and develop a platform that way.

Sorry for the long-windedness - still in the middle of my coffee. I hope this helps, anyway.

Anonymous said...


I see your dilemma, and I find it unreasonable.

I mean, sure -- you could choose a winner based on who you generally like, or who made you laugh... but then there's picking yourself...

So let me ask you this. When you're playing a board game with an 11 year old, (say - Settlers of Catan or perhaps Monopoly)and they by some miracle or act of God start winning...

Do you:

(a) Let it happen. Because after all, it's just a game.


(b) Destroy them by employing every uncivilized and downright despicable tactic and strategy that age or wisdom has imparted to you -- because life's tough and 11 is a good time to learn that lesson...

I think the answer is pretty clear. You make us cry, Colin. You choose yourself and make us all cry.

Colin Smith said...


But that solution is frought with problems. Imagine the scene...

The Freaking Amazing Writing Conference, where somehow, by the kind of miracle that allows parents to beat their 11-year-olds at Monopoly, all the QOTKU commenters are in attendance. And by everyone, I mean everyone. Even Diane, who is by far the best dressed, having just scored a seven-figure advance for her trend-setting historical fiction.

And they're all talking, laughing, enjoying themselves... except one lone woodland creature.

"But Donna... you have to understand. It was my birthday!"

Donna turns away to admire Diane's diamond-studded shoes.

"2Ns... I had to!"

2Ns flicks a lima bean at the poor dejected creature and walks away.

He takes his Newcastle Brown and finds a table in a dark corner. Alone with his broken heart.

"Hey, Smith."

He feels a presence close to him, but can't bring himself to raise his head.

"I heard about what you did."

Smith really doesn't want to hear this.

"It was mean. Despicable. Unsporting. Perhaps even borderline evil."

He slumps onto the table, head in arms. Then he feels a nudge and the hard edge of a business card sliding between his fingers.

"The name's Barbara Poelle. I think we'd work well together. Call me."


Anonymous said...

Before I turned away to admire Diane's diamond studded shoes, I'd burn you with my eyes and say, "Colin who?"

Well, no that's actually not true... I would never do that. I'd love for you to pick b/c those of us out here know it's SUBJECTIVE and a matter of personal taste, etc. Just like the Lima Bean dilemma. I've not said this till now, BUT. They are called BUTTER BEANS down heah. The End.

If we can't agree on the name, then we'll just have to go with their scientific name; phaseolus lunatus.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As I see it, (and over the years I’ve seen and experienced this a lot), a query, is a query, is a query. For anyone calling themselves an editor, it's all the same thing. Some want the piece done, attached, or in the actual email pitch, and some take on the "idea" and you run with it. I've done both.
The issue with magazines,(that's sort of pin), is that often, when making your pitch, (of which you are an expert), they want tear-sheets. I used to think, well there’s a catch-22 for ya, but actually they just want to know you can actually write, meet a deadline, and work with editors. (They also want to know YOU know what the hell you’re writing about).
If you’ve written for on-line magazines, (e-zines), the problem is that many will take on just about anything. Sure it’s a publishing credit (and they may even pay) but if your writing is not up to par, you’re a goner. Just make sure an editor liked your stuff and style enough to take you on because you’re good, not simply a filler.
Be realistic.
Print magazines pay pretty well, (always be aware of lead time), and read the publication you are submitting to a lot, to know what they are about and what they want. It can be difficult to break in but once you have the editors on your side, it’s sweet. Some on-line magazines have awesome reputations, (Salon) and can be tough to break into as well.
Be realistic with what you are using as examples of your writing. (Blog writing and magazine writing is VERY different).
I can’t stress enough that you MUST be realistic about your writing when approaching magazines. Keeping your pitches and subjects relative to your long-term project, and to what a magazine wants, is sometimes very difficult, if interrelated is what you are after.
I love writing for magazines and newspapers. I could go on and on about this but I’ll stop here.

REJourneys said...

bjmuntain: That was an excellent summary of non-fiction vs. fiction magazines. I learned something new.

And, Colin, I believe you should have some say in picking the winners. Look at it this way:

You have been declared King of the Flash Fiction for a day, the day of March 24, 2015. You put the gilded crown (sorry, only gilded, Carkoon can't afford the solid stuff) on your head.

But alas, what is a King without a kingdom to rule? What is he, but an exile, without subjects to do his bidding? You must declare a royal court of loyal woodland creatures (whose qualifications were posted yesterday, in story form).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Lima beans, butter beans, engorged ticks, all the same to me.
When I was a kid, I once stepped on a cute little caterpillar. The guts that squished out were lima bean green. Maybe that's why I have an aversion to limas. Although when you think about what a thick and chunky beef stew looks like you might get tuned off. Not me I love stew.
These visuals are freakin' me out.

It's like Archie Bunker telling Edith he would not eat cow's tongue because, "...I ain't gonna eat nothin' that comes out of a cows mouth".
"So what do you want for lunch?" Asks Edith.
Archie answers, "Egg salad."

Craig said...

Obfuscation and prevarication; oh my.

Colin: Think of all of those frazzled people who worked so hard pulling a rabbit out of a hat for you. It is time for you to buck up, man up, suck up, grow up and six or seven other ups. They put so much energy into performing for you that they can’t even respond today.

My last count from the peanut gallery was four for you judging and one against. I don’t need to tell you voted against.

Back to the thread: Many of the e-zines do not edit anything that comes their way. Be sure what you send is something you want to show to the world. The traditional market is rapidly contracting and many of them don’t want new authors. E-zines are an easier place to turn at this point but be careful.

Anonymous said...

I recant my former position --

As I so elegantly pointed out, Colin choosing the winner would inevitably lead to him voting for himself -- which (in Colin's own words) would then lead him to a party with a great many woodland creatures who would then shun him, backing him into a corner until he had no choice but to accept the literary offerings of a woman who was clearly the sole influence in Eve's decision to eat the apple in the garden of Eden in the first place...

The cause and subsequent effect of this action... well I simply could not wish it on the most voracious of supervillains. Thusly, with a heavy heart I must declare, I vote against Colin voting for himself and therefore against Colin voting.

This logic is as sound as a tree that falls in the woods when no one is present to hear it.

(I wish I could add to the topic of the actual blog post - but unfortunately I know nothing about magazines.)

Anonymous said...

I want Colin to vote because it'd be interesting (IMHO) to see who he'd pick, how his tastes run, and no, I won't do anything to him at Bouchercon - maybe.

But I think I know why he wants QOTKU to vote. It's b/c he WON'T pick himself, and he knows he won't and therefore his story would be sunk before it even stood a chance. QOTKU has been silent on this thus far, and of course we know that even though Colin was declared King for the day, she holds the keys to Carkoon. And she has a lot of teeth. According to the OP, like a quadzillion or something.

Anonymous said...

Oh. And I meant to also say, 2N's made me gag. Tick? *stomach rolls*

S.D.King said...

I didn't know there was a prize - I thought it was sort of a virtual surprise party for Colin.
BTW - glad you liked the Dr. Who reference- after all who wouldn't want to be awakened by the line "Run you clever boy".

Colin Smith said...

S.D.: I've been a Whovian all my life, so you'd definitely have an unfair advantage. :)

I appreciate you all wanting me to be a part of the judging, but I'll leave it up to QOTKU and her supreme Sharkley wisdom to make the call. After all, it was an innocent suggestion of mine that landed me on Carkoon in the first place. I'm not going to make that mistake again, so no more suggestions from me on how the voting should be done. :D

Lisa Bodenheim said...

S.D.: ditto, enjoyed the infiltration of Whovian lore.

Eileen said...

Sure you can judge, Colin. My bribe is on the way. Small bills, unmarked of course.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I wrote some articles for suite101 thinking I might earn some passive income. A mag wanted to buy one of them but the pennies I never earned were under contract. Suite101 doesn't exist anymore. I'm happy. Damage control.

Godzilla and a Carkoon jury could place silent bids on winners. The prize could be Colin reading the entries in a podcast so we can hear his cool accent. Grin.

Christina Seine said...

I would never try to bribe you or pressure you in any way, Colin. Pinky swear.

Just like I would never eat the entire giant raspberry-filled triple-layer chocolate birthday cake Janet had delivered to you at the office.

*looks around*

Um, Julie did it!
No, wait ... I think I saw a chocolate crumb on Donna's collar!

*runs away*

Colin Smith said...

Giant raspberry-filled triple-layer chocolate birthday cake???!


*takes bottle of Newkie Brown to a dark corner table and weeps quietly...*

Anonymous said...

Ha! Impossible. Can't be me, clever Christina, b/c there's one thing you don't know about me. I don't wear shirts with collars.

And remember... I'm not *really* there, only in my mind - and maybe yours.

Anonymous said...

Colin. I can hear you.

Lilac Shoshani said...

Colin, I can hear you too.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin, I can hear you.

Craig said...


Christina Seine said...

Curses, foiled again by the collar-less wardrobe choices of my peers!

*twirls evil moustache*

*feels bad*

*quietly hands sniffling Colin a hastily-made Dorito-filled quadruple-layer Lima bean cake with kale-flavored frosting*

*and a cherry on top*