Once upon a time, not so long ago, a freelance writer wrote a query letter and sent it by mail to one editor. Then the writer would wait.
After a few weeks, the writer heard back from the editor.
If the writer received a rejection letter, he would send another query to another editor by mail. And then he would wait some more.
On and on it went until the writer’s story idea was accepted. Then the writer happily wrote the story and then repeated the same process all over again.
Things move much more quickly these days. Email cuts the waiting time down from weeks to days or hours. And many editors never bother to respond to query letters, making it futile to wait for a reply.
Times have changed!
Oddly enough, some writers still follow the process of writing a query letter to one editor at a time. If you are using this archaic system, chances are you’ll grow old and grey before your list of published articles reaches double figures. And you will definitely not earn much income.
So how can you change the process and improve your chances of getting your story ideas accepted more quickly?
Use simultaneous submissions.
Some writers fret needlessly over this technique. They worry about what will happen if more than one editor wants their story.
So I’m here to tell you this is not an issue. In my seven years of experience as a freelance writer I’ve always used simultaneous submissions. Having two editors want the same story has only happened to me a handful of times.
And if you have strategies for dealing with this rare situation, everyone will walk away happy. (More about the strategies in part 2 of this article.)
Using simultaneous queries is one of the techniques I’ve used that has resulted in a 90% acceptance rate for my articles. That’s right: 90%!
If you don’t already have a 90% acceptance rate for your story ideas and would like to significantly improve your acceptance rate, this article will tell you how to do it.
Doing simultaneous submissions is as easy as this 3-step process:
Step 1. Create distribution lists for every genre that you write about.
I create extensive distribution lists with the editor’s names and contact details for all the magazines in every genre that I write for. This includes magazines in all other English-speaking countries.
The number of magazines on my various distributions lists ranges from five to seventy five, and includes magazines in England, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Step 2. Create an enticing query letter.
The query letter is your sales tool. You can use the same query letter for every editor on your list for that story idea, making sure to change the salutation and magazine references within the text.
Step 3. Send your query letter to every magazine on your list that is a good fit for your story.
After creating an enticing query letter, I send it out to every editor on that list. Then I sit back and wait for an acceptance email.
This system works nine times out of ten for me.
Inevitably my story idea—if halfway decent— will resonate enough with an editor somewhere around the world for him or her to accept my story for publication.
You might be wondering why you should pitch every magazine on your list?
The reason is that you have no way of knowing what an editor really wants at any point in time. Many times I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I have pitched a magazine that I thought was a long shot, and the editor emailed me back enthusiastically with, “We’d love this article”.
I’ve also been surprised when I have pitched stories to magazines that I thought would be an ideal match, and they rejected it or I never heard back from the editor (which is the same thing as a rejection).
There is absolutely no predictability about who will “go” for your query, and who will reject it.
This means you need to pitch all of the magazines on your distribution list.
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Many of my freelance-writing friends are amazed at the sheer audacity of the simultaneous submissions approach.
“You can’t do that”, they say.
“What if more than one editor wants the story?”
So that brings me to a few ground rules. And, I’d like to point out that these are rules, not guidelines.
Rule #1. Never sell the same article to the same market at the same time.
When I polled editors, this was by far their greatest fear. They do not want to see the same article published in a competing magazine during the same period of time.
Every freelancer knows this is just not done, but it is the most basic rule to remember.
Rule #2. If two editors express an interest in the same story, never, ever play one editor off against another.
This is freelance writer suicide and a good way to have both editors put your name on their “pariah” list. You’ll never get a story in either publication again.
Always go with the first editor who accepts your story. Then deal with the second editor using one of the strategies mentioned in Part 2 of this article.
Carla Banning of Lost Treasure has experienced this first hand; “I do occasionally encounter a writer that says he or she submitted the same story elsewhere and needs an immediate promise of publication or they will let the other publication have it as an exclusive.” Her standard answer is, “Please feel free to go ahead and do that”.
David Castle of Running Fitness asks his writers to be up front and honest. “If they play me, then they lose my faith”.
Allen Cox of Northwest Travel says that if he had a story yanked by a writer after they had a higher offer from another magazine, “I’d reconsider working with that writer again. Once I accept and assign a story, I expect the writer to meet his obligation to deliver”.
He adds, “An important part of successful freelance writing is establishing productive, long-term relationships with editors. In today’s market, attempting to play editors against one another over a story would be counterproductive and unprofessional. I think most writers understand that.”
Derek Buono of Beer magazine also agrees with the importance of writers building a relationship with the editor: “If that happens, the story is not of interest to me anymore. If you want to build a relationship, don’t play games”.
Rule #3. If two editors want the same story, always be scrupulously honest with both editors. Let the second editor know what has happened and then make your alternative pitch, as I explain in the strategies in Part 2.
So now you know the 3-step process for simultaneous submissions and the rules around using this technique. Remembering the rules will keep you out of trouble.
You might also be interested in reading the 2 most asked questions about simultaneous queries.
Part 2 of this article discusses some strategies for dealing with simultaneous acceptances – that rare and happy occasion when more than one editor wants to buy the same article at the same time.
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