The Freelancer’s Phrase Book: Submit or Query?

Abby Green

By Abigail Green

Seasoned freelancers don’t write entire articles and then send them to editors, hoping they’ll buy. And for good reason: If no editor buys their submission, the writer has spent a significant amount of time and effort for nothing. Plus, you need only check the writers’ guidelines of most any magazine to find that few accept unsolicited submissions (e.g. completed articles); most accept only queries.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and the “no unsolicited submissions” rule is no different. Some types of articles, including essays and humor, will only be considered in their entirety. If you’re submitting an essay, you should still go ahead and draft a compelling cover letter, rather than simply stating, “Here’s my essay for your consideration,” and hoping the editor reads it all the way through. The point is, you want to entice the editor to actually read your submission since, after all, she didn’t commission it.

It often makes sense to submit other types of articles in their entirety, as well. Let’s say you’re pitching a short article (under 300 words) or a tip. In that case, your query is likely to be longer than the piece itself, so you may as well send the whole thing. The key is to avoid a “take it or leave it” attitude in your cover letter. I usually write something like, “Interested in the following piece on pet pedicures for your Beauty & the Beast section? Right now it’s 175 words. Of course, I’m happy to tailor it to your needs.” That shows the editor that you’re open to revisions, even though you’ve already written the article. (FYI, only once in all my years of doing this did I have an editor respond, “This is great, I’ll take it. Send me an invoice.”)

With travel stories, it also makes sense to submit a completed article instead of a query. When my husband and I went on a “babymoon” last year before our first child was born, I decided the trip would make a good travel article. So I wrote up the piece and sent it out to a few dozen travel editors when I got home. One bought it, cut it down by a few hundred words, made some minor edits, and my babymoon story ran in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune soon after. Had I sent a query, I could be on my third child by the time I got an assignment!

If you are just starting out and looking to earn those all-important first clips to accompany future queries, be sure to check out your local/ regional parenting publications. They will often purchase a well-timed, well-tailored article submitted four-six months in advance. You can find a database of member publications at Parenting Publications of America (

Abigail Green is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 12 years, she has written for national, regional and online publications including AOL, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. She blogs about the lighter side of pregnancy, parenthood and potty training at Diary of a New Mom. She also teaches the six-week e-course Personal Essays that Get Published.

2 Responses to “The Freelancer’s Phrase Book: Submit or Query?”

  1. 1 erin goodman March 25, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Thank you so much for this Abigail!

    I just sent off e-mails to all the parenting publications in my region requesting writer’s guidelines (if they weren’t listed on the website).

  2. 2 erin goodman March 25, 2009 at 1:00 am

    PS ~ Congratulations on your new little one!!!

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