"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Just Ask Jen"- Your Readers' Questions Answered...

Janette Dolores
I am pleased that in the four years of writing and publishing this blog, I have garnered a pretty diverse, dynamic following. According to Google Analytics, my emails and feedback from others, readers range from stay at home moms in Michigan, to experts with PhD. degrees.
Some Pen and Prosper followers have never had their works published before, while others are noted authors with successful careers in the industry.

As such, there are different levels, guidance needs, and goals represented here. Though I do my best to address an array of topics and themes, perhaps there is still something that has you scratching your head about the creative process, things that require greater clarity.
Whether you're trying to break through a "blog fog," need tips to manage your time better, or seek to earn more pay for your say, please take this opportunity to pose a question.
In keeping with this blog's mission to help you "know more and grow more" today's question comes from my blogging buddy, Janette.
Can you help?
She writes:

"I'd be interested in hearing more about your take on query letters. I think I read an older post of yours discussing your take on query letters, but this may have been two or three years ago so I don't recall exactly what it said. ? Not sure if memory serves me on that one. I'll search through your older blog posts now, but look forward to any future blog posts on the subject!"

My take on this topic:
Queries pose a quandary for writers of all levels and genres. Experts contend that in order for writers to get the green light to get their works published, they must perfect the "sacred" query letter. Not so. Not always.

For me, my approach has always been about time management and getting the biggest "bang" for my writing and blogging efforts. In my vast career as a writer, I have had to deal with many challenges, in terms of time and resources. In former years, for example, I maintained a writing career while working full time during the day and going to college at night. Not to mention other personal demands.

Also, adding to the equation was the fact that I was a "late bloomer." I didn't start out on the writing path til' later in life, with several detours.
I had stressful careers that although I was successful in, did not speak to my true passion and my personality. Perhaps you can relate.

So, if I may, let me break this down like a fraction reduced to its simplest terms:

Consider the purpose of a query letter.
The goal here is simply to get an editor's permission to submit your work for consideration. That's it in a nutshell. It's not a magic pill.

If your query is well written, you still could be rejected because of the following:
  •    The idea has been covered recently, or is in the process of being covered.
  • Though your writing is good, the editor doesn't like your take on the subject.
  • Your idea is not a good match for the publication.
  • Your clips are not impressive enough.

Now let's look at the time factor...
You spend an hour or two crafting your query.
You send it to an editor.
It takes from 2-6 weeks for the editor to evaluate it and get back to you.
The editor approves it, with the okay to send in the completed piece.
You write the piece and send it in.
You wait for the editor to review it and decide whether or not it meets his needs. Sometimes another 2-6 weeks will be added to the process.
She ultimately rejects your work.
You start the process over...Oy vey!

There's a better way.

Consider this: by the time you've done this checklist, I've likely written a piece, been paid, and am looking for reprint markets. Hello? :-)

Because instead of mastering the craft of queries, I've mastered the craft of being strategic.
Here's how:
  1. I study writers' guidelines with a fine-tooth comb.
  2. I search through archives like I'm on a scavenger hunt.
  3. I pay attention to the percentage of freelance submissions that a publication typically purchases to assess my odds for success. (Writers Market is great for this information).
  4. I produce quality work with unique slants, and an understanding of the publication's target audience and objectives.
  5. I strive to be easy to work with. "Divas" need not apply.
And so far, I've fared pretty well, folks. With about 700 published pieces, I think I may have submitted maybe two or three queries in my entire career.

Note: For the big "glossies" you will need to query first as a matter of protocol.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' with it. :-)
My motto: Don't query, be happy!

Thanks, Janette.

Your turn.
Comments? What would you like to have me address on writing and blogging?
"Speak now, or forever hold your peace." :-)



  1. Hi, Jen:

    So I log onto your blog as usual to read your latest post and am greeted with a picture of me! I'm glad you selected my question out of many you receive to address in this post.

    Your take on query letters makes sense. I would imagine this approach makes an editor's life easier, too? Not sure, since I've never worn an editor's hat, but it doesn't hurt to be liked by editors for making their lives easier.

    In any event, I think this "don't query, be happy" approach is practical. Do you ever submit your proposed piece to more than one publication at a time? Did I just stumble upon a post for a later date? ;-)

    Much thanks to you, as always...

    1. Hi Janette,

      Good question. Yes, I do submit to multiple markets at the same time here and there. It's a great way to increase your odds for publishing success and save time. It only backed fired once: two publications wanted to buy the piece at the same time. I had to write a note explaining (and apologizing) to one of my editors. Ouch! :-)

  2. Hi Jennifer -

    How about some tips on marketing for new authors? I'm a blogger, on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+. It's all time-consuming, and I wonder if there's a better way.

    Susan :)

    1. Hi Susan,

      Wow, that's a lot! Consider it done. Thanks for your input. :-)

  3. I followed your example when I read your Breaking the Rules article years ago in a writer's mag, and I have been successful, too. Thank you!

  4. Linda,

    I always appreciate hearing from you; glad I could be of help (back then and now). :-)

  5. Good question, Janette! Queries are things I avoid when possible, but they must be done sometimes. Thanks, Jen, for covering the bases! :)

  6. I thought that - from a Business Perspective - a
    Query could also be a possible practical tool for positioning yourself as a Go-to-Person in specific areas of expertise, that way also possibly paving the way for possible future assignements.

    Although it also makes sense that a Strategy with a strong focus on readership can be helpful in understanding how you can be important for your readers. So I guess that it's what ever works the best.

    With Blogging personally I frequenly am inclined to just write rants, just for the puropse of brainstorming and developing ideas as I recently wrote about in a post titled: Blogging For Inspiration & Developing Ideas

    Your post reminded me about a practical book titled: 'Writing that Works' a book that's about - Business Writing - that's also about having a strong focus
    on readership.

    1. Interesting feedback, H.P., thanks for your thoughts today. :-)

  7. Divas need not apply. LOL Love it, Jen. And I also love your strategic points. Well made and will internalize!

    1. Thanks, Sue. Though I'm pretty sure you're not struggling with the "diva issue" :-)

  8. Jennifer--I've heard of more than one editor regarding the existence of a "gray list" of writers. They are such difficult divas that only if they write something worthy of a Pulitzer will they get a piece published.

    Yeah, divas might get their way on stage/screen, but not usually as writers...

    1. Sioux,

      Good feedback here. Thanks for adding to the mix. :-)

  9. This just in from "Robert"...


    Just read your recent post on query letters, and loved it.

    However, you left one thing out: you said you don't write queries, but you have written 700 published pieces. How do you move from understanding a publication's needs to getting a check from them?

    Do you send a completed article and hope to have it published?

    Do you call the editor and get an assignment?

    Or what?



    1. Jennifer Brown BanksJune 7, 2013 at 4:21 PM


      Welcome! Thanks for your great question (initially) via email. I strategically send a completed article with an impressive BIO and a brief note thanking the editor for his time. Also providing my complete contact information.
      If the piece is rejected, I simply send it to the next publication on my "target" list. Hope this helps.

  10. Hi Jennifer, a year later...but may I still ask a question? I would be very interested to know how you plan and deliver your blog posts - do you write up an editorial calendar ahead of time, work out all your topics and then have a deadline? How do you work behind the scenes? Such a lot of great articles here on pen and prosper, have really enjoyed and learned a lot, thanks! Maribel

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksApril 28, 2014 at 9:02 AM


      Never too late; thanks for your interest and follow-up. Look for the answer in an upcoming blog post. :-)