How Do I Get Magazine Editors To Respond To Me?! By Logan G. Harbaugh

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This is a question recently posed to Angela at WritersWeekly:

Over the last two months I’ve sent out close to fifty emails to different magazines, pitching ideas for articles and features and, to date, only three have responded. One declined my idea. Another said they would consider it late. A third said they already had something similar planned for their own in-house staff to write.

I’m a good writer. I know my ideas have merit and are entertaining, topical and newsworthy. Yet, I feel like a complete non-entity when magazines can’t even be bothered to reply to me. As heart breaking as it can be to be met with a ‘no,’ at least saying ‘no’ means that someone at least took the time to read your email and reply.

Complete silence time after time after time is just soul destroying.

Is there a way to address such problems?

As writers, many of us feel the same things as we try to get the attention of the editors we believe would be a perfect fit for our submissions. As someone who’s been doing this for more than 20 years, and has also worked as an editor on occasion, I’d like to offer a little perspective.

First, it’s probably not about you or your writing. Most of the editors I work with are getting by with anywhere from a quarter to a twentieth of the staff they used to have, and getting more queries than ever. In many markets, the reduction in the number of magazines and in page counts means that there are more writers looking for exposure and fewer editorial pages for them.

Some of the editors I know get hundreds of queries a week, a few get thousands. Is it any wonder they don’t reply to them all, especially when many are off-target for their market, pitches for articles they ran two months ago, or stuff that’s already in the editorial calendar with a writer assigned?

As a fairly well-known writer in my field, doing reviews of computer equipment for a number of pubs, I get 200-300 pitches a week from PR people, at least half of which are about products the magazines I write for don’t cover, or announcements of new hires, marketing agreements, awards given out at conferences or by other magazines, or other such stuff that are completely non-germane for me. Two or three such off-topic pitches, and the sender gets added to the spam filter.

I try to respond to first communications from people I haven’t worked with before with a boilerplate explanation of what I do cover and what I need to pitch a review to the editors I work with, but if I’m busy, or my back hurts more than usual, I may not bother.

So my advice? Read the publications you want to write for. Not just one recent issue, but the last year’s worth. Note their editorial voice, their style, the kinds of articles they run and what they don’t run. Read their guidelines for submissions all the way through, and make sure you hit all the things they ask for.

Tailor the pitch to the specific editor and publication, and do enough research to find out who the right person is to query. Sending a pitch to the wrong editor is a waste of time for both parties. In general, you shouldn’t be pitching to the Editor in Chief or Executive Editor – they aren’t usually the ones who hand out story assignments. You want the editor in charge of the department or section you want your article to appear in.

Also, don’t wait a couple of days after you see something that gives you an idea – there are a lot of writers reading the same news feeds, and the first one to pitch an article is more likely to get the assignment. If you’ve been doing your research, you’ll also be able to avoid pitching an article that’s already run.

This can give you additional opportunities as well – if you see an article you don’t agree with, or that you feel could do with some additional details, a subject line like “RE: Your recent article on aardvarks” is more likely to get an editor’s attention than a random pitch from someone they don’t know. If you refer to the specific section that your piece is a perfect fit for, this may also increase the likelihood of it being read.

Keep it short and to the point. You don’t need to go into great detail on the proposed topic, present an outline of the whole article, or cover your enormous qualifications to write the piece, just a succinct query on the proposed topic.

Most of all, don’t let the silence get to you. It’s not personal. They’re not ignoring you, they’re more likely so busy that they don’t have time to read through every pitch from every potential writer and respond, much as they might like to.

Logan Harbaugh is a freelance writer and IT consultant located in Redding, CA. He started as a network administrator, systems integrator and consultant, then began writing for IT magazines such as PC Week and PC Magazine. He wrote Novell’s Problem-Solving Guide for NetWare Systems for Novell Press in 1993. The second edition titled Troubleshooting NetWare Systems, (Sybex Network Press) was finished in 1996. He became a Senior Technology Editor at Information Week in 1997, then Executive Editor of XML Magazine in 2000. When that publication shut down, he turned to freelancing full-time, and is now a Senior Contributing Editor at InfoWorld Labs. He does reviews of network hardware and software, desktop systems and consumer electronics, for magazines and web sites such as Storage Magazine, TechTarget.com, Information Week, eWeek, Network World, Linux Journal, PC Magazine and Internet.com.