Query Rejected? You May Not Have to Take No for an Answer By John K. Borchardt

After I’ve sold three or more articles to an editor, I will sometimes telephone an editor to find out why she has turned down my latest query. Sometimes when I finish the phone call I’ve made a sale. The tactics I use to accomplish this depend on why the editor rejected my query.

Sometimes the editor tells me that she does want an article on a subject but prefer it be slanted differently. We discuss the slant she prefers. Sometimes when we hang up I rewrite my query giving her the slant she prefers. When I do this I usually end up with an assignment.

When the editor published a similar article already

Sometimes an editor will tell me she declined my query because she published a similar article recently. Editors will often say this in their e-mail responding to the query. When this occurs I read the article the editor cites. Sometimes the editor is incorrect. This happened to me with a query to a horse magazine I was quite excited about. I read the article she cited and either write back explain how this wasn’t actually the case. In my e-mail I carefully described the ways my article would differ substantially from an article published six months previously. I persuaded the editor and she accepted my query.

In other cases I decided the editor was correct. However, I still really wanted to write an article on the subject. I had two options. The first was to submit my query to another magazine. The second was to suggest a way to reslant the query so the resulting article is sufficiently different than the earlier one so she can publish it. Since the editor was kind enough to respond to my query, I first tried to reslant the query to respond to her concerns. I have often sold queries this way. While this approach works best with editors for whom I have written before, it sometimes works with editors for whom I haven’t written before.

When another writer queries first on the same subject

Sometimes an editor turns down my query because another writer has beaten me to the punch with her own query on the same subject. If so, I sometimes propose a sidebar discussing an aspect of the subject the other writer doesn’t plan to address in his manuscript. I sometimes win assignments this way.

For example, in January I proposed a 2,000-word article on the basics of patenting an invention to the editor of a trade magazine. I previously had written more than two dozen articles for her. So it was a disappointment to have my query turned down. In her e-mail, the editor wrote that another writer had already proposed an article on the same subject and she had accepted his query. I responded by proposed a companion article to the one she had already accepted. I proposed to write a 1,000-word article on methods inventors could use to keep their invention confidential until they were granted a patent by the U.S. government. The editor accepted this second query. Granted, it’s not as nice as winning an assignment for a feature article, but it’s still a paying assignment.


Sometimes I use an additional approach to this situation and offer an editor high-resolution digital photos that will serve nicely to illustrate the article to be written by the other writer. In example I discussed above, I offered to provide high-resolution digital photos of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office complex to illustrate the other writer’s article. I had taken these photographs several years ago and they were just sitting around. She jumped at the offer because the author had no photographs and if she decided mine were good enough to publish it would save her the time in finding an acceptable photograph. I was offering these cheaper than she could get them from a stock photography agency such as Getty Images.

Several perspectives on the same subject

Sometimes I propose an article to an editor and she doesn’t think it merits a very long word count but doesn’t care for the idea of publishing it as a standalone short. In this situation I suggested the editor might have two or three other writers each write a short article on their perspective of the same topic and then publish the articles together. This approach worked because it provided novelty in discussing a familiar topic.


None of these tactics is 100% effective. However, they all have resulted in additional sales and these sales add up. One key factor when using one of these approaches with an editor is to be sure to avoid appearing argumentative in your telephone call or e-mail. Respect works a lot better.

John Borchardt is a freelance writer who covers business, employment, career management, science and technology. More than 1,200 of his articles have been published in a variety of trade and consumer magazines and online publications. His Oxford University Press book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers was a Science Book Club Alternate Selection.