When I first heard an editor mention my article had a good hed/dek, my first reaction was to offer her a throat lozenge. My second reaction was, what the heck is a hed/deck? The first couple of months pitching magazines, I made some rookie errors that could have landed me back into the kiddy pool of freelancers. Armed with the e-mail addresses of the editors of some of the biggest magazines out there, I was determined to take off my little ducky swimmies and dive head-first into the deep waters where the big kids played. It became clear to me that I should stop my pitching – and learn all I could about the world of freelance writing – including magazine-land lingo. Surely, an editor will not beat you over the head with their fat September issue for not knowing what a hed/dek is, but it can’t hurt to know all the terms that might throw you for a loop when pitching.
Meet The Masthead. The masthead is usually found in the first couple of pages in a magazine. If you read the masthead from the latest issue, this will give you the most up-to-date information about whom to address your query or pitch. Even if the writer’s guidelines give you a generic e-mail or snail mail address, I always like to send it to someone specific. If you are doing a piece on including fiber in your diet, “YOU’RE FIBER-ED! Ten Reasons to Get All Fibered-up!”, then your best bet is to get the name of the health or nutrition editor. Make sure you double-check the proper spelling of their name.
Executive Editor – Managing Editor – Lifestyle Editor – Health Editor – For my first big-time magazine pitch, I let my fingers do the walking – all the way up to the tippie-top of the masthead of a major women’s glossy, and sent my pitch to the “Executive Editor”. Dumb move – kind of like looking for a job in Washington and sending your resume to the President of The United States. (Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration). It was my first pitch to a woman’s glossy, and I didn’t know to send a pitch to a more appropriate editor on the masthead. But the planets must have been aligned just right, or she was in a really good mood, or maybe even just very kind, because she didn’t zap me with the delete button. She graciously forwarded my pitch on to the magazine’s “Senior Health Editor”. Sending a pitch to the wrong person screams naivety and downright laziness because you haven’t taken the time to find the appropriate editor. If the masthead is all too confusing, a good old fashion phone call to the magazine will do the trick.
Sound like a pro! So now that you have the name of the correct editor to send your article idea, (or at least close enough,) it’s time to ask yourself: what type of article am I proposing? In your query, go ahead and sound like a pro by labeling your article by the correct term. Most terms are self explanatory, like reviews and Q&A, but other types of articles may not be as obvious.
Service Piece- These are typically “How To” articles that, well, do just that. They teach readers how to do something. Typically, your experiences while visiting Disney World would not classify as a service article – unless you are proposing “How to Ride Every Ride at Disney World in One Day”.
If you did want to publish your experiences there, call it a Personal Essay (written in first person).
Then there’s the Round-up, which is an article devoted to interviews around a specific theme, like: “NO FUN! Eight Families Tell Their Disney World Woes.”
You can also submit an Op-ed, which is an opinionated article usually appearing opposite the editorial page in a newspaper.
When I submitted my first nonfiction query to a children’s magazine, I received this reply: “Sure! On spec please”. I wasn’t quite sure how to react. Feeling like a dumb-dumb, I actually looked up the term, “on spec.” Of course, I found out it was short for: on speculation. That means the editor liked the idea and wanted to see it, but was going to make no promise to publish it – a kind of “try before you buy” request. Also, you may read in writer’s guidelines that editors are looking for submissions in FOB, or BOB. These are typically short articles near the front-of-book (front of the publication) or back-of-book (back of the publication) sections of the magazine.
So what the heck is a hed/dek? Although this term looks and sounds a bit strange, it’s actually quite simple. The HED is the headline, heading (the title!), and the DEK (deck) is a blurb, or sentence or two that reveals what the article is about. So in the fiber article, YOU’RE FIBER-ED! is the hed, and “Ten Reasons To Get All Fibered Up!” is the dek. Ah, no need for a lozenge after all.
Janene Mascarella is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She continues to stalk her cell phone, hoping she will soon get a ring from her agent to report “a very nice” book deal. Please don’t call her; she gets too excited when her tiny silver phone rings. She can be reached at Janemscrl (at) aol.com.