A friend wrote me an e-mail yesterday asking for my take on doing simultaneous submissions for article query letters. This is an issue that has vexed a lot of writers. Magazine editors generally don’t like it because it puts pressure on them to respond to an article quickly. However, sending out a query letter and waiting months to hear back from an editor isn’t a productive use of the writer’s time. Writers don’t want to tick off editors who might be willing to buy a story by sending out the same query to multiple markets, though.
I’ve got two ways that I work around this problem.
Customizing a story. Some story ideas lend themselves to market customizing. For instance, I’ve written three articles about an itinerant movie director from the 1920s through 1940’s. He would go from city to city using a stock script to shot a movie in which he cast local people in all the parts. He simply changed the title of the movie based on the city in which he was shooting.
I sold the article to three magazines. Each article was different in that I focused on the movies the director made in the magazine’s market area (i.e., Cumberland, MD; Pennsylvania; Tyrone, PA), but other information in the articles the same, such as biographical information on the director. In cases like this, the articles are different enough that I don’t mind simultaneous queries to non-competing markets.
Make it up in volume. The technique that I use more often simply grew out of the volume of queries I have out at any one time. I’m at the point where I have so many queries with magazines that I don’t need to worry about submitting the same idea to two magazines at once. I send out a couple of queries each week. At least one will be a new idea. Others will be sending a rejected idea out to the next market. Using this method, simultaneous queries don’t really become an issue because I’m too busy with other ideas.
The exception to this is when an editor doesn’t get back to me about an idea. I usually follow-up with queries if I don’t hear back from an editor in a month or so. If I still don’t hear back, I consider the idea open to send to another market.