My experience in querying editors before writing an entire 2,000-3,000 word technical article has led me to believe that many freelance writers can save valuable time and reduce unnecessary work. Over the course of a week, I had in mind to research and write an article which I believed would fit perfectly into a department of Technical World Journal—now called The Illustrated World Journal. Interviewing experts, researching material and assembling the article would have required a few days of forced work. I wrote to the World’s editor and asked if he could use such a story. His courteous and quick reply informed me the magazine had recently accepted a similar article and, therefore, could not use mine. He saved me valuable time.
Some writers argue (and rightfully so), that “had I prepared the article I might have the opportunity to sell it elsewhere.” Perhaps, but I do not know of another publication that would have paid me for the trouble. I queried four engineering magazines in reference to this article that I felt would have reader appeal, but only one publication answered with a rejection. I was saved at least a day’s work of seeing, studying and taking photos, and two or three hours of writing. Based on past successes and failures, I know my article probably wouldn’t sell to any journal other than for engineers.
I queried the editor at Motor Boating magazine about another article that I had in mind, and he gave me the approval to start. The article I wrote matched the publication’s style and provided timely information that would interest all readers. The fact that I have a technical background in welding steel helped me write an educated article, not a general one. I specifically fitted my article to Motor Boating according to my conception, and I believe I created a masterful article because I was fairly certain of its destination.
I wouldn’t advise querying in small things—short articles of under 200 words—to small or large publications. You can send the complete article itself, even if the writer’s guidelines say to send only a query letter. You can contact the editor about articles that may require considerable time and trouble to prepare.
Writers may find it difficult to query an editor on subjects that are complex and tedious to handle. For example, I had in mind a subject that was so new and unique that I believed the editor would not have seen the possibilities from a one-page query letter. The narrow subject was about tragic accidents in coal mining. I simply wrote a handful of articles and sent them out with photos to editors and sold a great many. The articles and photos impressed upon the editors the human-interest elements of my story that the query letter could not fully convey.