Editors Work from the Gut

by Pat Marcello on February 7, 2011

I remember when my job was editing. It’s not a simple job. You’re not 100% certain how your audience will react to certain pieces that you approve for publishing or how many people will buy a book you recommended be published. You just have to listen to your marketing team, first, these days. Or, go by an editorial calendar. Publishers aren’t about “great art” as much as they’re about the money it will make their company. Publishing is a business just like any other. Books are usually a committee process because they’re so expensive, but articles are often approved by single, overworked, and generally underpaid editors.

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So, how do they pick and choose? They work from their gut feelings.

Sure, it’s easy to see when you’ve got a good writer. You throw as much at them as you can or you buy everything they send forth. But what about the beginners and the strangers that editors haven’t encountered before? How do they decide who gets published and who doesn’t?

Simple. They start with a query letter — a one page synopsis of what the piece is about, who will write it and in what time span. It saves tons of time and they don’t have to have a stack of full manuscripts on their desks, floors, and all over the place. It helps them to weed out people who want to write and aren’t remotely ready.  That may seem harsh, but let’s face it, writing professionally takes time to learn how.

If you want to be a writer, the best thing for you to do is to start by learning. Don’t just type up an article, single-spaced, without proper headers and expect that your manuscript will be accepted because it won’t. Learn not only HOW to write, but the business of writing. That’s very, very important.

And learn to write a great query letter. Consider editors’ feelings. They see tons and tons of stuff every single day, and let’s say they’re looking at your proposal at the end of a long day of boring reading. They literally have to pick the diamond from the rough. BE that diamond.

The best way to make an editor sit up and take notice is by writing a killer opening paragraph for your query letter. Make it evocative. Allow editors to laugh, to cry, or to be amazed and you’ve won half the battle.

So, when you’re writing query letters try to feel what editors feel like at the end of long, boring days. Create something to perk them up, to make them feel, “Wow… This person is interesting and really knows his/her stuff!” and you’ll not only make their day, you’ll sell an article.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Damien Y. Santiago February 8, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Do some research on the company before writing your query letter so you know whether they mind that you send a query or your manuscript to other publishers at the same time you are contacting them…In your query letter never ever be negative in any way. You can include other credentials such as education background family job or interests that are applicable to your writing…You should close your fiction query letter by mentioning to the agent or publisher that you hope they would like to read your story or let them know you have enclosed an SASE self addressed stamped envelope so they can correspond back with your regarding your query to request a copy of your manuscript.


Pat Marcello February 9, 2011 at 11:10 am

Thanks for your added advice, Damien!


company offshore February 11, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I mean come on how can they tell how I write just from a query letter? My mom and sister both loved this story so much they said it just has to be published and should sell millions of copies!


Pat Marcello February 23, 2011 at 11:45 am

That’s cool! And if you’re talking fiction, editors often want the full manuscript, but some still ask for a query letter first, then outline, synopsis and three chapters of a book. With a short story, it’s often a full manuscript.

But query letters sell editors on your idea, not your writing style. The can often decide whether your story is right for their magazine or newsletter just by the topic and going through queries is a lot quicker than wading through a sea of unpublishable manuscripts.

Plus, though I’m sure your mom and sister are right… They aren’t editors. Let the editors decide, and you’ll be a more successful writer in the long run.

Hope that helps!



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