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Should I Query or Submit on Spec to Magazines? Ask Anne

Hi Anne,

I’m just starting to do more freelance writing. (I have sold a few articles in the past).

You said   “send the articles out on spec (over the transom)” in your post, More Productivity or More Money?

I’m just wondering – do you mean to circumvent queries and just send the whole article manuscript out on spec? Don’t most top-paying magazines require query first?


Pam (in comments)

Hi Pam,

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to confuse you.

When freelance writers market articles to magazines basically they have two approaches. (Once and awhile an agent or publicist will market some articles for a very well-known writer – that’s not what we’re talking about here.) The writer may:

  • Submit a query – a sales letter selling both your idea and you as a writer. You’re right, most magazines want queries. Editors like them because they can quickly tell if the idea pitched and the freelancer proposing it are likely to be able to interest their audience and complete the assignment. Accepted queries result in either an assignment or, an invitation to submit the article on spec. The assignment is essentially a contract and if the magazine cancels the article the author may receive a kill fee, usually a portion of the price of the article if it had been published. The invitation is just that – but means the editor will pay close attention to the submission and, if it meets her requirements, is likely to buy and publish it.

  • Submit the completed article on spec or over the transom. The idea here is that it’s easier for new writers to demonstrate their skills with the whole article. If the editor likes the article, he will probably buy it; if the new writer had sent a query instead, the editor might have decided not to take the risk. It’s NOT meant to circumvent queries; it’s a different method.

Market listings often state if a magazine prefers one or the other.

Does that help?

How do you decide to submit a query or on spec?

If you’ve got a question about freelance writing send it to me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to answer it. Or ask it in comments.


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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Pam

    I just read Carol’s comments and yours. I have a couple of articles that were published in “Highlights for Children.” Do you think those are enough to show an editor of a bigger woman’s magazine the quality of my writing,
    so that a query would be the preferred way to go? The “Highlights” articles were both non-fiction, one a biography and another about “uncovering the ghostwriter” of Nancy Drew…the real “Carolyn Keene.”

  • Pam

    Thanks, Anne. You can skip the email I just left on the other day’s entry. I see your answer here. 🙂

  • Carol\Anne:

    As much as I hate writing on spec, I gained a current client that way.

    The key thing is, as you say Anne, read the magazine.


  • Carol, I’ve hit some home runs on spec… years ago and time have changed. I did it by closely reading the magazine… several issues… and mimicking as best I could. It did provide some print credits and was worth my time… of course I’ve bombed that way too.

    When I was editing I preferred complete manuscripts from new writers because I couldn’t tell from the query if they could sustain their effort for a couple of thousand words or so, but if they had even a couple of print credits… and today I’d consider online articles maybe… the query was the thing.

    I know I used to beg writers to read the magazine before they either wrote on spec or a query.

  • I’d love to hear some success stories from your readers of people who have gotten a spec manuscript bought. I believe those are few and far between.

    My experience as a staffer who looked at a lot of over-the-transom submissions is that they were usually not even in the ballpark — self-promotional, not properly reported, not the right length, not the right tone.

    My contention is –particularly for new writers– that you’ve got to query. You just don’t know enough about the magazine’s requirements to hit a home run blind. Meanwhile, you’ve invested a LOT of work writing and reporting a whole article, rather than writing a query.

    If folks have scored with spec articles, I’d love to hear how they did it — the story angles and for what type of market, and what their background was, how much research they did, to put the piece together.
    Carol Tice recently posted..7 Steps to Finding Good-Paying Web Content ClientsMy Profile

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