Last post I talked about the FOB and why it's the best place for new writers to break in. You may be surprised that even for a short piece, I suggest you use a query (as opposed to writing the piece and sending it in).
It seems illogical at first. For a short article, why not just write it up? Why bother with a query?
1. It shows you "get it." That's what professional freelancers do--we query. Writing an article and sending it in looks amateurish. (The exception is if you're pitching an essay, where you send in the completed piece.) Show the editor you're a serious freelancer, not just a reader of the publication, by querying her.
2. You save time. Your editor may have already assigned a piece on the subject, or have a similar piece in inventory. You don't want to spend time writing a piece that has no chance of selling because your editor is already covering it.
3. You stay out of the delete pile. Most national magazines don't accept "unsolicited submissions" (i.e. completed articles) but they do accept queries. Easy decision. right?
4. You boost your chances of success. When you write a piece, you decide on the subject, angle, length, format, sources, and tone. What are the chances you're going to make all the same choices with your story that the editor would when you're basically writing in the dark?
A query tells your editor how you plan to approach the piece, but lets her have the final say. Maybe she wants more words, or fewer. Maybe she likes the basic idea, but wants you to take a different angle. Or maybe she wants you to use an expert and a real person source, not just an expert. Regardless, when you query, you give the editor a chance to assign you the story she wants instead of writing the story you want and crossing your fingers that she'll say yes.
Make sense? Readers, do you agree or disagree?