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I have good credentials; why aren't editors offering me assignments?
I've been querying editors and letting them know that I am available to write
for them on various topics. I've told them my credentials. But so far I haven't
gotten any assignments. Am I doing something wrong?
It sounds to me as if what you are doing "wrong" is submitting "fairly
generic, harmless queries that don't offer any specific article." If you are not
offering an editor something specific, tailored for the needs of that particular
publication, you are not giving the editor anything to respond to. Editors
rarely respond to "nonspecific" queries. The way to break in is to tailor an
article for a particular publication (or develop an idea that is "ideal" for that
publication.) Give the editor something s/he can use. Editors aren't
interested in the "availability" of a freelancer they've never worked with --
they have loads of people "on tap" for articles and rarely need more. What
they do need is someone who can come up with a great, focused idea -- and
follow through with an article. Once you've established yourself as someone
who can be relied on for good work (by offering your own ideas), editors will
start to turn to you with their own assignments. But they won't do it just
because you're "available."
Should I start my query with "Dear Sir?"
In my English class we were told when you write letters you start them with
Dear Sir, whether the people are male or female.
That's a new one to me! Your English teacher may be a bit out of date.
The best way to start a letter is with the person's last name, if you know it
- for example, "Dear Mrs. Johnson" or "Dear Mr. Bates." If the person has a
title, such as Doctor, then you would begin with "Dear Dr. Bates" (whether
the person is male or female). Since you won't always know if a woman
wants to be called "Mrs." or "Miss" or whatever, "Ms." is still a perfectly
If you don't know whether a person is male or female by looking at the
name (for example, "Leslie Smith" could be a man or a woman", write "Dear
If you don't know the person's name at all (and you can tell your English
teacher this), it is no longer considered polite to refer to a person as "sir"
without regard to whether they are male or female (and I don't recall a time
when it was). The classic greeting has always been "Dear Sir or Madam" if
you weren't sure. However, "Dear Sirs" is sometimes used when you are
addressing a group or company -- when you don't necessarily know who your
letter is going to. For example, if you were writing to a company about a
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problem or a question, you might write "Dear Sirs". "Gentlepersons" has
been used as a non-sexist substitute, but it never really caught on.
This may all sound like trivia, but believe it or not, in the world of
publishing, some people really do care about stuff like this. Most important,
of course, is to find the person's name -- I know many editors get bent out of
shape if you haven't done this. (It has never bothered me, but it does bother
others.) Many editors also get bent out of shape if you address them by the
wrong gender -- some editors are just looking for excuses to get upset! So
knowing these little tricks of the trade will help you as you approach the
market with your stories.