“What’s the fastest way to get an editor to reject my query?”

We’ve discussed how you can net an article contract based on a well-written, one-page query letter. You don’t have to write the whole article in advance. However, don’t shoot yourself in the foot from the start. Your query letter must be as error-free as possible.

I sincerely hope this note about grammar goofs preaches to the choir. I want to assume that you all write flawlessly, and merely need to find homes for your excellent writing. But as I focus on basic article marketing and move on to advanced concepts, I’d be remiss in not at least mentioning how critical it is to check and double-check every sentence you send to an editor, and why:

A wayward comma in a query that describes a dynamite idea is not likely to kill the sale. However, other grammatical errors will quickly scream “Amateur!”  Nothing will get you rejection slips faster than poorly written queries, articles and stories.

Last month, 246,000 people typed into Google Search “how to write a essay” instead of “how to write an essay”.

I hope some folks typing in those search words are seeking help with grammar. Indeed, many intelligent international students are proficient in their own language but need help with English. (Margaret Shertzer, in The Elements of Grammar,states on page 38: “Use an an before words in which the first sound is a vowel, except for long u, and before words beginning with silent h.)

However, too many others typing in that search phrase may be unaware of their grammatical boo-boos. Perhaps they’re looking for topics or ways to organize content within an essay. Don’t make that same kind of cart-before-the-horse mistake.

Most popular writing–from magazine articles to novels–use vocabulary at a 7th– 8th grade reading level. What a shame it would be to get your article idea rejected for errors that don’t meet that basic level, even if only a result of keyboard errors or over-editing. (Sometimes we move text around and leave little trails behind.)

You may wonder how much you should worry about grammar since every publishing house employs copywriters. Indeed, they make certain that writing is error-free before it goes to print. However, do you want to risk short-circuiting the sale of your article before it even gets into the copywriter’s hands?

Obvious errors don’t merely reveal problems with the way you write. They can offer a terrible distraction to the editor you pitch your query to, who is already distracted by piles of manuscripts and an Inbox with 250 messages. Your words must reach out of your query, grab that editor by the collar, and not let him or her go until you get that article assignment.

Here’s an analogy: I was conducting a telephone interview when my dog Nikki began whining and pawing at me for attention. I couldn’t focus properly on what the interviewee said until I let Nikki outside. I felt embarrassed because it was my first contact with this person.

Writing errors distract similarly. They whine “Look at me! Look at me!” They keep an editor or reader—who you may be meeting for the first time, through your query–from focusing on what you are trying to say.

If someone hands me an essay with zero paragraphing I am nearly incapable of reading it. I can’t focus. I can only read so many sentences at a time before they all become a blur. If it’s the first thing I’ve read from that person, I won’t feel enthusiastic about reading more. Every editor has his or her own pet peeves.

You want an editor to trust in your ability to provide professionally written material.  Build trust from the start. I want to save you the grief of spending days comparing magazine article markets, days writing your query, then months checking your Inbox or mailbox daily for a response … only to get a generic rejection: “Sorry, your article does not meet our current needs.”

Keep on writing. Use spell and grammar checkers. Allow critique partners to read your material to be sure you haven’t introduced typos. In fact, any time you prepare to post even a comment on the Internet, run that through Word’s spell-check program. Then be sure spell-check does not change a word that was correct to begin with!

To my horror, I found one of my own errors only seconds after I posted a comment online.  I had accidentally hit Change when Word’s spell-check told me to change the word their to they’re.  I didn’t catch it because I didn’t have my contact lenses in for the day. Boy did I feel stupid. There’s nothing worse than adding a comment on someone else’s site and instantly seeing your blooper in cyberspace forever.

Remember: anything you write can pop up in a Google search if an editor types in your name to check you out, and you also want to build confidence in your future readers.

Most important:

Don’t start off a query with these words: “I’d love to write a article for you on…”


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