You Ask, We Answer: Is It OK to Send the Same Query to Two Mags at Same Publisher?
So, I simultaneously submit all the time, for obvious reasons (ssshhhh…) and I always do my best to make sure the idea would be suitable for the handful of pubs that I select. Of course I’ve never submitted to more than one person at each pub, but recently I’ve been told that I shouldn’t submit to more than one mag per parent company at one time. That seems to really limit the options for me, and will really stretch out the time between first query and final acceptance, considering that so few editors really respond in a timely manner, if at all. Is it really a problem to send my idea (or for that matter, my trade pub introduction letter) to more than one mag at the same publisher at a time? Could I have given myself a bad reputation at some of the parent companies by doing this? And if I have, am I doomed to fail at freelance writing? Is George Hearst going to rise from the grave, reject all my queries, tweet bad things about me, and beat me with his beat-stick?
Well, I didn’t know the answer to this, so I wrote to some of my editors. Here are the replies I received:
From an editor at a national business magazine:
“I think it generally breaches awkward territory, and I’d stay away from it. While I’m sure it varies by house (size and magazine subject correlation… Same-house simultaneous subs might be OK if the mags are distant, massive circulation publications or general-interest venues), I don’t believe editors routinely discuss individual queries they receive (although they may discuss final lineups and editorial calendars). That said, worst-case scenario: Both magazines show interest or attempt to purchase the piece and then you have to admit that you queried the same-house counterpart.
“It creates an unnecessary sticky situation, and the editors may band together against your idea—and you. (I’m sure we could consult some psychology texts on this, but when it really comes down to it, editors love to feel special—and when they find out you queried the competition, and moreover, their in-house counterpart, they think they’re just another notch on a list that could lead a writer to a check.)
“All told, depending on the editors, I think it could be a fast-track to a blacklist (they definitely exist), killing your chances with an entire house—and the checks and longevity the pitch might have spawned had you exercised some patience.”
From an editor at a national health magazine:
“I don’t think the editors at the different magazines communicate all that often, so it might be ok. But I think it’s safer to stagger that kind of thing.”
From an editor at a national parenting magazine:
“Hmm, good question! I think the same query to two magazines at the same publisher is probably a little dangerous. The chances are higher that the editors know each other, and yes, if two editors realize they got the exact same pitch, I think they’d be irritated. You know how we all like to think that our magazines are so unique and an idea for me can’t possibly work for my buddy at my competitor magazine. Getting banned is probably overstating it—but I guess the writer might be branded as not especially clever. (As in, “Really? You couldn’t think of a way to make this topic different for two different kinds of readers?”)
“So I don’t think it would take too much to make it okay: If two editors realize they got a pitch on the same topic, but the pitches were clearly tweaked for the publication (name of the section it’d be for, types of sources, slightly different angle), my guess is they wouldn’t be irritated. I wouldn’t be. I’d figure that’s a topic the writer is passionate about, so she wants to write about it for whomever she can.
“However, the chances of any of this are fairly slim. I don’t talk to my editor friends about too many of the pitches I get (besides the crazy ones!), simply because there are so many—and, I don’t know, most editors do have this mindset of not talking about what’s in your issue until it comes out. Though of course, when some topics come up in conversation, I do often find myself saying, “Oh, I got a pitch on that.” I can see someone discovering this that way!”
From an editor at a custom publisher:
“I think every magazine group is different as far as how much communication and contact editors from various magazines have with one another. For instance, at [publisher], we collaborated closely among the three magazines, so if we received the same pitch for more than one of the magazines, there was a good chance we would have noticed. But at other publishing houses, the editors of the various magazines may not even be in the same office, and may not have any discussion, at least when it comes to story pitches, so you could take the calculated risk and send a story idea to both.
“However, my more overarching advice on this topic would be this: The freelancers with the best chance of getting in the door tailor their pitches to specific magazines, and demonstrate a working knowledge of what that magazine is all about. If someone is sending the same exact query to multiple publications, it tells me that query is probably overly generic. The best freelancers are mindful of a magazine’s various departments and their current “formula,” and because they’ve taken the time to read the latest 4-6 issues, they know what features have run recently, and thus are pitching something that’s more likely to be useful and timely. (In essence, as an editor, when reading a pitch you can tell who reads your magazine and who is just mass-emailing editors to see what sticks.) Being specific and really understanding the magazine you’re pitching can actually saving your editor some work, which is what you want to accomplish — otherwise, just having to sort through a number of generic pitches and craft rejection letters because they are missing the mark is creating more work for the editor, which isn’t a good thing.”
So what’s the verdict? If you take a chance on sending the same query to two magazines in the same publishing group, there’s a small risk that (1) you’ll be found out and (2) the editors will be pissed. Better to really change each query to perfectly target each magazine or send to one magazine at a time. (And if you don’t hear back after two follow-ups spaced two or more weeks apart, I’d say it’s safe to move on to the next magazine.)
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