I do mostly corporate work, but I am trying to break into magazines. My questions are do I approach my sources before I do my query letter or do I wait until my query is accepted before approaching potential sources? I have a magazine in mind, but I feel that I should speak to the sources first. I think it would make my query stronger; however, I donÂt have the assignment yet. Any clarification you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
This can go either way. Obviously, the stronger your initiall query and the better researched it is, the more likely you are to catch an editor's eye. So certainly, it doesn't hurt to do some pre-query research. When you set up these pre-interviews, however, you do need to make it clear that this isn't yet an assigned piece, and you need to respect that your sources might not want to give you their time until it is. Most often, they do anyway, but sometimes, they don't. C'est la vie.
When I'm scheduling pre-query interviews, I usually just say something like, "This is for a potential article for Magazine X. Right now, I'm just looking for some initial information, so I don't expect this to take up too much of your time. Should the story get the green light, I will, of course, cite you as a source and circle back to set up a longer, more in-depth interview." This assures people that they won't be stuck on the phone with you for an hour, and that you'll be happy to give them the publicity when the article is approved. When I do opt for a pre-query interview, it's also almost always with an expert I've used in the past - a Ph.D, M.D, etc, who knows that I am indeed reliable, and that should this fall through, that I'll try to make it up to him or her in the future. I dunno, it just makes me feel better about taking up his/her time on something that might not fly.
If you're not comfortable with pre-interviews, you can (and should) still provide the editor with a list of potential experts/sources. After you've spelled out the idea and why it would work for him/her, you should merely include a sentence that says, "Potential experts for this piece include, X, Y, and Z." True, they might not all pan out, but some will, and perhaps more importantly, you're demonstrating to your editor that a) you know how to sniff out the right resources for the article and that b) the proposed topic is indeed newsworthy/worth exploring.
How often do you guys do pre-query interviews? Any other tips for the person who asked?