Writing effective author queries

September 29, 2019 By Erin Brenner

When I look at revisions to my work, I try to wear my copyeditor’s hat on and keep my writer’s hat stuffed in the closet. I consider each revision and what the copyeditor was trying to achieve. Reviewing the copyedits of a manuscript that I wrote for a client recently, I had a hard time doing that. I had a lot of comments that simply said:

AU: Revise?

No text was changed. No specific words or phrases were highlighted. The entire sentence bore the comment “AU: Revise?” It drove me mad. Revise what? In what way does this sentence need help? For each “AU: Revise?” I had to guess what the copyeditor might have taken issue with. Was everything grammatically correct? Had I missed a style point? A usage rule? How was the sentence not right?

As copyeditors, we must remember that when we query, we have a goal: to get the author to make a change we think will help the text. Some authors will easily do so, others won’t. But no author can make corrections if he or she doesn’t know what corrections are wanted.

When you write a query to an author:

  1. Highlight the section of the text that you’re having a problem with. If it’s an entire sentence or paragraph, so be it. But if it’s just a word or phrase, highlight just the word or phrase.
  2. Sketch out your concern briefly but as precisely as you can. If you start writing an article, it’s time to draft a query letter or, better yet, pick up the phone.
  3. Ask a specific question. What do you want the author to do about the issue you’ve outlined? Can you offer a suggested revision? Guide the author along.

Writing something like “AU: Revise?” may be quick, but it will not be enough to reach your ultimate goal. The author can only guess at what your objection is and can’t possibly give you what you want without more help from you.

Remember, as well, to be professional and polite in your queries. Wrote @Mededitor (Daniel Sosnoski) on Twitter when I vented about my problem, “Well-crafted queries can sidestep many a fight with an author. Diplomacy, tact, and a helpful tone are essential.”

What tips on querying authors do you have? Share them in the comments section below!

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website February 21, 2012.

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