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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blast from the Past--or How *Not* to Query

Yesterday's guest blog post by Sage Cohen on the importance of practice made me think back to early in my freelance career. I thought it would be fun (and maybe a little humiliating) to post one of my first queries so you can see how far I've come (and how you can improve your own query-writing skills with practice as well). For comparison, here's a template that includes one of my recent, much better queries.

My comments are in green.

***

August 8, 1996


Ms. Amy Nebens
Assistant Articles Editor
Bridal Guide
3 East 54th Street
15th Floor
New York, New York 10022-3108 [Yup, I sent it by snail mail...that was what we did back then!]

Dear Ms. Nebens:

Today, more prospective brides and grooms are signing prenuptial agreements. A prenuptial agreement can spell out exactly what will happen to a couple’s property in the event of divorce. With today’s divorce rates and second marriages on the rise, a prenuptial agreement is often worth consideration. [Nothing like bringing up today's divorce rates in a query to a bridal mag. Eeek! But notice my lack of statistics...how many couples are signing prenups? What percentage of the couples getting married consider them? An anecdotal lead here would have been much more effective.]

I am interested in writing a short article for your magazine on the use, legal effect, and advantages and disadvantage of using them. As an attorney and free-lance writer, I am uniquely qualified to present this topic to your readers. I have enclosed a copy of an article on avoiding legal problems during wedding planning which I recently sold to a national bridal magazine to give you an idea of my writing style. [So many things wrong here, or missing. First, my language sounds dorky and stilted. I have said what I plan to cover, but should provide more specifics--like list some of the pros and cons, not just say that I'll address them. I have played up my unique qualifications--see, I was thinking of an ISG even before I knew what it was! But I could have done better, as you'll see below. More importantly, I should not have sent that article to this editor--it was written for one of her competitors! Major rookie mistake that could have gotten me into major trouble with the magazine I wrote it for, plus it shows the editor that I'm a clueless newbie. Not the impression I want to make! I'm cringing reading this.]

I am familiar with the tone and format of Bridal Guide, and believe this article would be a timely addition to your magazine. Please call me to discuss this query at your convenience. [Much better would have been to suggest the appropriate section of the magazine, or to mention a recent article. And asking her to call me? Well, that's not going to happen unless she's interested in the idea. Again, I look like a rookie. And you know what I'm missing here? The fact that I was engaged! Hello, I'm a soon-to-be bride so in addition to my legal experience, I'm uniquely qualified to write this piece...or be considered for others.]

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. [Bleah. Nothing special here.]

Very truly yours,

Kelly K. James


**Readers, what do you think? Can you see why this query didn't sell? Stay tuned...I think we're going to do some more blasts from the past! :) And if you're a new freelancer who's thinking, "hmm, I think my queries probably stink," check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! which includes a whole chapters of actual first queries from a variety of writers that sold--and why.