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Sunday, July 28, 2013

From Crappy to Compelling: Write Better Queries (and Half-Off Offer Continues)


Welcome back, readers! Last post I talked about crappy queries masquerading as good ones. The good news is that pretty much any bad query can be transformed into one that results in an assignment. Here's a revised version of my original query from last post, with my comments in blue:  

Dear Megan:

A recent study published in The Lancet tracked a competitive runner who continued to train throughout her pregnancy. To ensure the safety of her babies (she delivered healthy twins), she wore a heart rate monitor to maintain a heart rate of 130-140 beats per minute. [First off, my lead includes a double whammy—the mention of the recent study gives me both a time peg and evidence of a trend. The Lancet is a major British medical journal (along the lines of The Journal of the American Medical Association or The New England Journal of Medicine). I don’t have to explain what it is because my editor works at a fitness magazine; otherwise, I’d include the phrase “a leading British medical journal.”]

Heart rate training is growing in popularity, not just for pregnant women, but for time-crunched exercisers seeking ways to work out more efficiently and safely. Using a heart rate monitor can make cardiovascular training more effective as it helps ensure that athletes work out as intensely (or as easily) as they are supposed to. Starting at $100, a heart rate monitor is an inexpensive investment that can be worth much more for women looking to improve their fitness. [In the second paragraph, I target the audience of my potential market much more effectively. While the study in question involved a pregnant woman, I immediately explain that heart rate monitors are growing in popularity, “not just for pregnant women, but for time-crunched exercisers seeking ways to work out more efficiently and safely.” Aha! That’s pretty much everyone who reads Fit, isn’t it? (And is there anyone who wants to work out less efficiently and safely? Probably not.) Note that I also mention the benefits of using heart rate monitors and point out their affordability. At the time, a heart rate monitor only cost about $100—most readers would be able to purchase one. That’s another selling point for this story.]

Interested in a story about the use of heart rate monitors to train more efficiently for your "exercise.sports.fitness" section or as a short feature? “Target Your Training: How a Heart Rate Monitor Can Make You Fitter” will give an overview of how these monitors can be used to maximize training. I’ll include advice from athletic trainers and female athletes who use monitors regularly about how to get the most from a heart monitor; a possible sidebar might include a list of some of the different models available. Although I estimate about 800 words for this story, that’s flexible depending on your needs. [I'm trying to make it easy for the editor to say "yes" to this pitch. I’ve come up with a working title which is a little long but gives an idea of what the piece will look like; I’ve told her the type of sources I plan to interview; and I’ve suggested an appropriate, service-oriented sidebar. I go on to estimate word count and then let her know that I’ve read the magazine by suggesting the department (“exercise.sports.fitness”) the story seems right for. I also briefly mention my writing background; because I had worked with her before, I don’t enclose clips.]

As you know, I’ve written for Fit before as well as for other magazines including Cosmopolitan, Shape, Good Housekeeping, Modern Bride, and BRIDE’S. I hope you’ll find this story appropriate for a future issue of Fit; let me know if you have any questions about it. Thank you for your time; I look forward to hearing from you soon. [While overall this query is strong, my ISG is still weak. Why? At the time, I’d been using a heart rate monitor during runs for several years—a fact that certainly makes me “uniquely qualified” to write about them. But it didn't occur to me to mention it in the query, even though I wound up using my experience as a first-person lead in the story itself.] 

Very truly yours,
Kelly James-Enger

**This pitch sold, and resulted in a $750 assignment; reslanted versions of this pitch resulted in another four assignments on the topic. What I want you to realize is that you can improve any query, no matter how rough the original is. So if you have a pitch that hasn't sold, maybe this is the time to dig it out, update it and rewrite it. It may turn a "dead duck" into a new assignment. 

Want to know more about queries--and how to write better ones that results in assignments--even if you're a brand-new freelancer? Post your questions here, and check out Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets or Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second EditionFor a limited time, you'll get half off both titles when you order directly through ImprovisePress.com and use the discount code CHICKENS.