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Saturday, July 24, 2010

One Last Query...This One's Mine

Thanks for the feedback on last week's Query Critique Week...I hope you found it helpful. I have one last query to share that demonstrates some of the tips I talked about last week. This is a pitch I sent last year to one of my regular markets; my comments appear in blue:

Dear Tamara:

I’m an admitted “type A.” I think fast, do chores fast, and make decisions fast. Even when faced with a tough choice, I usually feel compelled to make up my mind as soon as I can. I feel weak and powerless if I don’t “know” the right answer, even if the question is a biggie—like whether to work after my son was born, or whether we should try to sell our house (in a down market) and move up to a bigger home. In these situations, I seek advice from my mom, whose counsel never wavers: “Give yourself time. You don’t have to make a decision today.” [I’ve written for this editor before, and I know she likes first-person leads—the magazine has a friendly “mom-to-mom” voice.]

In fact, my mom is onto something. (Hey, she has 65 years’, 4 kids, and 3 grandkids’ worth of experience.) Procrastinators have always gotten a bad rap, but putting off decisions—especially hard ones—may actually pay off. A study published last year found that making choices depletes your self-control, as the same area of the brain controls both self-regulation and making choices. That means that means that making even a minor decision may affect your ability to stick to your diet or read with your seven-year-old the way you promised. And so-called “active procrastinators” are anything but paralyzed by indecision to act. Instead, they make a deliberate decision to put things off as they thrive on working under pressure. [Here I’ve started with my personal experience but broadened it to show that my mom's advice may be on the money. (Of course!) I've also mentioned a recent study--without giving away the store, so to speak--in support of my hypothesis that procrastination can be a positive thing. This is what I call a counterintuitive pitch—a story idea based on the opposite of what you would think. That’s a great way to “reslant” an evergreen topic—editors are always looking for “fresh” ideas.]

“Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow: The Pros of Procrastination” will describe the multiple benefits of delaying decisions and/or tasks, and show readers how what they’ve thought was a personal failing has surprising benefits. I plan to interview experts such as psychologist and stress expert Alice Domar, Ph.D., author of Be Happy without Being Perfect (Crown, 2008), and will a couple of “real women” anecdotes as well. A possible sidebar will include a quiz to let readers determine their own “procrastination personality.” Although I estimate 1300 words for this piece, that’s flexible depending on your needs. [Note that I’ve told her who I "plan to" interview—if I can’t get Alice Domar, I’ll get someone of her caliber, and I’m happy to find some “real mom” sources as well. I’ve also suggested a working title, possible sidebar, and proposed word count—the piece was assigned as I pitched it. I haven't mentioned the section of the magazine I think the piece belongs in, but that's because I've written for Tamara before. She knows I read her magazine.]

Tamara, let me know if you’re interested in this topic for Chicago Parent. I’m getting back into the work swing and looking forward to working with you again soon! I’ll be in touch soon, too, with some other story ideas. [Tamara knows me, so I don’t bother running down my background and qualifications—she knows who I am. Otherwise I’d say something like “I’m a fulltime freelancer and mom whose work has appeared in 50+ national magazines including Parents, Parenting, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Runner’s World, Self, and Health."]

All my best,
Kelly James-Enger

For other query examples, check out Six-Figure Freelancing or Ready, Aim, Specialize, both of which include lots of queries written both by me and other successful freelancers.


  1. Thanks for posting these sample queries. It's a big help to see them. I know I've gotten in a rut with sending the same boiler-plate query, so it's good to get a feel for other ways to pitch ideas.

    Btw does the sweet boy on the cover of the latest CP belong to you?

  2. My pleasure! I think it's always helpful to see someone else's approach.

    And yes, that's my son! Isn't he beautiful? :)

  3. Considering my personal tendencies towards procrastination, I love this pitch!