Search This Blog

Monday, July 19, 2010

Query Critique #1: Pitch for a Fitness Magazine

Welcome to the first-ever Query Critique Week! Our first query is aimed at Oxygen, a fitness magazine the freelancer has written for before. The query appears below, with my comments in blue. "TK" is a publishing term that means "to come" and means that the writer should replace the TK with the relevant information.

Here's the query:

You started out wanting to lose a little weight and tone up a few areas; never thinking you would take to the gym so quickly. Before you knew it, you exceeded your goals in record time and you’ve built a well-defined body you’re proud to show off in a bikini. So why stop there? Figure competitions are held around the world several times a year and chances are there’s one coming up in your area. Maybe it’s time to set a new goal and strut that buff body of yours on stage. It could even be the start of a great new career! [I've actually written for Oxygen before, and the writer has the readers of the magazine pretty well-pegged. They are serious about their bodies and getting (and staying) in shape, and they definitely like to show off their hard work. But specific numbers--e.g., how many figure competitions are held a year? In what locations?--would strengthen this query and show the editor she's done her homework. She could also include the number of fitness competitors to show what a popular sport this is. If I were writing this query, I might play up the idea of competing in a fitness competition as a training goal--that's more likley to apply to more readers than becoming a full-time fitness pro. One last thing--the semicolon in the first sentence should be a comma.]

I would like to write an article tentatively entitled “Making the Jump from Fit to Figure” for an upcoming issue of Oxygen Magazine. As an avid reader of Oxygen, I often wonder how the women you feature on your pages got to where they are today with the help of competing and how it’s shaped their lives. What advice do they have for those who would like to follow in their footsteps? [Although I've used language like "I would like to write an aritcle..." in the past, let's be more direct. How about "Interested in an article, 'Making the Jump from Fit to Figure' for your TK section of Oxygen? "TK" refers to the section of the magazine the writer thinks the story will fit in--it reminds the editor that she is in fact an "avid reader" of the magazine. I like the rest of the paragraph, and that's she's bringing in her experience as a reader to the query itself. I love the working title, too.]

Here are some of the points I’d like to cover in the article:

Requirements – What exactly are figure competitions all about and what basics do you need to get started? What do judges look for? How dark should your tan be and how important is a great bathing suit?

Diet – What should you eat, months, weeks, days before competition and how to ensure you stay healthy while you compete?

Should you get a coach? – A figure coach can save you time learning all the basics and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses from an objective point of view. On the other hand, many figure competitors go it alone and still get great results. What would be better for someone who is just starting out? Maybe some tips from top coaches would make a good sidebar?

Good competitions for beginners to enter – There are reputable contests and there are just as many that are scams. How can a beginner tell what competitions are legitimate and are well respected in the industry? [I like the way she's set out the areas she plans to cover in the piece; I'd probably bullet-point these out. This list of elements shows that she knows what she's talking about. I can tell you, though, that each of these elements could be a separate article! This is a lot of material to cram into a piece. If I were an editor reading this, though, I'd definitely be intrigued. In the coach section, I'd change the last line to read: "A possible sidebar could include figure competition tips from top figure coaches such as TK" instead of what she has.]

I plan to interview recent figure winners at your recommendation or I could research a few, figure coaches and women who are at the novice stage and preparing for their first big competition. It would be fun to follow someone through prep, her experience competing and where she places. I see this article running 700 to 1,000 words. [First, I'd like to see her included some examples here--"I plan to interview recent winners such as TK and TK (and am open to your suggestions for possible sources) for this story. Or, if you prefer, I'd be happy to locate a few women at the novice stage preparing for their first big competitions." But I think the word count is way too short...if Oxygen runs features of say, 1200-1500 words, I'd pitch it as 1500 words. You want to ask for as many words as possible--you get paid by the word! And the editor can always assign it shorter, but let's shoot high.]

I am a freelance writer and have written for Oxygen before (Destination: Energy, Nutrition Special 2005) and have been published in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Alive and The Writer. I am a Tosca fan and a Clean Eating fanatic! [This is what I call the ISG, or "I'm-S0-Great" paragraph, and she's done a good job here. She's reminding the editor of her earlier work, and mentioning Tosca (one of the regular contributors--who happens to be married to the magazine's publisher!--is a smart move.]

Thank you for your consideration and I hope to hear back from you soon. [Typical closing; it's fine. I'd probably add something like, "I hope you'll be interested in this topic and would love to write for Oxygen again in the future. I'm working on some other ideas for you and will be in touch soon" to underscore her interest in the mag.]

What do you readers think? The writer of this query has a great start, but with some tweaking and specifics, this query will be a lot more compelling--and likely to net her an assignment with this magazine.


  1. Kelly, this is so helpful!
    Thank you.

  2. How very valid your points are, Kelly! I think that writers sometimes get a bit lazy with details in their hurry to send as many queries out as possible, only to have them rejected because they're not fleshed out enough. It serves as a good reminder that queries are what take most of the work, the writing of the articles is usually the easy part. Thanks so much for offering your expert eye.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Jan and Heidi! Heidi, you make a good point about wanting to just hit "send" but I've had better results by writing more detailed (i.e. stats, relevant studies, etc) queries rather than just getting out as many as possible. In that regard, it's about quality more than quantity.

  4. Love the critique! Thanks for doing this, Kelly.

    I agree with your suggestions, but have a question. For the interviews, you recommend that the writer use specific names. What if she can't get interviews with the people she mentions? (That's a fear of mine!) What would you do if that happened?

  5. Hi, Brigid--

    Here's the magic language:

    "I plan to interview sources like TK and TK for this story..."

    Note that I say "plan to interview sources *like*..." In other words, these are the type and caliber of sources I'll use, but if I can't get the person I named, I'll use someone in the same basic category.

    However, if the story turns on someone's involvement (say, it's a profile, or based on a particular researcher's work), I do contact the person first to make sure he or she will participate.

    Hope this helps! :)