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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Query Critique #3: Street Harassment Pitch

Welcome back to Query Critique Week! The below query is from a reader who already has some clips but wants to crack bigger magazines. (It has already led to a book review and an interview from smaller markets.) So let's take a closer look:

Dear Katharine,

It isn’t uncommon for me to shouted at while walking down the street. “Wooo, hey baby!” is pretty typical, and my retort is often in the form of an obscene hand gesture. Several times, I’ve been groped on the subway or followed home. While violence in the home and harassment in the workplace have long been against the law, public space laws about harassment are much more lenient, and in many states, so-called “street harassment”—gender-based verbal and physical harassment in public space—is completely legal. In her forthcoming book Stop Street Harassment!, Holly Kearl notes that up to eighty percent of women experience some form of unwanted harassing attention in public at least once in their lives. Kearl goes on to explain that without a concrete definition for street harassment, women are once again battling against a problem with no name. [Very nice lead--though I'd break it into two paragraphs, starting the second with "While violence in the home..." But she definitely got my attention and has obviously done her homework. And if it affects 80% of women and this is a women's magazine, it's going to affect 80% of those readers, too.]

Stereotypically associated with construction workers and low-income men of color, street harassment occurs across all racial and socioeconomic lines, in cities as well as rural areas, and women of all ages and all sexual persuasions are targeted by a variety of men from all walks of life. Street harassment creates a hostile, fear-based public environment for women and LGBT people; moreover, it devalues equal participation in and ownership of public spaces that belong to all people. In rare cases, it can even escalate to physical violence, sexual assault, and several women have been killed in the past few years for ignoring their harasser’s advances. [Excellent "why write it" section--it tells me as the editor reading this how serious, even deadly, this problem is. I'm intrigued, and readers will be too.]

For an upcoming arts and culture piece for The WIP, I propose a 1,200 word interview Holly Kearl about her forthcoming book Stop Street Harassment! (August, Praeger). Kearl has conducted numerous surveys on this issue and worked to synthesize several decades worth of existing data on the prevalence of gender-based harassment and what legal actions can be taken. She has also recently written for publications like The Huffington Post and Ms. Magazine that the best solution to ending street harassment will involve legal intervention. [The writer is missing a word (with) in the first sentence and a dash between 1,200 and word; otherwise I like this paragraph.]

Kearl’s activism is only one part of the national coalition forming to fight street harassment. Therefore, I would contextualize her work within the larger anti-street harassment movement and explore the work of groups behind websites like HollaBackNYC/ and the Street Harassment Project, as well as programs like New York City’s RightRides, which offers complimentary safe rides home for women who wish to avoid predatory taxi drivers and the subway system. I would additionally question Kearl about the ways U.S.-based activists can learn from feminist organizers abroad. Particularly in Egypt and India, anti-harassment activism is gaining traction, and legal remedies are being explored. [Very good; I'm just wondering how she's going to get all this into a 1200-word interview. Why not pitch this as a piece on street harassment in general and how to fight it with Kearl as a source, as opposed to a Q and A with Kearl?]

As a former anti-street harassment activist in Boston, I’m particularly well-versed on the subject and already in contact with many organizers and scholars working to end the prevalence of gender-based harassment and violence in public space. I’ve spoken about street harassment in the Boston public schools and have been interviewed about my own work for The Boston Globe and other national media outlets. Kearl and I have previously collaborated, and my personal connection to her would ensure a thoughtful, in-depth interview. I would aim for an early August deadline as the book will be published in late August. [The ISG is excellent--this writer has personal experience with the subject. But I think the problem lies (at least for many magazines, especially the biggies) with the pre-existing connection between Kearl and the writer. Editors may worry that the writer won't be objective, or that this is more of a PR pitch (where the writer is trying to get Kearl exposure) as opposed to a truly objective piece. That's another reason why a more general piece as opposed to a Q and A would work better. The writer can use Kearl as a source for the story, but should disclose her previous relationship to her editor. In that case, it's probably not going to be an issue the way it would be in this pitch.]

A previous contributor to The WIP, I’ve written for a variety of progressive and feminist publications including Bitch, Herizons, RH Reality Check, truthout, Campus Progress, and In These Times. I’ve previously written about anti-street harassment activism for Make/Shift and Bitch, where I was also a recent guest blogger. I currently blog for about poverty and women’s rights, where I’ve also written several recent stories about street harassment. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to the possibility of writing for you again. [Excellent. This writer's query is smart, thoughtful, and well-researched. I am sure she can write a piece that matches this caliber of writing.]

Sincerely yours,

What do you think? Do you see how strong this query is, yet how a different spin, taking the focus off of this one source, might work better? And do you agree that an editor might infer the writer's piece might not be truly objective? I welcome your comments!


  1. There's a word missing in the very first sentence. It should have "be" or "get" in front of shouted. I like your idea of making it a more general piece rather than sounding so promotional of the mentioned author.

  2. Great catch, Becky! Neither I nor the writer caught that...thanks for your comment!