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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Query Critique Week: Shyness Query

Welcome to Query Critique Week, and thanks to all my readers who submitted queries. While I won't be able to include them all, I appreciate you submitting your ideas.

Our first query is a pitch to Parenting (though it could work for just about any parenting magazine). My comments are in blue. Overall, I think it's a good idea but the query is too long, could use more specifics, and needs some judicious editing. Here it is:

Dear Ms. Fernandez,

I have been one of those moms. I have sat perched by the door of the ballet studio and waved reassuringly to my daughter during her ballet lesson. I have stayed at birthday parties to help my child feel more comfortable socializing and I’ve hosted numerous play dates at my house. [I like the lead but I'd add a little more to the last sentence; e.g., "and I've hosted numerous play dates at my house to make it easier for my children to make friends."]

Finding a babysitter that my kids were comfortable with was a struggle of legendary proportions. I know I’m not alone. There are legions of us out there – the moms of shy kids who are no longer adorable toddlers. [I'd probably cut this paragraph; or work the idea of millions of shy schoolaged kids into the query in one of the next two paragraphs.]

Our society pushes kids at a young age to get out and get thrown into new situations – from Santa at the mall to preschool for everyone. [I don't like the phrase "preschool for everyone" but I like the concept of pushing kids, even those who are "slow to warm up." I'd develop a little further.] But as they get older, the challenges increase. Grade school kids can’t climb into mom’s lap for a hug. Parents need to actively teach their older children coping techniques, more than avoidance tactics, to help smooth the way for them to make friends and adjust to new and uncomfortable situations. [I'd change to "Grade-school-aged kids" can't just climb into mom's lap for a hug--not that they'd be willing to, anyway" or something a little punchier. I like the concept in the last paragraph but would add some specifics--like what kind of uncomfortable situations?]

In the past 30 years, experts estimate that shyness has increased in children. A study done by Lynne Henderson, Ph.D. and Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D. of The Shyness Institute at Stanford University reveals that while in 1982, 38% of fifth graders said they were shy; today those rates are as high as 61%. And people don’t necessarily outgrow shyness. Nearly 40% of adults suffer from chronic shyness, that is, shyness poses a problem in their lives. Shy students are often afraid to ask a question in class or play games on the playground. Shy adults tend to have a more difficult time finding a job or going on dates. It’s important to help kids learn good coping skills early on. [Good research here, but I'd change the first sentence to something like, "Despite all those texts and Myspace postings, experts estimate that shyness has increased in children over the past 30 years." The rest of the paragraph shows strong research, though I'd like it to flow a little better; it's reading a little pedantic to me.]

I’d like to write an article titled, For the Love of Shy Kids: Being Shy isn’t a Disability but You Can Help Them Feel More Comfortable. This article will give parents concrete techniques for appreciating a shy child’s point of view and helping the shy child navigate new situations. I’ll explain how to recognize and embrace the positive aspects of shyness and how, by allowing your child to be who they are naturally, parents are removing the anxiety trigger that brings on shyness. Some concrete tips for how to help shy children adjust include those same reward charts that worked so well in preschool. And by helping children develop a natural interest in an activity, they gain confidence and meet people with whom they feel comfortable. I’ll also talk about the importance of getting to know other kids their age and how parents who get involved and learn their classmates and their classmates’ parents can be a big boon to their child. [I'd cut "I'd like to write an article" and get right into the pitch--e.g., "My article, "TK" will give parents concrete techniques..." The working title/sub is too long--make it shorter and punchier. And while the rest of this paragraph has good info, I'd tighten it a bit and make it more specific if possible. Are there studies, for example, that show that outgoing kids do better in school than shy kids, etc? Back it up with research when you can. And tell the editor where you think the story belongs and how many words you estimate for the piece.]

I plan to interview Dr. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute and professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast. He has been studying shyness for the past 30 years and has written numerous books on the topic, including Shyness and The Shyness Breakthrough: A No-Stress Plan to Help Your Shy Child Warm Up, Open Up, and Join the Fun. I will also interview Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, the founder of The Center for Well-Being: Psychological Services for Children, Youth, and Families in Los Angeles, and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. In addition, I will offer real life insights from parents of shy children as to what works and what doesn’t. [This is good, but again I'd tighten a little bit. Shows that you've done your research though; nice.]

A potential sidebar could be “When to worry about shyness,” which would look at when shyness becomes debilitating and problematic. According to Dr. Lynne Henderson, director of The Shyness Institute at Stanford University, shy individuals are frequently physically self-conscious and report having negative thoughts about themselves and others in social situations – seeing themselves as inhibited, awkward, physically unattractive, unfriendly and incompetent. I will offer up some suggestions, such as relaxation techniques, role playing and exposure therapy, along with resources for parents to help their children cope with everyday life. [It's always good to suggest a sidebar but I'm thinking that a lot of this would probably be included in the main story. And I feel like you're going into too much detail here for a sidebar, which tends to be fairly brief.]

I am a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent and my writing has been published in more than 45 regional parenting publications, including Atlanta Parent, San Diego Family, Montreal Parent and Portland Family. In addition, I write and edit weekly stories for an edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. I have attached some recent clips. [This is fine, but remind the editor of your experience as the parent of one or more shy children and how that will allow you to bring a unique perspective to the piece.]

I look forward to hearing your thoughts or questions.


***Readers, what do you think? Do you agree with my comments/edit suggestions? For a whole chapter's worth of first queries from new freelancers that sold, and why, check out my book for newbie magazine freelancers, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (Kindle edition).

Stay tuned for more queries...


  1. It's nice to show the advance research, but I agree it needs to be tightened. Also, is the story about shyness (causes and later effects) or about solutions and copying strategies? That's not really clear. For Parenting, I think they would be more interested in the service angle - here's why some kids are shy yada yada, BUT here's what you can do to help them. In this case, the pitch makes it sound like the service part will be an add-on: "I will offer up some suggestions..."

  2. I'd pump up the intro anecdote to make it a bit more detailed, but still brief. Very interesting idea.

  3. Good comments, both of you! Rachel, I agree about highlighting the service (which is what most parenting articles are all about). And yes, adding more detail to the anecdote is a good idea.