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Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Query Critique Month Continues: A Profile Query

Welcome back to the Query Critique Month. (You've got until June 11th to get your queries in!) If you missed them, check out the YA novel query and the Second Act Parenting query

Our next query pitches a profile--or possibly a true-life feature (see below). My comments are in blue:  

Dear Editor,

It was a normal day in February when Suzie heard her phone ring. Answering it, she was told there had been an accident. She would need come to the hospital right away. “Is it one of my children?” she asked, afraid to hear the answer. She was trembling now. Her husband had gone to pick up the kids at school, and should have been home by now. She heard the voice on the other end of the line tell her to please hurry, and something about shock trauma. She put down the receiver, numb, and grabbed her keys, running out the door. [Gripping lead, though I would tighten the writing a bit. I also want to know what year it is, and I would use a last name here to make it clear this is an actual anecdote, not a "made up" one. New writers sometimes make the mistake of making up anecdotes to illustrate a story--which, obviously, is not okay! I would also include the woman's age.] 

Hope Through Healing will tell your readers the story of that horrific day when Kevin Lawyer, husband, dad of six, kindergarten Sunday school teacher, and much loved orthodontist, died immediately after colliding with a truck head on. Kevin left behind a grieving wife and six children, all under the age of 11, including two sets of twins. How does a spouse go on after experiencing such a loss? Not only did she go on, but she is finishing up her Master’s degree and already has a job waiting as a counselor working with children who have experienced trauma. Her children are thriving, and Suzie is an inspiration to everyone who meets her. The article would be approximately 1,200 words, though I could easily tighten it up or expand it to meet your needs. I can also include photographs. I could have the article to you within 30 days of acceptance. [Put "Hope Through Healing" in quotes as it's the working title, first off. And this story isn't really about the day he was killed--it's about the transition his widow and family went through. I want to know several things that are missing here. When was he killed--i.e. how long has it been since he died and how old are her children now? And get rid of the cliche--"inspiration to every who meets her." Come up with a different way to phrase that concept. 

This story could be a "true-life feature," highlighting the whole story of what happened, or a profile of Susie herself. And profiles are tricky. A market may not always be interested in one person's true story, but would be interested in a story that shares the experience of several--for example, profiling three women who lost their husbands unexpectedly and bounced back. (See my comments on the Second Act Parenting query.) If you're going to pitch only Susie's story--and nothing wrong with that--I'd like a little more detail in the query about her joureny. I feel like we're getting a very brief overview of the story when showing more drama will help catch an editor's attention. Make sense? 

I like the fact that she's given word count and told the editor how much time she needs to write the piece, and offered to provide photographs.]

I have written for several magazines including a monthly column for Living Out East, as well as Mommy Magazine, Baltimore’s Child and The Old Schoolhouse. I have a personal relationship with the Lawyer family, so have complete access to any information I may need, including a recording of the phone call mentioned above. [Nice ISG, first off. But the "personal relationship" part is tricky. The editor will wonder whether you can write an objective piece, considering your relationship or friendship with Susie? If this were me, I would say something like, "I've already contacted Susie and have her permission to share her story with you if you're interested" or something like that. And if she's a close friend, IMO, you must disclose that to your editor. 

So I've pitched and written a profile of the daughter of a someone I knew, but I wouldn't have done that if she were my best friend. Make sense? Other writers may have differing opinions--please let me know--but I'd say you do need to disclose whether you have a close or business relationship with a source.]

Thank you for your consideration of this article. I look forward to hearing from you.


Readers, what do you think? Do you agree with this critique? What about pitching a piece about someone you already know? How do you handle that? 

**Finally, one of the reasons I do critiques and post templates on my blog is because I've always found it helpful to have a model to follow, whether I'm writing a query, a LOI, an invoice, or even a "pay-or-die" letter. My new ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates (Smashwords version) includes 10 essential freelance templates together, with an explanation of how to use each; it's invaluable if you're a new freelancer. Want a guide to the business side of freelancing? Then you'll want to read my new book from Writer's Digest, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success.

And stay tuned for more queries! 

1 comment:

  1. This is how I feel about writing about people you know: Our ideas have to come from somewhere and we train ourselves to look for ideas in every moment of our lives. Why not write about someone we know? If we ignore a good story just because we're friends with the person we want to write about, I think that's a little like refusing a gift from the idea gods! I think you've got a point and we should notify our editors. If they decide that a profile of someone we know is something they don't want to publish -- even if it's a really unique story -- then that's on them and we should be able to pitch another market with the story. If it's a story worth telling, then tell it! :)