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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Query Critique Month: Service Article Query

Welcome back to the Query Critique Month! Thanks to the several dozen people who have submitted queries; I won't be able to critique them all, but am trying to get a good mix and will do several more before month's end. Check out this month's earlier posts for others. 

This next query is a service article; my comments appear in pink: 

Dear Ms. Whitcher-Gentzke:

The baby has arrived and those first few days are filled with excitement and joy. Before long, however, reality sets in – sleepless nights, a crying child, an over-tired mom. For some men, the transition to fatherhood appears to be overwhelming. Much has been written about maternal post-partum depression, but their male counterparts have largely been left out of the discussion. While exact numbers are difficult to pinpoint, some studies suggest that as many as one in ten new dads suffer from symptoms of post-partum depression, according to Will H. Courtenay, Ph.D., LCSW, who has studied men’s physical and mental health issues for 15 years. [I feel "meh" about this lead. It's rather general, and doesn't really grab me. I think the writer could do better with a specific anecdote, or some statistics about the first few weeks of infancy--e.g., how much sleep parents of newborns get. I do like the fact that the writer has a stat on PPD (postpartum depression) in men. I think the writer could make this "pop" a little more.]

Deborah Issokson, Psy.D., owner of Counseling for Reproductive Health and Healing, a private practice in Wellesley and Pembroke, Massachusetts, says, “Some dads have post-partum depression due to a previous history, in combination with the transition to parenthood. If a mom is depressed, a dad could also be depressed.” [I'd flush this paragraph out a bit, or maybe combine it with the lines below. And this quote could be much more compelling--it's a little boring to me and again, doesn't grab me. If you're using a direct quote, it should be a good one, IMO.]

I’d like to bring attention to this under-reported condition that negatively impacts families and children. Studies have shown that parental depression affects a child’s language development and presents an increased risk of developing mental health disorders later in life. [This is good but I want to know more here--ie, more stats or more details. HOW is the baby impacted by his/her dad's depression? How does the PPD in men impact the dads? I feel like it's very general and should be more about why readers will care and what they will get out of the story.] 

As a regular contributor to New England Psychologist for the last ten years, I have significant experience writing about mental health-related topics. I have also built a large expert resource list on which to draw for various stories. [Very good although I would mention this later in the query. It's the writer's call, though.] 

For this article, I will interview Dr. Issokson; Dr. Courtenay; Robin Cook Kopelman, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, who has conducted research on post-partum depression in men; William S. Pollack, Ph.D., director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, which studies male physical and mental health conditions, and Tiffany Field, Ph.D., pediatric professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who examines parental depression. Additionally, I will interview new fathers, if available, about their personal experiences with post-partum depression. [Excellent sources the writer plans to interview, but it might be a little bit of overkill. Also, just say you will interview new fathers--it's the writer's job to find anecdotes if the editor wants them. And most editors do want at least one "real person in a story, even if it's only to illustrate the piece.]

I will ask medical professionals why it is important to screen and treat post-partum depression in fathers; what types of screening tools are available; what the risk factors and symptoms are; how new fathers’ depression might affect their partners and their offspring, and what types of therapy are currently used. [I would rework this and include it in the second paragraph of the query--what I call the Why-Write-It paragraph. Instead of saying that you'll ask these questions, make it clear that the story will address these points. Get the difference?] 

Recent legislation, i.e., the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act and the Mental Health Parity Law, has highlighted the importance of addressing depression and other mental health disorders. An article on post-partum depression in fathers would add to the dialogue. I hope you’ll consider my query. [Is this for a national market or a local one? Either way, the writer could add a little about these laws as the editor may not be familiar with them. I don't like the phrase "add to the dialogue, but that's just me. Also, what section of the publication or website is this for? How many words will the piece be? Include this.] 

I've included links to three of my published articles to give you an idea of my writing style. [This is a good start, but I'd like to know a little more about the writer herself, her background, experience, etc. Tell the editor some of the markets you've written for--don't just provide a URL and expect her to do the legwork of looking them up. In other words, improve her ISG a bit.]

Thank you for the opportunity to present my idea. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best regards,

Me again. I think this is a solid idea and a good start, but could me improved by tightening and rearranging the query a bit and making it more compelling. It's reading a little dry/academic to me and I'd like to see a little more life in it, if that makes sense. 

Readers, what do you think? Do you agree with my comments?

**One of the reasons I provide 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.


  1. Thanks for sharing all these query critiques, Kelly! As you said, I think the writer has hit on a very compelling topic but the writing needs to reflect that. Maybe there's a juicy time hook too? (We just had Father's Day but in a few more months, it could be pitched for Father's Day 2013.) I suspect this is for a consumer publication but the writer seems to be in a more scholarly mindset (not surprising considering his/her impressive credentials). If the writer works on this, maybe you could do a follow-up post to showcase version 2? Or perhaps link to the finished article once it's published someday? Would love to hear what happens next, as it's a great topic.

  2. Great point, Susan. I love the idea of having a time peg for the piece, and I agree the writer has an academic background that makes the query read a little dry.

    I'll ask the writer if she's interested in reworking the piece and post the results on the blog! I know at least two writers from last year's Query Critique Week sold their queries after they reworked them, which was gratifying. :)