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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Query Critique #2: Is this a True-Life Feature or a Service Piece?

Hi, readers, and welcome back to the latest Query Critique, and thanks to all who submitted queries. You'll find the first query critique here. My comments appear below in blue

Dear (Editor's name),

Sandra hadn’t given much thought to becoming a mother. She was 29 years old and married for only a few years, so she felt she had time to ponder that question. The closest she had come to contemplating motherhood was when she agreed to be guardian to her sister’s daughter. When her sister died unexpectedly, there was no more time for the musings of motherhood—it was full immersion. [This lead covers a lot but lacks specifics. A few things--first off, use Sandra's last name so it's clear she's a real person. I'd also like to know how old she was when she agreed to be her niece's guardian, and what happened to the niece's father. Also, how old was her niece when her mother died? What does Sandra do for a living? Give us more info about Sandra so we know more about her.] 

“Lessons in Guardianship” is the story of a loving aunt turned reluctant mother. Readers will learn about the challenges that come with becoming a parent overnight to a grieving child, especially when Sandra's own family members don’t think she's the right choice. [Interesting and I'd like to know more about the intra-family conflict going on.] Although Sandra was committed to honouring her sister’s wishes, she cautions anyone in a similar situation to reflect deeply before agreeing to the guardianship of someone else’s child. “People have to get over the honour of being asked, it’s definitely not like being asked to be a bridesmaid.” [I'm not sure whether this story is going to be a true-life feature or a service piece. It sounds like it's a little of both, which usually doesn't work.] 

In addition to Sandra’s experience, the story will walk the reader through some of the emotional and financial considerations when accepting to be a guardian, such as long-distance relocation (Sandra lived in another part of the country) and the $235,000 it costs [according to? source?] to raise a child to eighteen—not including college or university. Her story will inspire and provide insight to parents who are not quite sure how to broach this topic and to those who are considering taking on such a commitment. I estimate about 1500 words for the piece but I am flexible and open to suggestions. [It sounded at the beginning that this was going to be a true-life feature but now it sounds like a service piece. That's fine--the writer can still use Sandra as the lead for the story or as anecdotal source, which will probably be easier to sell than a true-life feature anyway. Or she could write the service piece with Sandra's story as a sidebar--or flip it and write a true-life feature about Sandra's experience and accompany with a service sidebar. Make sense?] 

I am a freelance writer with a flare [flair] for turning personal stories into everyone-can-relate experiences. I have done an initial interview with Sandra [good], whom I came to know through a writing project [unnecessary] and I have published several pieces in parenting magazines [such as? names?] and would be happy to send them upon request. 

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

I think the writer has a solid idea, but needs to decide which direction she's going to take to sell this idea. Another thought--what about some stats? How many adults agree to be guardians of children? How common is it to have to step in as a guardian? These kinds of stats--showing how likely this issue is to affect readers--can help the editor say "yes" to a pitch. 

Readers, what do you think? Agree or disagree with my comments? 

**Coming up: a new salary survey. And thanks to all who continue to buy Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. It sold more copies in December than any month so far! :) 


  1. I thought some of the same things as you--potential but needs to decide what kind of piece. I think a service piece would work nicely here, but with some more stats.

  2. I like to tell the editor what section I think the piece would work for - it shows I've thought through my article and it shows I read their magazine. In this case, the author could say, for example, that it would work as an 800-word true life experience or as a 1500-word service piece depending on the editor's needs.