Failed Queries: Don’t Give Up on a Good Story

Here is another failed query that worked — after two years of trying. My profile based on this pitch, originally drafted in 2012, is scheduled for publication later this month. Its subject is working on a second cookbook, which made for an ideal opportunity to revisit the query and send an updated version to markets I hadn’t tried in the past. For more strategies on following up, you can also check out my recent guest post on Carol Tice’s blog, Make a Living Writing.

Dear Ms. Editor:

Profile Subject began her career as a restaurant entrepreneur at the tender age of 22 when she opened a business in her hometown of Starkville, Miss. The restaurant and catering company specialized in Southern food with global influences. Owning a thriving business was an impressive accomplishment for a woman in her twenties, but it was a request from a catering client who wanted to host a Japanese-inspired party in sushi-starved Starkville that ignited Subject’s true passion and encouraged her to explore far beyond her culinary comfort zone.

That exploration began in earnest when Subject closed her businesses and moved to Memphis to work as a pastry chef before enrolling in the professional sushi chef program at the California Sushi Academy. While there, she studied under respected sushi chefs and sake sommeliers, taught classes, catered events and observed and worked in restaurant kitchens on her way to becoming the first female African American graduate of the school.

Subject then returned to Memphis where she worked at a now-defunct sushi restaurant and refined her specialty of creating sushi with a Southern twist using local and sustainable ingredients. After three years, she decided to leave her position and focus on teaching sushi classes, catering and occasionally creating “tsushi” for the restaurant where she had once worked as a pastry chef. She also shared her passion for Southern-inspired sushi through her book.

Would you be interested in a story about this entrepreneur and author who has created innovative rolls that include Southern staples like pickled okra but also shares basic recipes easy enough for anyone to follow? The story could be expanded to include other restaurateurs creating innovative ethnic cuisine or focus on Subject’s and other authors’ adventures with cookbook publishing and promotion. I would be happy to provide a source list that fits the angle of most interest to you.

As for my professional credentials, I have 15 of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, DRAFT Magazine, The FruitGuys Almanac and Organic Gardening.

Once I know which angles are of most interest to you, I would be happy to provide sidebar ideas, an estimated word count and a working title. Meanwhile, I have included a link to my resume and some writing samples should you be interested.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

Free photo from morgueFile
Free photo from morgueFile

Failed Queries: Here’s one that worked — after a few tries

Since this month boasts five Tuesdays, I offer a query that actually worked in place of the usual Failed Queries feature — albeit not at the first publication I pitched. So, don’t trash a query after the first rejection. And, for freelancers who are curious about how a query might translate into a full-length piece, here is the resulting story. Happy Holidays!

Free photo from morgueFile
Free photo from morgueFile

Dear Ms. Editor:

Although the Man in Black is one of Arkansas’s most famous natives, little more than a roadside sign marks the site of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess. Today, there are no attractions or interpretive sites open to the public in the Mississippi County town of 410, but that won’t be true for long. By combining state funds, private donations and proceeds from its first Johnny Cash Music Festival last year, Arkansas State University has raised approximately $1.4 million to restore the Cash family home, renovate the historic Administration Building and rejuvenate the Theater Building in the Dyess Colony Center. As part of its Arkansas Heritage Sites Program, the university will also reconstruct the outbuildings at the Cash farmstead, provide visitor services, install historic markers throughout the town and build a walking trail linking the Cash home and town center. The first phase of the project, including opening the Cash home and Colony Center Administration Building to visitors, is expected to be completed by June of next year.

In addition to its role as a country music pilgrimage site, the Dyess Colony represents a unique window into Depression-era America. The colony was one of the nation’s first agricultural resettlement communities built by the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to move families from failed farms into model communities. The colony’s Greek-Revival Administration building, dedicated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1936, lay at the hub of a wagon wheel of farmsteads for 500 colonists. Those early colonists included Ray and Carrie Cash, who relocated from Kingsland, Ark., with three-year-old J.R. Cash and their other children that same year.

As a native of Northeast Arkansas, graduate of Arkansas State University and consummate country music fan, I feel uniquely qualified to write about this new heritage site, which I think would make an excellent subject for a travel feature. If you are interested, I could also expand the story to highlight the other Arkansas Heritage Sites, which include the Lakeport Plantation and the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center. Upcoming events, including this year’s Johnny Cash Music Festival and a creative writing retreat at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum, would also provide some excellent photo opportunities to complete a story package.

As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Most recently, I have been working on stories scheduled for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well and WOW – Women on Writing.

To avoid clogging your inbox with attachments, I have included a link to my resume. You can also find some writing samples at: https://charleneoldham.com/writing-samples/ should you be interested. Finally, please contact me if you need any additional information or samples to consider this idea.

Best,
Charlene Oldham

Failed Queries: Take it from turtles and keep truckin’

Here is yet another entry in the Failed Queries category. Good thing I take the same approach as turtles. We may be turned away at times, but slow and steady really can win the race.

Dear Ms. Editor:

Turtles haven’t changed much in the last 210 million years, and their genes prove slow and steady sometimes wins the race when it comes to evolution.

“They may be slowly evolving, but turtles have developed an array of enviable features,” said Richard Wilson, director of Washington University’s Genome Institute and senior author of a recent study that analyzed the genome of the western painted turtle. “They resist growing old, can reproduce even at advanced ages, and their bodies can freeze solid, thaw and survive without damaging delicate organs and tissues. We can learn a lot from them.”

Turns out turtles are experts at activating genes many vertebrates – including humans — share, but don’t use, allowing them to survive for long periods of time without oxygen while hibernating in ice-covered ponds. Scientists are also studying the turtles’ genes for clues about why they live so much longer than most animals their size.

Would you be interested in a story that explains what the western painted turtle’s genes tell us about its unique abilities and addresses the question Can Turtles Someday Help Humans Live Longer or Survive Without Air?

As a former middle and high school teacher and experienced journalist, I feel I could do this in a way that would be both entertaining and interesting to your young readers. I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories for publication by magazines, books, newspapers and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, Organic Gardening, Poets & Writers, DRAFT Magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2014 Songwriter’s Market, Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, The FruitGuys Almanac and WOW! Women On Writing.

Please let me know if this idea is of interest and what angle you might like to take with a story so I can provide more details. Meanwhile I have included a link to my resume and some writing samples in case you would like to take a look.

Best,
Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile

Failed Query: Timely Research Can Kill a Query

This failed query illustrates the dangers of using research (in this case, a survey from November 2012) that may be considered time sensitive as the crux of a pitch to a monthly magazine that could have a six-month lead time.

Dear Ms. Editor:

A survey released in November shows an increasing number of shoppers are willing to pay a premium for American-made goods, even if those consumers call China home. Indeed, more than 60 percent of Chinese consumers said they are willing to pay more for products made in the U.S.A., and 80 percent of American consumers agreed according to recent research from The Boston Consulting Group. These taste trends and other factors lead BCG to estimate the U.S. could add 5 million new jobs in manufacturing and related services by the end of the decade.

Patriotism and cache aren’t the only factors behind those findings. Consumers who buy brands made in the U.S. know more about the wages and working conditions of the people who sew their clothes. And locally sourced clothing carries added benefits for the environment since it doesn’t have to be shipped as far from its factory to store shelves.

I would like to propose a story for XX that examines the resurgence in U.S. manufacturing. I could also provide readers with five to 10 brands that make fashion-forward clothes and accessories domestically. Some suggestions include Prairie Well, Barbara Lesser, School House and Red Ants Pants. I would be happy to provide a longer list of brands depending on what types of clothes you’d like to feature. I can also give you an idea of length, art and sidebars once you decide on a specific angle that best fits your needs.

As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories scheduled for publication by national magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, DRAFT Magazine, Poets & Writers and WOW! Women On Writing.

To avoid clogging your inbox with attachments, I have included a link to my resume. You can also find some writing samples at: https://charleneoldham.com/writing-samples/ should you be interested.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile

Failed Queries: Local Business, Freelancer Fall on Hard Times

This month’s failed query comes to you a week early because I am excited to announce next Tuesday will mark my first-ever post from a guest blogger. Please check back then for a post on writing flash fiction by J, creator of  Don’t Delete Me and fellow Blogging 201 alum.

Meanwhile, here’s a failed query about an area business that has since switched chefs and shuttered the two short-lived expansions mentioned in my pitch.

Dear Editor:

Since opening its doors in 2007, Local Harvest Grocery has paid area farmers, ranchers, food producers and other artisans about $1 million for supplying sustainable, organically grown products to its store, which started as a 660-square-foot space in Saint Louis. That figure is likely to grow exponentially as Local Harvest‘s owners expand across the area. The first of those expansions came in 2009, when owners Maddie Earnest and Patrick Horine opened a cafe and catering service a block away from the grocery. At Local Harvest Cafe and Catering, customers can enjoy a cup of coffee or a Saint Louis craft brew with an organic, locally sourced meal prepared by chef Clara Moore. This summer, Local Harvest‘s purveyors plan to open another cafe downtown as well as a second grocery store with cafe seating for 40 in nearby Kirkwood, Missouri.

Horine launched a farmer’s market in the city’s Tower Grove Park before branching out to the first brick-and-mortar store, now 2,200 square feet, and he and Earnest have stayed true to their local retail roots. They aim to source at least half their products from farms and food producers within a 150-mile radius of Saint Louis. Today, more than 85 cents of every dollar spent at Local Harvest stays in the community, reducing the amount of fossil fuels necessary to get the food to customers and eliminating the need for pesticides to keep foods fresh. Indeed, Local Harvest‘s practices lend themselves not only to clean eating, but a cleaner planet, making its owners and chef — who recently appeared on the Bravo network’s newest cooking competition — ideal subjects for a Local Hero profile in XX.

As for my professional credentials, I have nearly a decade of experience teaching writing in secondary and post-secondary schools as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News, where I also wrote the occasional restaurant review. I am now looking forward to combining my interests and experiences in the classroom, newsroom and kitchen to write stories about a variety of topics. I have attached my resume and would be happy to send writing samples — including a piece scheduled to run in a national magazine — if you are interested. You can also see some of my work at my website. Meanwhile, please let me know if you need additional information to consider this query or are interested in seeing more ideas for the pages of XX.

Thank you,
Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile
Free Photo from MorgueFile