Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | June 30, 2008

The All-Important Query Letter

I’ve fallen into freelance writing in much the same way that I fell into technical writing. While the writing itself comes easily, I sometimes rely on my more experienced writer friends for information about various technical aspects of freelancing, especially the all-important query/pitch. Today’s question was addressed to Lisa, who gets an A+ for creativity, if not clarity. I have to be honest – I’m still not sure I know what her answer is…

Liza: Do you remember that story about my friend’s sister? My friend asked if I could write up a piece in English about her sister’s case and related issues. I contacted another friend who works for a certain publication, and she said I’d have to pitch it to the editor. Any tips or suggestions that you can offer would definitely be appreciated.

Lisa: Keep the pitch short and pithy. Three paragraphs, with three lines each, should do it:

First para – outline the story. Example: On June 2, 1984, the naked body of a well-known socialite was found in Central Park, just 3 minutes’ walk from her Fifth Avenue residence. Twenty-four years later, a man whose DNA matches that of blood found at the crime scene was discovered in Boston, Massachusetts. It soon emerged that he was a popular professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and that his blood sample accidentally turned up in a crime lab after he allowed one of his students to practice drawing blood by using his arm.

Second para – sketch background. Yasmine Levy, a half-Chinese, half-Jewish teenager whose father made his money with a chain of Glatt Kosher Szechuan Chinese restaurants, was a model student who had recently been accepted to Juilliard. She was her parents’ only child. Her violent death shocked Manhattan, but despite massive publicity no-one was ever arrested for her murder.

Third – closing platitudes: number of words you’d like to write, when you’d like to submit it, looking forward to her response, etc.

Liza: You’ve got quite an imagination…

I think the professor was actually the socialite, and she faked her own death because she knew that her family would never accept the fact that she’d always felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body or the fact she wanted to help people in a meaningful way by teaching medicine (following a stint at a desolate medical clinic in Southeast Africa), and would therefore never be able to lead the life that she truly wanted to live.

As for Yasmine, she was murdered by a hitman, after a contract was taken out on her life by her father’s biggest rival, half-Jewish, half-Chinese businessman Shao Ling Goldfarb, because he believed that Yasmine’s father had stolen his secret recipe for shmaltz fried rice…

Lisa: I think we should write this email exchange as a blog post. 😉



  1. Good lord. Now that I’m reading the actual blog post, it occurs to me that I may be a tad, um, I don’t know… Not quite focused?

  2. Thinking of it, even the greatest imagination cannot beat real life which seems much more “real”???

    Remind me some day to tell you a few of the real life stories…

  3. Shmalz fried rice as something to hire a hitman over? Hell, yeah. (Especially if it’s with mushrooms…)

  4. That’s hilarious! Glatt Kosher Szechuan Chinese restaurants and shmaltz fried rice…

  5. Actually, he wasn’t a harvard professor. He taught at Yale. Yale!!
    (ah, the old feuds that never die… 🙂

    Okay, now I know what I’ll eat next time i’m in Tel Aviv: shmaltz fried rice.

  6. “…the naked body of a well-known socialite was found in Central Park…”

    This is no go from the start. I hear that lately this sentence is more popular (in rejected manuscripts, I mean) than even “It was a dark and stormy night”.

    So here.

    Oh, an the real life count of socialites whose bodies are found in Central Park is so high that cops have to write it down for the Commissioner before the monthly interview.

  7. […] and I made the decision to jump into freelancing before reading these books, but as I wrote in my last post, I feel like I’m lacking with regard to the technical aspects of this profession. These two […]

  8. this was scary. Mostly because it could have been an exchange between the two of us…and I still wouldn’t have understood it…

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