One page query letter example

Some publications still take or require hardcopy proposals. Common sense dictates that such a query should not go over a page. But what does that look like? The proposal below fills out a single 8 1/2 by 12 inch piece of paper. It’s about 450 words, with 11 point type. If I were doing this one again I would cut out at least a hundred words. There is a quotation in the query that I really like, but I would now eliminate it for the sake of brevity. If you want the backstory on this proposal, read my comments below the query. It’s all rather nasty . . .


November 1, 2013

Editorial Department
Outside Magazine
400 Market St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

Article Proposal: Turning the Wild into Wilderness

Lewis and Clark live! (Or at least their modern counterparts.) Using four-wheel drive, GPS, digital cameras, and plain old fashioned brawn, men and women trek throughout the wildest parts of the West, cataloging resources of public lands. They seek to have areas like the Excelsior Mountains and the Pine Forest Range in Nevada designated “Wilderness,” thus protecting them for future generations. The original Corps of Discovery may be gone, but the spirit of exploration, infused now with the goal of preservation, lives on. Who is responsible for this?

In Nevada, Friends of the Nevada Wilderness put these inventory workers into the field. This one activity is just part of a larger campaign of environmental activism. At the height of the season, Friends may have over fifty paid staffers and volunteers across Nevada, part of five different crews, all moving toward the goal of Wilderness and the stewardship of both designated Wilderness and wild lands in general. Whereas Greenpeace sends their people out in boats, the Friends of Nevada Wilderness sends theirs out on foot, by pack train, and in 4WD trucks.

I propose a 3,000 word feature article on this organization, with an emphasis on what they do in the field, along with background on the Federal Wilderness Act, which next year marks its 50th anniversary. The Act initially protected nine million acres of land, but that has now grown to over 100 million. More importantly, it provided ordinary citizens a mechanism to protect tens of millions more.

“Wilderness is probably the most grass-roots oriented thing that has been ever been done by Congress,” says Shaaron Netherton, Executive Director of Friends. “If we want to see Wilderness designated, it’s really the citizens, local people who care, who generate support, talk about the area, get people excited about it, bring in their elected officials, that’s ultimately what moves forward on getting wilderness designated.”

A Wilderness designation is not without controversy. Wilderness status prohibits any kind of mechanized operation; even running a chainsaw is prohibited. Off road clubs, snowmobilers, and prospectors are excluded from Wilderness areas. My article would discuss, at least in passing, the views of groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation and Public Lands for the People.

I have the cooperation of Friends to write this article. Their extensive library of outstanding images is available, as well as access to different crew members. I have been out with two of their crews for an overnight visit, a longer tour could be done in the Spring. Lewis and Clark opened the West; groups like Friends are now preserving it.

Thank you for your consideration.

Tom Farley


At the time I wrote this, Outside Magazine required proposals in hardcopy. In their Writers’ Guidelines they requested authors to include a self addressed stamped envelope or SASE. I thought this was great because there was certainty involved. If rejected I would at least have something in the mail that would tell me to move on to soliciting another magazine. I pictured some unpaid intern at their New Mexico office, diligently stuffing envelope after envelope with rejection slips.

Alas, months went by and I heard nothing. I sent them a follow up letter and, again, nothing. What is the point of asking for an SASE if you are not going to use it? This shabby treatment does not fit such a fine magazine with an excellent history of writing. The writing community may be small, perhaps their feelings can be disregarded without thought, but I will never regard them them positively again.



Query letter example

Article proposals are as varied as the people that make them. Here’s one of mine. Although it wasn’t accepted, and no reason given, nor any rejection notice received, I can’t feel too badly. Sunset Magazine (external link) relies on a small cadre of existing writers and they are very particular about the stories they publish. Perhaps mine would have been too regional, not appealing to enough of their broad audience. This query is about as short as I make them, under 300 words. Unless you are proposing a feature length article in a major publication, I would urge you to pen no more than 500 words. Brevity, in the internet age, is everything.

January 19, 2014

Sunset Magazine

Article proposal: Martinez: Maritime, Martinis, and Muir

What do martinis and John Muir have in common? It’s Martinez, a small, bustling town 35 miles northeast of San Francisco. The ‘Martinez Special’ originated there, later called the Martini. And John Muir’s home of 24 years lies on a hill above the city, now a National Historic Site. There’s a nearby shoreline, a marina, an Amtrak station, antiques, and even an archery shop. Plus good dining and, of course, a great place to get a martini.

I think a short article on Martinez would serve Sunset’s readers well. There’s much to discover. The Pony Express galloped through when they missed the steamer from Sacramento. It’s the birthplace of Joe DiMaggio. And it’s the seat of Contra Costa County. Across the water from the better-known Benicia, Martinez can claim its share of attractions. And it will only get better in the fall, probably the best time to place the article.

The San Francisco Bay trail, once finished, will complete a 500-mile shoreline trail around the Bay. The Carquinez Scenic Drive portion will open in the fall of 2014, linking Martinez to Crockett, with a first-class bicycle and pedestrian roadway. Known to locals as Snake Road, this part will be dog walking and stroller friendly. Grand views of ship and rail traffic along the Carquinez Strait await.

Can I answer any questions? Please e-mail me with your thoughts. Publishing credits are at my blog, linked to the signature line; I am a life-long Northern California resident. Thanks in advance, Tom Farley









Video gets results

A year ago I made a video on dividing Agapanthus, a common ornamental plant in most parts of fairly frost-free California. I wanted to know whether a text file or a companion video would climb higher in the rankings. I suspected Google would prioritize on video files, not text, because video is usually more compelling with today’s web. Now, when you enter the phrase “dividing agapanthus” into Google, my video comes up first, before all other text links, as well as those of competing videos. My video has in fact over 5,000 views. My companion text file? Barely a dozen hits.

Although lengthy to produce, my suggestion is to explore video first if you want more views of your material. To be fair, I haven’t seen many click throughs from the video to my personal blog, but perhaps if I owned a garden site, not a writer’s site, there would be more reason to click on a link. For more information on this experiment, and to see the video, check out my first blog entry on this subject (internal link).

10/31/2015 Update: 21,000 hits!

05/07/2016 Update: 33.000 hits!

09/09/2016 Update: 45,000 hits!



Name this phenomenon

Many websites are so full of ads that you can’t scroll down a page to find a story without clicking. Is there a word for this? Navigating a page is like stepping through a digital minefield. It doesn’t seem there’s any penalty for the websites. If they get someone to click, well, they are paid for that click, accidentally done or not. But back to our word search. How would you describe this online experience? Or is it more similar to real life?

A large indoor shopping mall near me is littered with kiosks, small stands outside the main stores that stock everything from cell phone cases to license plate frames. One or two people man these booths, haranguing  shoppers walking by. It’s like a carnival midway, with every kind of huckster pitching a different come on. You can’t walk in peace, instead you play dodge ’em, winding this way and that to avoid contact. That’s how it feels on a web page.

All I can think of is advertising overload. If that seems inglorious, perhaps we can say it in French: surcharge de publicité. I welcome your suggestions. E-mail me at

July 15, 2015 Update. I’ve now heard the term clickbait. As in, “That page is clickbait.” I’ll go with that.



Iconic. A one word cliche?


A cliche is a phrase or expression that has lost its meaning or impact due to overuse. I think the word iconic has become a one word cliche.

The bottom line, going forward, all that glitters is not gold, are near meaningless phrases that should be warred against. We as writers must say what we mean, directly, concisely, without pulling up stale or dead imagery. Sacramento’s Tower Bridge illustrates how a good word can go bad.

Our Tower Bridge is now universally described on-line and in print as iconic, usually in a local vein. But what is the bridge, really? That’s what we want to write. Is it a landmark? It is historic? Symbolic of the area? It may be described as distinctive, a local favorite, or a span that bridges two counties. Perhaps as an Art Deco monument. But iconic? What does that mean? Today, well, it means nothing.

George Orwell once wrote to “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.” That’s harsh, tough advice. And while we many never achieve such spartan writing, it is a goal worth struggling toward.




Google’s Ngram Viewer shows the tremendous rise in icon’s popularity (external link) over the decades, or rather, its overuse. An illustration from the same is above. Click for a larger image.

January 20, 2016 update. I think “emblematic” is another good choice.