BSU study guide and Query Letter



Article Proposals That Sell (Query Letters)

From How to Write Like an Expert About Anything

Copyright, Hank Nuwer


As an editor, the article proposals I prefer read like conversational letters.

The idea behind a query letter is to throw a pitch, not to deliver a finished piece.You must convince the Man or Woman Upstairs, that is, the editor, you have an idea that readers will enjoy and learn from if developed into an article.

But that’s not enough. Within the confines of that single-spaced, one-page letter (More pages if you are attaching sheets from the article itself),  your words offer evidence that you qualify as enough of an expert (or someone who can get the info from authoritative sources) so that readers will stay with you from word one to finish.

This can’t be that hard, right?

Ha! Many capable writers lose out on opportunity after opportunity because they forget query letters are just that—letters. They write stiff or formal memorandums that make editors wince as they stuff your note into the stamped, self-addressed envelope you provided (or into a trash can if you’ve forgotten an envelope). The mystery is how writers who make Aunt Edna howl like a rhesus monkey when she reads their mail can somehow write letters to editors without warmth, energy, or appeal.

I used to prefer reading query letters ending with a “Hey, whaddyathink?” then to endure one more “I await your response.”  The best query letters are those whose friends actually read the photocopied letters they send out at Christmas. Their proposals are chatty, never presumptuous. They make their point and quit, not underestimate the editor’s intelligence and go back to explain their previous explanation.

The best writers  pitch an idea, then quit. In one to three paragraphs, they convince even hardbitten editors that they possess the expertise, stamina and enthusiasm to do a better job than the net writer on this freelance assignment.

As an editor, I liked to envision writers with their sweatshirt sleeves rolled to the elbow as they write their letters with the kids asleep, the dog snoring, and all lights out next door. Good letters encourage a sense of a writer at work. Letters that are too formal, banal, and cliché-ridden, make me think of grad students sweating blood to write dissertation proposals.  Which would I rather read? Hey, whaddya think?

What should a query letter contain?

Good query letters get to the point and get editors worked up to the point where they just have to contact you. Such a letter states an idea for a short-short or feature in its simplest form. The letter ends with the writers credentials, or if from a newcomer, a summary of why the writer is perfect to produce this assignment. This isn’t schmoozing or name dropping—it’s good common business sense.

Not necessary for this assignment: Always attach clips of previous articles you’ve written—if you have them. Sometimes an editor will decide that your idea misses the mark but that you’d be worth the risk of giving an assignment letter for some idea manufactured by the editor.

Not necessary for this assignment: Every article has expenses. Include a sheet with estimates of expenses, and do some research here on plane fares and motel prices. Don’t pull these out of the air. No one expects you to produce quality research without incurring expenses.  Suffice to say, you need to keep these as low as possible.

Finally, be careful what you propose, for  it just may be assigned you. Estimate how long you think it will take to research and write the piece, then multiply that hour total by 20 percent longer as a rough estimate. Ask yourself these questions? Can I afford to write this piece, getting a reasonable per-hour rate? Can I stick with this assignment for the weeks or months it requires? If no, do your editor, and yourself, a favor. Burn that query letter.


Final tips: Hank’s personal preferences.


  1. a) I liked to see an attached list of potential sources that the writer plans to interview.
  2. b) I want to know if the writer has written about this subject previously.
  3. c) I want queries that are timely — a query on a famous author ought to result in a published piece the same month he releases a new novel.

Consider these possible ideas for the publication.  Query letter from your group due before Tuesday’s class, please.

Team: Emma, Morgan, Elissa: Book Center:

Mama Bond’s: Team Charleston, Haley, Isabel

Team: Josie, Jessica, Kaitlynn: Sisters of Royalty.

Team: Caleb, Tori,  Jake. Profile: Malik Perry Then and Now:

Muncie Unity Center. Team: Madison, Zeke, Natalie


Study Guide: Number One


  • Susan Orlean in the “American Male at Age Ten” did all the following except:
  1. Immerse herself in his daily life at school.
  2. Let Colin and his friends prank her.
  3. Witness the foul-mouthed habits of teens and pre-teens.
  4. Interview the girls in Colin’s life at great length.


  • Literary Journalism employs all of the following except:
  1. Scene-by-scene construction
  2. Making up details just as a short story writer does.
  3. Listens attentively for dialog to include
  4. D) Collects the most vivid details he or she can spot.


  • This writer was credited in the Seventies with describing and leading the movement called New Journalism.
  1. Tom Wolfe. B) E. W. Johnson. 3) Kurt Vonnegut. D) Susan Orlean


  • Literary journalists are committed to recording facts.
  1. Yet Orlean records the fantasies and misinformation of Colin.
  2. Makes up crucial scenes.
  3. Makes up stories about the family life and activities of Colin.
  4. Destroys Colin’s life by exposing his frailties.


  • According to Nuwer’s essay, the best description in a story:
  1. Is combined with action in a story
  2. Is as detailed as the prose of old authors such as Charles Dickens
  3. Includes every single observation a writer observes in the time spent with a subject.
  4. Is provided by the subject of the story himself or herself.


  • According to Nuwer’s essay:
  1. Narration is another term for telling the story.
  2. Literary journalism has lots of passive voice sentences.
  3. Relies on lots of interviews by experts in psychology
  4. Always has a first-person narrator.


  • To create a feeling of authenticity in “The American Male,” Orlean included all the following except:
  1. Video games
  2. Classroom assignments and volunteering
  3. In depth interviews with Colin’s female classmates
  4. Interviews with Colin’s parents and teacher.


Think about the details.  What does Susan Orlean bring out about: Colin’s neighborhood compared to a lower socioeconomic neighborhood.

How does Colin dress?

What is Colin’s web?


What is memorable about Colin’s friends?

What is Colin’s view of the world’s issues?

What do you recall about Colin’s classroom?


In a feature, when do you show and when do you tell?

Why is a profile subject’s “geography” important to give a sense of local color?

What are Colin’s mores?

Hint: Some mores examples include: It is not considered acceptable to abuse drugs, particularly those such as heroin and cocaine. It is not considered acceptable to drive at 90 mph in a residential area. 



MORE Feature Writing Tips:


If you find yourself STUCK in any part of your feature, assuming you’ve given full thought to this story, here is a help sheet that I use when my books and articles need jumpstarting.


You take the basic news story elements (Who, what, when, where, why and how) and pose questions under each heading. When you locate a question you cannot answer, chances are you now know where your story falters and can fix.

Or, maybe you were unaware that your story has holes. This self review is better than  handing in a story to an editor who spots the hole(s) in your story YOU were supposed to fill.

As an editor, I saw these problems over and over: a) reporter jumped into the story without giving story sufficient thought. B) The reporter  has written too little. C) Or the story simply isn’t there, and the reporter needs to find the NEW angle that IS there. D) The story is too broad or too narrow.



Who are the main people in my story and what is their role? Do I need all the names sources that I have listed or can I some up some of them as “analysts” or “police” or other roles such as officials?

Who have I talked to for this story and why did I talk to them (because they are a “player,” an expert, a victim, a witness, etc.)? Am I wasting my time and a source’s time with an interview when all I need this source for is to check a couple facts? Have I interviewed people and wasted my time because they added nothing? Make a list of those you’ve interviewed.

Have I taken info from other documents, books, articles? Is this a story or a term paper now? If a term paper, shift gears and rework paper and get on the phone, e-mail, or in your car to see your OWN sources.



Make a sketchy whirlwind outline of where you see your story going based on the interviews you’ve done, databases you’ve consulted, spreadsheets you’ve made, background reading you’ve done. Bear in mind that new information may change your outline dramatically. Be adaptable.  What’s needed now (statistics, better sources, more time than I’m giving now, public records, government databases, public relations people to put me in touch with info or people)?

What are my source’s credentials?



Have you made a timetable or chronology?

You don’t have to write in chronological order. You do have to have some sort of timeframe in mind in order to include what is important and exclude what is merely interesting, off topic, redundant, etc.



This is very important for  setting scenes in your story.  Precisely where do events take place? What events taking place ELSEWHERE have details that I can slip into this scene or follow-up scenes? What have I included that should be cut because the reader does not need to know all this?  Can I get a photo of this scene or another writer’s description if it isn’t within driving distance?




Take a look at every word, sentence, paragraph? Justify the existence of each. Cut ruthlessly. Don’t make an editor do your job for you. Let the editor take your story one level higher by concentrating on important details, not grunt work like deleting unnecessary clutter.




How have I assembled this piece? Can I improve the story by making some organizational changes?  Bad organization is a time killer. It takes MORE time to fix because sometimes you confuse an editor who then has you do useless work and interviews that than get cut. Confusion in a story is hard to edit, not always easy to spot. Yet it jumps OFF the printed page, and you’ll spot the flaws immediately—when it is in print and too late to change.


HOW am I going to wrap this story up?  Can you tie your last paragraph to your lead?



Responses to two of the first stories.

“K” is an excitable young girl full of energy and life, standing no taller than 4 feet tall with light brown hair falling just above her shover blades. Between her are her two brothers, Dakota, age 13, towering over her with his 5-foot frame, and Caleb, age 7, blonde with enormous blue eyes matching her height. Each held a chalk bucket and smiled as they scribbled onto the hot pavement, flowers, rockets, and butterflies.

“K”loves to draw, mostly when she is done studying for her upcoming spelling test. Across the street, her friends yell for her over the sound of passing cars. She shoots her mother a glance, trying to find some sort of an answer in her mother’s eyes. After receiving a nod, she darts across the street, meeting with her friends to play, like they did every day after school. Some who know her would say she has no personality, when in fact she loves reading and writing but most of all she enjoys being on her own.

She loves to climb trees and sit at the top like it was the top of the world. One day after school she set out with the goal to climb the tallest tree. She had forgotten she was afraid of heights. She climb to the top of the tallest tree, never stopping for a moment to think about getting down. When it came time to leave she cries, she was scared of coming down. That is when her step brother walked out of the house, he was tall with red hair. She yelled for him to come to her. “ Matt” she wailed crying even more. He came to her rescue and helped set her down safely on the ground. With a very annoyed expression on his face before running off to meet with his friends. She never liked the way the snow felt on her feet. The squishyness (sp) of the snow made her feet recoil in resistance, but across the street held her best friends, the people she spent almost every waking moment with. She did not have snowboots, so she settled with two pairs of socks, layering one right over the other, and her most water-resistant shoes. She hated her bright pink snowsuit; the sound it made when she moved bothered her ears. She threw a fit when her mother insisted that she wear it.

“ Mooooom, I don’t want to wear it; it’s too hot,” she moaned [To discuss] in resistance. “Wear it, or you’re not going out,” her mother put plainly. Sugar coating was never her strong suit. Begrudgingly she put on the jacket, making huffs and puffs the entire time. The days came and went, and soon enough, it was Christmas. She shoots out of bed in the morning, expecting her mom to get up soon. She had been eyeing the big present marked as fragile all season long under the Christmas tree. She was ten, so she knew that Santa was fake. She had known for years by this point, priding herself in the fact that she knew before her older brother, so she had to pretend as Santa did exist. She carefully (discuss)  unwrapped her presents one by one, trying her hardest to preserve the paper. The time had finally arrived; she made it to her coveted big box marked fragile. She had been trying to figure out what was in it. She did not remember putting anything fragile on her Christmas list, so there was no telling what it could be. With every piece unwrapped, the anticipation was running wild. Only to unwrap Pickles. A jar of pickles, a 30 oz (ounce) jar of pickles. She was disappointed, but she smiled through it.

Later that very evening, she went to her father’s house, where he had a pile of presents waiting for her. One was a FurReal pet, a long-haired white cat, that she had wanted. That was the only present she got that she wanted that year. She only got to open it that night because of the nearly four-foot-tall great dane Marley, heard the quit meows of the fake pet so he sent himself to investigate. New Years was spent with her lontime friend Keely, they stayed up all night playing Guitar hero. Kaitlynn wasn’t very good at it. The night was full of candy and excitement. Around 10 p.m. she found herself closing her eyes more often as she slowly drifted off into a quiet slumber. She missed New Years. (TK)  for the second year in a row. The next morning her face worse a slight frown in disappointment in herself. She made a pact with Keely to not let eachother fall asleep the next year. After the pact she forgot about the whole evening and went to play in the snow with her childhood friend. They made snowangles first, Kaitlynns favorite thing to do in the snow, then they sent their sights on a snowman. They rolled the snow perfectly for hours trying to make the biggest one they can. Neither of them had a carrot so they could not make a nose. Laughter filled the air as Kaitlynns older brother barrolled (TK) down the hill into the freshly built snowman.

Four Leaf Clover

The three of us sat on my fuzzy maroon floor as we counted our money and transferred it into the large pile in the center of us. The money was the honey we’d collected for our queen bee – LGT. LGT was the business name of our prospective dance company we were going to host in Utah. Written in our official business notepad, orange and lined with pink and purple circles, were our professional plans to host workshops, classes and recitals once we bought our building in the scorching state that hosts a briny city.


LGT stands for Lindsay, Grace and “T”. We wrote out each different lettering in our orange notebook.


GLT – Sounds too much like the bacon sandwich.


TGL – Sounds too much like the word toggle without the vowels.


TLG- Sounds like a fancy internet company we heard on the television.


So, there it was, LGT was born.


Lindsay, Grace and I all met at company dance classes. Lindsay was very skinny and tall. She has had brain problems her entire life. Her birthday is 14 days after mine.


Grace was also skinny, tall and blonde with blue eyes. To me, they both looked like Barbie dolls.


Whenever I was at dance class, I found myself noticing how I did not look like how the other bodies looked. I was not tall. I was not skinny. I did not have blue eyes. My hair did not cascade from the sides of my head to fall upon my ears – my thick curly hair fell out of all the barrettes I put in. I covered my tights with a sheer skirt to steer clear of any humiliation my brain might put itself through. I remember a little part of my heart died when my British ballet instructor made me take off my blue skirt.


One person who never judged my skirts or my technique was my fourth grade teacher – Miss Korn. Miss Korn was older and not married. I didn’t know if I wanted to ever get married. The only boy I ever loved was my dad and Blake.


Miss Korn’s class is the only one I can remember distinct details about. When we all got too rowdy, Miss Korn would have us all stand on our desks and sing “Somebody that you used to know”, including herself. When she went skydiving, she paid to have the video recorded because we told her we wanted to watch it. For one of our projects, we were paired with a partner and had to create a skit. She recorded all of them, and the DVD with all of the skits sits in my parent’s dresser underneath the living room television.


She never judged anyone. She traveled. She never got married. I guess that’s why I loved her so much.


My Mom and Dad have been happily married for over 25 years. All my friends had happy parents too. So my question stayed the same during fourth grade, will Miss Korn ever become a parent? And who with, if so? Wasn’t she too old to be a parent?


The only person who I would ever want to be a parent with was Blake. Blake Williamson. Blake and I met in kindergarten where our moms would talk to each other, but we officially started being friends in elementary school. Blake is so much fun to hang out with. He has a brother, Carter, who likes to run circles around everyone. Blake’s parents are beekeepers and they give us honey sometimes. I got my first bee sting in Blake’s pool, on my armpit. It hurt.


Blake plays baseball and has famous baseball player signs in his room. He liked to play Guess Who with me and taught me how to play Legend of Zelda.


I was taller than Blake for a long time and he was mad about it. The day he got taller than me, he moved. I’ve never wanted to be a parent with another boy.


But heartbreak was not the only part of being a ten-year-old, a flourishing friendship, or a four-person-friendship occupied most of my time. We called ourselves the “Four Musketeers”. Abby, Autumn, Kylee and I did everything together. We went to each other’s birthday parties, slid into my tiny bathroom together to brush our teeth during our sleepovers and sing karaoke on the wooden stage in my basement.


So what can I tell you about being ten? I had a business fund, a husband and someone always available to spend Friday night with. She didn’t know how lucky she was.





Chubby, fat, and pudgy.

Those are just a few of the ways to describe my 10-year-old self.

Family is something I have always kept close with because friends are hard to come by for a fat kid like myself. Other than one, Isaiah. We met in fourth grade, where we came across a similar interest.


Which was professional wrestling.


I have collected all the wrestling figures I could possibly get my hands on, but there was one in particular I am really wanting. Luckily, in the library one day, I met Isaiah, but he went by Izzy. Through the entire school, I could never find another wrestling fanatic like myself. Not only is Izzy as big of a wrestling fan as I was, but he has the ONE wrestling figure I was dying to have. That began my first real friendship. Izzy and I were back and forth at each other’s house every other weekend.


Izzy is family.


Family means a lot to me. Especially, my relationship with my mom. It is usually just my mom and I, not that my dad isn’t in the picture, they just aren’t together. That doesn’t upset me though. It means I have more individual time with my parents. With that time, my mom has helped me develop my love for music. We spend a lot of free time playing Guitar Hero together on the Wii system she got us. She took me to my first country concert this year, which was Brad Paisley. Once I went to one, I then became my mom’s concert buddy. I would tag along to every other concert she went to that year. Just the atmosphere at a concert was untouchable, it was like nothing else I had ever been a part of. I have always wondered why drunk guys were pissing on the side of the road heading to the parking lot at those things, though.

Speaking of my mom, another person who is always around was my grandma. Which is weird because she lives 3 hours away. When we would leave my grandma’s house, she tends to cry.


“Bye honey, I love you so much.” With tears just rushing down her face.


I never truly understood why, it’s not like she isn’t going to see me again. Come to find out it is because we had to go back and deal with my mom’s boyfriend, who no one is too fond of.

While we visited my grandma’s house, the entire family would come over. We would swim all day in their pool, which is gigantic to a tiny guy like myself. At night, the adults would all drink and we would play Rock Band as a family. I always play the guitar.

One of the highlights of this year was the Crestdale Spelling Bee. It was my time to shine, or so I thought. As a kid who let his head get too big, I did not practice one bit. I thought, who needed practice, it’ll be the easiest words imaginable, we’re in fourth grade.

“First up for today’s spelling bee…C–.”


The crowd goes wild.


“C–, your word is Coffee.”

“Coffee, C-O-F-F-E, Coffee.”

“I’m sorry C– that is incorrect.”

Dead silence from the Crestdale Gymnasium.

Completely out of breath, I run off stage to my mom and start bursting out in tears. What seemed to be the easiest word imaginable to start off the spelling bee, ended up ruining my day and making my reputation even worse than it was before.

Speaking of my reputation amongst my peers, one thing that made me stick out like a sore thumb was that I am in a “club” called the Logos program. Which, to be honest, I have no idea why it is called that. It is the smartest kids in our grade basically, so I thought I was something much more than I was. It doesn’t make me better than everyone, but it helps me believe in myself and my capabilities in the classroom. Being ten years old is exciting.

Not a care in the world, not much stress, and you can eat as much as you want because most of the time, you’ll grow out of it.

Take it from a fat kid like me.



The Age to Remember
Summer was my birthday. My birthday present was concert tickets. I was so excited to see my favorite band The Jonas Brothers play. I went with my best friend, her mom, my mom, and my sister. We had so much fun! We sang and danced to every song. I have a huge crush on Joe. He’s my favorite.
I started 4th grade. It was the best year! I had my favorite teacher in the whole world! I did have a hard time with reading. I got put in a special class to help me get better. We had class pets. I liked them. I got to take care of them. I had a job in the class too! I was a banker. I got to count money and give people money. It was fake though.
I was in PE class. I tripped over my friend and broke my arm! It really hurt. I was crying because it hurt so bad. My mom took me to the hospital. The doctors looked at my arm. They told me I broke it. I was surprised. I always talked about how I never broke a bone before. Now I have! I woke up crying after the surgery because I wanted ice. I had a soft cast on. So no one could sign in. I was sad about that. The people that my mom works with gave me a egg pillow! I had to go to Michigan with my cast on. It was so hard to sleep.
I was in basketball. It was fun. Basketball is my favorite sport. My players and I did really good. I like being on a team with all of my friends. We would play a game in front of a lot of people when the big kid team was on a break. I was really scared.
I did cheerleading. It was a lot of fun! We did a dance to the song Baby by Justin Bieber in front of a basketball crowd. My friends and I got to show my class the dance too! I love cheerleading. I want to be a cheerleader when I grow up! My favorite cheer we did was called Red Hot. We also played cheerleading games. They were a lot of fun! My favorite was Little Sally Walker.
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