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Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Mistake Noted

Not too long ago in my zest and zeal to send out query letters, I began coming up with ideas for queries that related to life as I was living it. And how was I living, you may ask? During this rampant, query-writing fest I had a two-and-a-half year old running around and a two-month old nursing every 3 hours. Life was crazy, and maybe I can blame the query faux pas I committed on sleep deprivation and hormone fluctuations.

I came up with what I thought was the greatest idea for a story: how to breastfeed in public. My own mom didn’t give me many tips except “Just put a blanket over your shoulder,” and the lactation nurses weren’t much more helpful (they told me to just wear big shirts). I figured if I was having a hard time other moms were probably having a hard time, too, and would appreciate a how-to article that showed them the ropes.

I had my sources lined up, a body of research and I knew which magazine I was going to pitch the story to: American Baby Magazine. I looked through old issues to make sure that they hadn’t covered my exact topic but found that they did lots of articles about feeding new babies.

I wrote the query, thinking that I had the golden ticket for making it in the glossies with this pitch. With trepidation, I mailed off my query and began to wait. The odd thing was I didn’t have to wait very long.

I received back a letter a week later that said thanks but no thanks. Instead of being devastated, truthfully I was a little relieved. After all of my research on different tips and tricks for breastfeeding in public, I had exhausted my brain on the topic and it was no longer very interesting to me. I was glad was not to be required by an editor to make that story happen.

My relief aside, I did want to understand why the story was rejected. I don’t know for sure but some clarity came a few weeks later when I was telling a friend about that particular query. I told her it was about breastfeeding in public and she looked at me almost startled.

“Omigosh, Sue,” she said, “that is such a controversial topic. Ask three women about it and you’d get four opinions back. If I was an editor I wouldn’t want to touch that topic with a ten-foot pole.”

I sat there a little more than stricken by my friend’s bluntness, but I thought she was right. In all my research, in all my consideration of whether or not women would want to hear about my topic, I had not taken into account that the subject of breastfeeding in public was too taboo for that particular magazine. Now, if I had pitched it to, say an OB nurse quarterly, or a publication of the La Leche League, perhaps I would have gotten a different response. Since I chose to pitch it to a national magazine that needs to carefully take into account the sensibilities and opinions of a wide audience, I’m not surprised that this one was quickly overlooked.

Of course, I don’t know for sure why this query was rejected by that magazine; there could have been many other reasons besides the topic being controversial. Through the experience, though, I learned to take into consideration a different aspect of what a publication may look for or avoid in an article.

-Susan L. Eberling

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Anonymous Stephanie Haefner said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a great post- thanks! ~Allena T

12:29 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Amazing, isn't it? Something that simple, feeding your child, is so controversial. And it shouldn't be.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan, that's hilarious. What's even funnier is when my son was born, not only could I not figure out how to feed him in public, I couldn't figure out how to put the car seat on the cart in the grocery store, what to pack when I went out of the house. I was lost. I would have read your article!

5:32 PM  

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