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sierrawrites13
05-08-2016, 09:07 PM
I'm going to start querying soon. My YA novel deals with heavy topics, including mental illness and suicide. I'm torn about if I should mention my personal experiences with mental illness/suicide in my query letter. On one hand, it feels unprofessional and unnecessary. But on the other hand, I'm wondering if the mention will give a certain kind of "credibility" to the novel that will give me a boost. Thank you!

cornflake
05-08-2016, 10:15 PM
I'm going to start querying soon. My YA novel deals with heavy topics, including mental illness and suicide. I'm torn about if I should mention my personal experiences with mental illness/suicide in my query letter. On one hand, it feels unprofessional and unnecessary. But on the other hand, I'm wondering if the mention will give a certain kind of "credibility" to the novel that will give me a boost. Thank you!

Have you been to Query Letter Hell? The password is: vista. There are a lot of queries in progress and stickies with tons of information.

In general, mentioning a personal connection is fine (you have a degree in X and the book is about X, you worked as Y and the character is Y, you've got experience with Z like the character).

ElaineA
05-08-2016, 10:19 PM
Hmm, my first reaction is there probably aren't a lot of writers who don't have some experience with mental illness in some form--either personal or that of a close friend or family member. However, if your experiences deeply inform the book, I can see how it might be worth mentioning. Since it's something you're contemplating making "public" (via querying), maybe consider running it through QLH? (Just that small part if you don't want to run the whole query through there.) I have a feeling what the experience is, and how you word why it's important, is going to determine whether you should use it.

Whatever you decide, good luck as you start querying! :)

peachesandscream
05-08-2016, 10:21 PM
Hi Sierra

I'm no expert, but I wouldn't. Unless your personal experiences led to you, say, working within the mental heath field, I would leave them out of it. I mean, just because you've experienced something doesn't make you (general you) qualified to write it, you know? Not just that, agents tend to read queries really quickly. It's a sensitive topic, and should be handled sensitively. I'm not sure a query is the best place for it. Hope that helps!

Fruitbat
05-08-2016, 10:24 PM
The thing I would worry about is once you bring that up, what will you say if they agree that it lends credibility to your book and then want to include it on the blurb or elsewhere? Especially if you're writing under your real name, you may not want personal info. about yourself out there in public like that. And who wants to chance appearing uncooperative if they do have a chance at a great deal? So, I dunno, maybe just something else to consider...

sierrawrites13
05-08-2016, 10:31 PM
You've given me a lot to think about (and I apologize for not posting this in SYW, as this question seems better suited for that). I think I'll hold off on bringing it up because personally experiencing it doesn't make me an automatic authority on mental illness.

Thanks everybody for your help! Now, onto the umpteenth revision... :Shrug:

mayqueen
05-08-2016, 10:51 PM
The other thing to keep in mind is that especially in YA, there's a growing interest in fiction written by people from marginalized perspectives. While people with disabilities certainly fit that category, I'm unsure how mental illness fits into it. (I have my ideas, but I'm not sure how everyone in general feels.) So it might be something you keep in your back pocket to bring up in some queries rather than others.

sierrawrites13
05-08-2016, 11:11 PM
The other thing to keep in mind is that especially in YA, there's a growing interest in fiction written by people from marginalized perspectives. While people with disabilities certainly fit that category, I'm unsure how mental illness fits into it. (I have my ideas, but I'm not sure how everyone in general feels.) So it might be something you keep in your back pocket to bring up in some queries rather than others.


That's something else I was thinking about. This would be an opportunity to highlight a marginalized voice in this category, but I feel like mental illness in general isn't considered a "disability" in the same way that physical disabilities are, if that makes sense. It's likely because of the stigma that still surrounds us (being our own fault, self-diagnosis, laziness...I could go on). It feels like something I could bring up while I market the book if it gets that far, but not while I'm still selling it on its own merits.

LJD
05-09-2016, 01:54 AM
I'm not sure what you should do. When I was submitting my romance about suicide and guilt and mental illness to publishers--the story I wrote while in a mental hospital, actually--I did not include my personal experience. (And got nothing but form rejections, in fact. Going to try to do something with that one again soon.) But as a reader...I usually stay far, far away from books about suicide. I lost my mother to suicide, and I suspect most of them would piss me off. However, when I saw a novel about suicide by an author I'd read many years ago, I immediately bought it because I knew the author had lost her father--as well as her sister, it turns out--to suicide, and I was interested in her perspective. The book was All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. She might not be an expert on being a suicide survivor, but I've seen a disturbing lack of compassion for those who kill themselves, and it that respect, I thought her story might be different. And it was a great book.

sierrawrites13
05-09-2016, 02:08 AM
I'm not sure what you should do. When I was submitting my romance about suicide and guilt and mental illness to publishers--the story I wrote while in a mental hospital, actually--I did not include my personal experience. (And got nothing but form rejections, in fact. Going to try to do something with that one again soon.) But as a reader...I usually stay far, far away from books about suicide. I lost my mother to suicide, and I suspect most of them would piss me off. However, when I saw a novel about suicide by an author I'd read many years ago, I immediately bought it because I knew the author had lost her father--as well as her sister, it turns out--to suicide, and I was interested in her perspective. The book was All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. She might not be an expert on being a suicide survivor, but I've seen a disturbing lack of compassion for those who kill themselves, and it that respect, I thought her story might be different. And it was a great book.


I'm so sorry to hear about your mother. It's definitely a difficult subject to tackle in literature. Like you said, some books don't handle it correctly, and then there are the exceptional ones that nail it. I know that as a reader, I can usually tell if a writer's actually had any experience with mental illness/suicide/being a suicide survivor. That's why I'm wondering if actually knowing those feelings would help sell the book.

sierrawrites13
05-09-2016, 02:18 AM
The thing I would worry about is once you bring that up, what will you say if they agree that it lends credibility to your book and then want to include it on the blurb or elsewhere? Especially if you're writing under your real name, you may not want personal info. about yourself out there in public like that. And who wants to chance appearing uncooperative if they do have a chance at a great deal? So, I dunno, maybe just something else to consider...

I want to clarify and say I'd be fine with this. I've written about my struggles with depression publicly on two blogs I contribute to, and am fine with that information being out there.

EMaree
05-09-2016, 02:48 AM
Non-neurotypical writer here, and I wouldn't, but I find it hard to verbalise why so excuse me if this post is a bit rambling. :) I've submitted a book before that called my experience with mental health issues, but I wanted the prose to stand on its own, and bringing up my personal connection felt unprofessional. I felt like it might lead agents to soften their responses when they would normally have been more blunt.

I don't honestly believe that *experiencing* mental health issues made me better at writing them. It actually made it confusing for beta readers, because I was using my own symptoms and thoughts and they didn't read clearly as 'ah yes this is how a depressed person acts'. It was deeply frustrating to get beta comments back telling me 'they're not behaving like someone with depression', and hard not to take it to heart.

And because I'm not a mental health professional, I went into levels of honesty and detail that would be triggering and harmful to fellow sufferers. I was not a compassionate depressed person, I was angry and self-hating and full of rage, and I never realised how dangerous it was to put all that into words.

I'm really glad that book didn't get picked up. It would have wrecked me if I'd caused harm when I was just trying to use my experiences in fiction.

These days, I would never refer to my own experience in the topics unless I was working in the mental health field as a trained professional.

sierrawrites13
05-09-2016, 03:38 AM
Non-neurotypical writer here, and I wouldn't, but I find it hard to verbalise why so excuse me if this post is a bit rambling. :) I've submitted a book before that called my experience with mental health issues, but I wanted the prose to stand on its own, and bringing up my personal connection felt unprofessional. I felt like it might lead agents to soften their responses when they would normally have been more blunt.

EXACTLY. I don't want to be coddled just because I have a mental illness. In some cases it's appropriate, but book publishing isn't one of them.The book needs to stand on its own merits regardless of the author's personal struggles. I think, really, that's the heart of what we're discussing in this thread.


I don't honestly believe that *experiencing* mental health issues made me better at writing them. It actually made it confusing for beta readers, because I was using my own symptoms and thoughts and they didn't read clearly as 'ah yes this is how a depressed person acts'. It was deeply frustrating to get beta comments back telling me 'they're not behaving like someone with depression', and hard not to take it to hear.

Wow. I'm sorry to hear this. There's no one type of depression, and more people need to realize this.


And because I'm not a mental health professional, I went into levels of honesty and detail that would be triggering and harmful to fellow sufferers. I was not a compassionate depressed person, I was angry and self-hating and full of rage, and I never realised how dangerous it was to put all that into words.

My book goes into a lot of honesty in some scenes as well. However, I don't want to cut those scenes out because they're realistic and add to the narrative. I don't find it harmful to include those scenes because:

A) It can be slightly triggering, but my illness isn't agitated by scenes in other books among that nature. I know that people's levels vary, but there are enough people like me who can actually find the scenes to be beneficial.
B) If the content is upsetting, the reader can skip to another scene. The topic of the book is made clear, even by the title. If a reader chooses not to read it, that's ultimately their decision.

That's just my decision/opinion/experience, though. No matter what, the amount of detail is your choice, and I appreciate your consideration to your fellow sufferers.

Old Hack
05-09-2016, 10:18 AM
Non-neurotypical writer here, and I wouldn't, but I find it hard to verbalise why so excuse me if this post is a bit rambling. :) I've submitted a book before that called my experience with mental health issues, but I wanted the prose to stand on its own, and bringing up my personal connection felt unprofessional. I felt like it might lead agents to soften their responses when they would normally have been more blunt.

If agents are interested in a book they'll ask for a full. If they're not, they'll reject it. I don't think it's possible to soften that response! But you were right to want the prose to stand on its own: that's what counts in a submission.


I don't honestly believe that *experiencing* mental health issues made me better at writing them. It actually made it confusing for beta readers, because I was using my own symptoms and thoughts and they didn't read clearly as 'ah yes this is how a depressed person acts'. It was deeply frustrating to get beta comments back telling me 'they're not behaving like someone with depression', and hard not to take it to heart.

People with depression behave in all sorts of ways: as writers, it's our job to convince our readers that our characters are behaving in ways which are true to them. If I'd had those comments back from betas I'd look at my writing again and work out where I'd gone wrong; and if I honestly couldn't see any problems with my work I'd wonder if my betas just didn't connect with the work.


EXACTLY. I don't want to be coddled just because I have a mental illness. In some cases it's appropriate, but book publishing isn't one of them.The book needs to stand on its own merits regardless of the author's personal struggles. I think, really, that's the heart of what we're discussing in this thread.

Agreed. And in view of that, I'd say that the book is central to your query: not your own personal struggles.

An agent or publisher needs to love the book. So use the query to sell the book to them. Once you've got your agent you can then discuss your history, and work out whether to use it or not when your agent pitches the book to publishers.


My book goes into a lot of honesty in some scenes as well. However, I don't want to cut those scenes out because they're realistic and add to the narrative.

They might be realistic but my view as an editor is that unless they advance the plot or provide information which is essential to the book's progression, cut them. They will weaken your book, no matter how fond you are of them.