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View Full Version : QUERY FOR MY MEMOIR---TOLD IT'S TOO DESPERATE



aathomas
07-18-2006, 09:38 PM
I was told this query makes me appear desperate and would turn agents off in that it appears as if I would commit sucide if I didn't get a book deal. Comments are needed and wanted. Thank you in advance.

Dear agent:



I didn't use a bullet, pills, a rope or a razor. I chose words--62,000 words to quiet the pre-menopausal ramblings in my head, put to sleep depression-inducing doubts, suffocate frustration and decimate fear.

In CONFESSIONS OF AN UNPUBLISHED AUTHOR, I bare my soul as I write about the false starts, highs and lows of my seven-year pursuit of a book deal for my first novel, which to date remains unpublished.

CONFESSIONS is in no way an indictment of the publishing industry, but a catharsis that has enabled me to sort through the past seven years wherein I have struggled to keep afloat as I balanced my book aspirations with the duties and responsibilities of being a new employee, newlywed, first-time-homeowner and infertile, pre-menopausal African-American woman.

I graduated from the [ ] with a degree in Journalism, was a proposal writer for [ ], and have written 14 plays. My play [ ] recently ran at the [ ] in [ ] California and was extended twice due to popular demand. It was attended and praised by the mayor of [ ] and even music legends Freda Payne and Stevie Wonder.

Your consideration of my memoir would be greatly appreciated. I can be reached at [ ].

Sincerely,

stephblake24
07-18-2006, 10:40 PM
It does sound a little intense. I would remove "I didn't use a bullet, pills, a rope or a razor. I chose words--62,000 words to quiet the pre-menopausal ramblings in my head, put to sleep depression-inducing doubts, suffocate frustration and decimate fear," and start with the next paragraph and add the word count to the last sentence. "Would you consider the entire 62,000 word manuscript?"

Just my thoughts....

aathomas
07-18-2006, 11:19 PM
I will definitely consider your suggestions.

Aconite
07-19-2006, 12:29 AM
A while ago, there was a thread on another of the fora here on AW where authors reprinted the queries that got them book deals. You might want to try searching for that thread.

I agree with the advice the others have given you. The tone of this query is highly emotional and intense. You want to play up the strengths of your book in a query, so talking more about your book and why it's interesting will probably get you farther.

Best of luck!

Sheryl Nantus
07-19-2006, 01:44 AM
it doesn't really sell me on why I should read your book - what makes *your* story more interesting than the person next to you, in other words.

I mean, at first glance it seems that you're just an ordinary person with nothing special about you at all - SELL me on why your story is different and deserves to be published.

jmo.

Jamesaritchie
07-19-2006, 05:31 AM
This does sound WAAAYYY too desperate. Agents, editors and readers want to hear about triumph and success, and this is what you have to hit them with. Make the qery show success and hope, not desperation.

PattiTheWicked
07-19-2006, 08:28 AM
A couple of things spring to mind here.

First, the opening paragraph just paints you as scary. While I realize that you don't intend it that way, it does sound a bit along the lines of "if you don't publish me I'll kill myself."

Second, while I agree that writing is therapeutic, I'm not entirely sure anyone wants to read books that were written as catharsis. The world is full of unpublished writers, and thank the gods we haven't all written a book about how we deal with not being published. Really, you need to sell this project -- and by that, I mean show a potential agent or editor what makes you so special. Or at least more special than the other nine thousand manuscripts that arrived in his in-box this month. The bottom line is that to publish a memoir, there needs to be something in there that is worth reading about for Joe Bookbuyer. If you're a struggling writer, you've been through a divorce, you bought a house, and you've coped with depression, I know *I* ain't going to buy that book, because it's no different than my own life. You've just described me and thousands of other suburban women.

Finally, the last paragraph could probably be deleted unless it establishes some sort of credential, which I don't think it does. It doesn't matter that you've WRITTEN fourteen plays, unless those fourteen have been performed somewhere, in which case you could say "I am a published playwright whose works include blah blah blah."

Also, I think if you're writing a memoir about being unpublished, the LAST thing you want to do is make an agent say "Er, I wonder why this person is unpublishable" and then draw their own conclusions.

I'd definitely recommend reading the thread on query letters.

aathomas
07-19-2006, 07:42 PM
Dear Agent:

Not long ago, my boss asked me if I got along with my mother and father. I told him my mother was dead and I never knew my father. His face turned bright red. He assumed that I was raised with my parents, in a loving, nurturing, middleclass home.

What my boss does not know is that thirteen years ago I was almost killed by my lover as he stomped the mess out of me in front of his wife and children and that I had a childhood wrought with traumatic events ranging from being molested to waking up to my mother trying to kill my siblings and me. If he knew this, he would either second- guess his decision to hire me or say I am a survivor. I prefer to think that I am the later and that my life could be an inspiration to others. With that in mind, in 1998, I wrote an 119,000-word coming-of-age story loosely based on my life experiences. For the past seven years I have been trying to get this book published to no avail.

Out of this effort, a memoir was born: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNPUBLISHED AUTHOR. In this book, I write about the milestones I have experienced over the past seven years, ranging from getting married, to discovering that I am infertile and how I have tackled these events while dealing with the highs and lows of my pursuit of a book deal for my first novel. In my memoir, I also cover aspects of my childhood and other traumatic, life-changing events that I believe continue to propel me to reach even greater heights.

I graduated from U.S.C. with a degree in Journalism, was a proposal writer for Children’s Hospital Foundation. My play, “Grandpa’s Truth” recently ran at the Inglewood Playhouse in Inglewood, California and was extended twice due to popular demand. It was attended and praised by the mayor of Inglewood and even music legends Freda Payne and Stevie Wonder.

I appreciate your time in reviewing the first three chapters of my 62,000-page memoir and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/user_online.gif http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/reputation.gif (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/reputation.php?p=664767)

Aconite
07-19-2006, 08:25 PM
Hmm. IMO, it's still much too much about you and not enough about your book.

Try this: Imagine you're in a bookstore, looking for a reason to pick this book above any of the others on the shelf. You don't know the author and don't really care what it took to get the book written or published. All you care about as a reader is if this book is going to be worth your time and money, and if it seems more interesting than any of the others you could pick up instead. What would make you pick this book?

When you say that this book was written seven years ago and you haven't been able to get it published yet, honestly, my first thought is, "Uh oh. Why's that?"

I really recommend looking up that other thread on query letters that led to book deals. That will give you ideas for how to model your query.

aathomas
07-19-2006, 08:27 PM
Will do.

Sheryl Nantus
07-19-2006, 08:48 PM
my problem is that, and please - do NOT think that I'm making light of your experience or anything - but abuse stories are a dime a dozen these days on the shelves. Thanks to old James Frey there abuse stories and survivor stories are literally a dime a dozen - and while your experience is horrific it doesn't really grab me since I've seen so many like it on the shelves.

again, what makes *your* life different from everyone elses to the degree that it warrants a book? Again, NOT to lessen your trauma and certainly not to say that anyone's abusive childhood isn't a horrible, life-changing experience, but what puts you above the rest? And if you can't get your memoir published, why should a book *about* your inability to get your memoir published warrant me picking it up off the shelf?

as Aconite said - put yourself in the place of a person browsing the bookshelves... what would make your book stand out from the rest of the rack and why should I pick it up?

good luck!

aathomas
07-19-2006, 08:49 PM
Aconite, not finding the thread regarding the query letters that led to book deals. I believe the site crashed and that some material pre May 23 was lost. Do you know if this thread is still availabe?

Tks.

aathomas
07-19-2006, 09:43 PM
Sheryl,

The last two memoirs I read were "A Piece of Cake," by Cupcake Brown and "A Million Little" pieces by James Frey. I did not find these books by browsing through the book store. My husband brought some literature to the house one day and there was an article about Cupcake. I read the article. It was almost six months later when I was in B&N and I ran across her book. I like reading bios and memoirs so I was in that section. What made me want to read her book was that I am a black woman and she is a black woman and it's rare to see a memoir by a black woman who is not famous. When I picked up the book and read the cover and it talked about all the horrendous things that happened to her, it got my attention. I didn't think, well I've had horrendous things happen to me and so many other people have. The fact that she was willing to put it in a book and that she had survived got my attention. I am not unique in my position. I heard about James Frey during the fallout. I got his book out of curiosity. I did not enjoy it as much as I did Cupcake's book. It's just me. I like reading about hardship and victory and I would buy anybook that was well written that deals w/this topic.

Nonetheless your points are well taken.

PattiTheWicked
07-19-2006, 09:51 PM
Dear Agent:

Not long ago, my boss asked me if I got along with my mother and father. I told him my mother was dead and I never knew my father. His face turned bright red. He assumed that I was raised with my parents, in a loving, nurturing, middleclass home.

I'd delete this paragraph altogether, because it seems just unnecessary. Cut out any bells and whistles and tell them what they need to know upfront. I'd begin right here:

Dear Agent Topdawg,

Thirteen years ago, my lover almost beat me to death. To add insult to injury, he did it in front of his wife and children. Ironically enough, it wasn't the first time I was nearly killed by someone I loved and trusted -- my own mother had nearly murdered me in my sleep at the age of __. My 62,000 word memoir, Insert Title Here, is the story of how a victim became a survivor.

I have a journalism degree from U.S.C., and my play "Grandpa's Truth" recently ran at the Inglewood Playhouse in California, where it was extended twice due to popular demand. [Delete the bit about the mayor and Stevie Wonder, it sounds like name-dropping and won't advance your case any]

As per your submission guidelines, I have enclosed the first three chapters of Insert Title Here, as well as a self-addressed stamped envelope. May I send you the rest of the manuscript for your review?

Sincerely,

Author Extraordinaire

Again, as one poster pointed out, the bookstores are rife with stories of people who overcame absolutely horrible trauma. What makes YOURS the one they want to read? Convince the agent that your book is better than the others, or at least more sellable, and you'll get a positive response from your query.

Aconite
07-19-2006, 09:52 PM
Aconite, not finding the thread regarding the query letters that led to book deals. After some poking around, I found it: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=33425. Try entering "query letter""deal" into the Search function, too, and see what else comes up.


I believe the site crashed and that some material pre May 23 was lost. Do you know if this thread is still availabe?Sort of a crash. (It's complicated, and I won't go into it here.) The upshot is that we have everything prior to May 23, but some material from between May 23 and late June was lost.

ETA: Whoops, I misremembered. The thread isn't about queries that got book deals, but ones that got magazine assignments. The queries are still very good to use as models.

aathomas
07-19-2006, 10:12 PM
Aconite, thanks for finding the thread!

aathomas
07-19-2006, 11:25 PM
Patti tks for suggestions.

aruna
07-21-2006, 11:09 AM
Interesting thread, Aconite; recently I was thinking it would be great to have a thread with successful query letters - ones that attracted requests for fulls and partials.

aathomas. welcome to AW and if you want to study the art of querying you can't do better than read Evil Editor's (http://www.evileditor.blogspot.com)blog. Also, Miss Snark has a pile of queries on her Crapometer.

aathomas
07-22-2006, 02:19 AM
Tks. Aruna.

Nateskate
07-24-2006, 11:00 PM
Let me encourage you first in that you have a story to tell. People like drama. Some of the greatest dramas in life were borne in dysfunction. Right away I think of Joseph in Egypt- four mothers competing for the love of one husband using children as a weapon. Joseph's father was born to a dysfunctional father who didn't "Choose" him, and driven and distant, he winds up working for a shady used-camel dealership. Joseph is hated by his brothers and sold into slavery then falsely accused and tossed into Prison.

Reading stories of overcoming obstacles is inspiring to people. The trick is telling them how your hard life is relevent to everyday people- the readers. Joseph goes from the pits to becoming the Prime Minister of the greatest kingdom in the world of his day.

A) Going through things gives you a platform and gives you a right to speak on things. So don't be ashamed to tell your story. Even if you don't get nominated for a royal title, you've learned lessons. That's the hook, because everyone can learn from lessons learned.

B) People like hard stories with uplifting endings. How is your story about overcoming? I'm not so certain a depressing beginning is a bad place to start. Line one can sound like a headline, but people have to see within the first paragraph there's a story and not just a metaphorical trainwreck. I think some of us are stories in the making, having interesting tales, but the hardest part is finding the ending. (I've gotten somewhere worth the telling)

aathomas
07-27-2006, 02:20 AM
Nateskate,

Thanks for words of encouragment. I have squashed the memoir. My heart is not in it. I have since tightened up the narrative of my original novel taking it down from 119,000 words to 98,000. I resubmitted the entite manuscript to an agent who said she would review if I was able to shorten. It is with her now. She said great things about my writing. The only problem was the length being that it's my first.

Talia
07-28-2006, 11:24 AM
good luck with that

nicegrrl
08-04-2006, 06:08 AM
Is it weird to be able to write 14 plays but not a novel?

wow! what's wrong with your novel?

aathomas
08-07-2006, 08:04 PM
This is a very subjective business. However, thank God it only takes one person to get a clue. After seven years of honing, tightening up and working on my novel, putting it on the shelf and taking it down again, I now have representation -- representation with clout by the way!!!

Thanks in advance for your well wishes.

PattiTheWicked
08-07-2006, 08:50 PM
Did you get an agent? That's wonderful! Do you mind telling us who it is?

Sheryl Nantus
08-07-2006, 09:18 PM
and please tell us you checked them out in the Bewares area...