Query/hook question

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khobar

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Hello,

I've written a memoir and am now very close to sending out queries. When it comes to "What's the book about" we're told we should have a hook. Question is, should we try to come up with what we think an agent will be looking for or should we say what we feel and hope for the best?

For example, I use the tag, "It might have been easier for me had my brother stayed dead the first time. He didn't, and I miss him every single day."

The lesson of my book is coming to terms with the past in order to move on with the present and future, and how I wish my older brother could figure that out, too, because time grows shorter everyday.

The story is rooted in my experiences coming of age far from home, being an American at boarding school, terrorism in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, living in Saudi Arabia, traveling to exotic places around the world, but always in the shadow of my older brother.

I see that now, all these years later. I've been able to go back and face the ghosts of my past, and they've essentially crumbled away as I do. But my brother remains in a world of regret over what he thinks could have been if only he'd had just one more chance. He had so many chances and always screwed them up. I always thought it was just bad luck back then, but now, after really looking at things, I know luck had nothing to do with it.

He could still change. After all, I did so there's hope.

Would any agent even be remotely interested in all that? It's not a query, just an informal question regarding an approach.

Thanks,
Richard P. Nixon
www.richardpnixon.com
 

Drachen Jager

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This should probably be in Query Letter Hell, rather than here.

But, here's my opinion. I think your hook should be your high concept. It should be the thing that sets your book apart from all the ones next to it on the bookstore shelf.

However, as others have pointed out before, it's the query letter as a whole that will make or break you, no agent is going to stop reading after one line unless that line is horrible, or convinces them that this is absolutely not a book they could represent.
 

kaitie

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Memoir is queried like a novel, so I think what you're missing here is more the "plot" of the story, so to speak. If you give more of the specifics about events and what not as opposed to what you're hoping to convey (showing versus telling, in other words).

As for your hook, I'm thinking the biggest problem I see with it is that none of the rest of the book as you've described it goes with the tag. The hook makes it sound like your brother faked his death or something like that and then you discovered later he was really alive (which is AWESOME!), but nothing else you've mentioned makes it sound as if he was ever technically "dead" and then not.

If it really is a faked death story or something along those lines, I'd say lead with that because it sounds super cool. If you're using the term "dead" metaphorically or something, however, I'd say you're better off searching for a new hook because otherwise it sounds misleading and doesn't match the rest of the query.

Just my opinion, of course.
 

khobar

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Thanks for the quick replies!

The tag refers to the thought that my life might have been easier had my brother not been resuscitated the day he was born. I never would have gone to boarding school - at least not because of him, and all the chaos our family experienced would have been avoided.

I'm very careful to show how close my brother and I were, at least until shortly after being sent to boarding school. He was my big brother, after all, and far "cooler" with me than my friends' big brothers were with them. If he'd not survived, I'd have missed out on a lot of positive, happy experiences.

But once boarding school came along, all kinds of things changed for all kinds of reasons. What never changed is my brother's behavior. He calls all the time making sure to remind me how dismal his life is and how he wished he could go back to the good old days. Hence the lesson of my book - you can't go back in time. You can only go forward. Draw a line and leave the past where it belongs, etc. etc. etc.

And as tough as those days were for me, I made sure to include a good balance of positive experiences. Despite how heavy the overall theme is, I didn't want to write a downer memoir. I've read a number of those lately and wanted to stand apart from them.
 
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LindsayM

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Memoir is queried like a novel, so I think what you're missing here is more the "plot" of the story, so to speak. If you give more of the specifics about events and what not as opposed to what you're hoping to convey (showing versus telling, in other words).

What she said!
 

khobar

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Aye, but for now I'm concerned with the appropriate approach, the lead, if you will. My experiences at boarding school, while being critical in shaping my social map, may be viewed as having a limited audience and thus limited appeal. That most of the story takes place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and directly affected me in several ways - well, that's a different angle with broader appeal. Yet the story isn't about me and the Troubles, really. There's my brother and his non-conformist/self-destructive ways that led us to being sent to boarding school in the first place. It also led to him getting kicked out thus leaving me alone to fend for myself. In fact his behaviour led to tremendous family upheaval, pain, etc. So there's a strong dysfunctional family angle.

What I was hoping to do is try to explain all or most of the angles and leave the lead to the agent. The obvious flaw in this approach is that we're told agents expect polished query letters that follow a particular pattern. Non-compliance with said pattern is generally considered, at least according to The Net, to be a recipe for failure. I've read so much about query letters and agents that I'm just about scared to death to poke my head outside the door, but I'm reluctant to just start tossing darts hoping for some kind of hit.

That is why I originally posted this topic in the "Ask an Agent" forum.
 

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