Last August, I wrote and memorized a three-minute pitch for the 2012 Willamette Writers Conference. The pitch was successful and I am hoping for more positive responses at the 2013 Faith and Culture Writing Conference. But since I will only ever meet a handful of agents in person, I am also working on a query letter. This is a second draft I that I can customize for each agent I query.
My name is David Ozab. I am the father of a seven-year-old girl born with a cleft lip and diagnosed with a motor-speech disorder at age two. I am seeking representation for my completed 83,000 word memoir titled A Smile for Anna. Because you express an interest in _____________ on your [website], I believe we would be a good match.
“Cleft lip.” The words rang in my head since the ultrasound. At twenty-two weeks a shadow on our unborn child’s lip shattered our dreams of the perfect baby. We faced surgeries, possible feeding problems, and the fear of cruel, insensitive, or thoughtless comments. We struggled with our faith in the God who gave our child a cleft and were betrayed by a trusted spiritual guide. But instead of turning inward, we reached out, raising over $2,000 to buy specially made cleft bears for over two hundred Oregon families like ours.
Now that’s a good story, but life is full of plot twists that make good stories better. At two years old, Anna’s friends spoke clearly, but she didn’t. No one could understand her. As strange as it sounds, it was her cleft that made the difference. Without it, her speech disorder might have gone undiagnosed for another year or more. But a routine visit with her cleft-lip-and-palate team gave us an answer: childhood apraxia of speech. Through intensive speech therapy, Anna found her voice, and through our journey together, I answered the question that my wife asked me the day we found out we were expecting. “Are you ready to be a daddy?”
A Smile for Anna is a unique book within a broader category of special-needs-parenting memoirs. That it addresses two fairly common conditions in one very uncommon child makes it a one-of-a-kind story with the potential for wide appeal.
I have prepared a proposal that includes ten pages of detailed marketing and promotional plans, along with an overview of the book, a list of target audiences, highlights of five sample competitive titles, an author biography, a four page synopsis, a table of contents with summaries of each chapter, and the first twenty pages of the final manuscript leading up to the first climactic incident. Please let me know if you are interested in reviewing it.
I am passionate about this book, so passionate that I changed careers and became a published writer in order to complete and promote it. I believe it has the potential to help the millions of families currently coping with cleft diagnoses or motor-speech disorders. After reading my query, I hope you can appreciate and share in my passion for this project.
Following numerous examples I found in books and online, I structured my letter following the basic format they all had in common.
- Introduction. One paragraph stating the title, length, genre, and subject matter of the book, and explaining why I am querying this particular agent.
- Synopsis. Two paragraphs that summarize the story, highlighting conflicts, a major plot twist, and the final resolution without giving everything away.
- Target audience. What is the book’s potential market?
- Invitation to read more. Here I describe my completed book proposal. Some agents want this included in the query, so I will adjust this paragraph accordingly.
- About me. This was the toughest part. I needed to include biographical information—beyond the short introduction at the top of the letter—but this query is about the book, not about me. I’m not famous and I won’t be selling books on my name. So I focused on my passion for the project and restated its potential while slipping in a tidbit of biography, namely that I’ve only been a writer for a short time, but that I am already published.
Besides the query letter, I am working on one other project. An agent database listing agencies, agents, and submission requirements. I’ve set aside an additional spaces to track responses and requests for followup materials. I hope to fill a lot of those boxes with positive replies over the next few months, but I’m not deluding myself. I know I still have a long road ahead.