Monday, January 10, 2011

Query letter #1: non-fiction

**December was hard yakka. And I got about two days off over the 'break' so, ahem, I'm running really late with these query letters - sorry, folks. This letter was originally sent a while ago, in response to my request for NF queries. All comments in bold.**

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for a proposed [use of the word 'proposed' makes me think you haven't written anything yet - in which case, why are you querying?] non-fiction parenting book, The Secret Life of a Baby.

Parents are often confused about how they should be parenting their new babies, and frequently seek answers from books. Many books focus on what our babies should be doing, such as when they should sleep through the night, when they should eat solids, and when they should be reaching developmental milestones. If our babies aren’t doing this, they [you need to define 'they' as 'these books' lest we think it's some other 'they'] generally tell us how to train your baby to fit into your routine as quickly as possible.

However, as a child psychiatrist [this information should have come earlier - it's your credential for writing a book which you've already acknowledged is entering a crowded field], I am concerned that we are ignoring the baby’s needs, potentially to the detriment of the child’s psychological development. Despite being an ‘expert’, I found myself reaching for parenting books when I was tired and vulnerable after the birth of my first baby last year, and was distressed to find that very few books give practical advice while still focussing on a baby’s needs. [This paragraph is sufficient - delete the para above.]

The Secret Life of a Baby will explain to parents of infants how a baby sees the world, and the importance of following the baby’s cues. It will discuss the infant’s psychological development from some of the major theorists in an accessible way, using examples from my own parenting experiences. I have a strong passion to inform parents about what we think – from the major theorists – and what we know – from science – about parenting and childhood development so that they can make the best choices when they are struggling and looking for help.

I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist [you've already told us you're a child psychiatrist so you should rephrase this - 'As a child and adolescent psychiatrist I have worked ...] and have worked extensively with women during their pregnancy and the neonatal period. In 2009 I won the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Maddison Medallion which is awarded to the new psychiatrist who has performed most meritoriously in their training. As well as this professional experience, I have personal experience as I am the mother of a fourteen month old baby and am pregnant with my second.

I have always loved writing and have done my best to integrate writing into my professional life. This began with writing articles and book reviews for online psychiatric sites. More recently I had a feature article on parenting and mental health published in a magazine, and an article on the links between medicine and writing for a medical writing journal. I have also had an academic article accepted for publication in a peer reviewed psychiatry journal later this year, and I write a blog on my own experiences of being a parent and a psychiatrist. I also enjoy writing fiction and have recently written the first draft of a novel through Queensland Writers’ Centre’s Year of the Novel Course. [delete reference to fiction - this para is already quite long and the reference to fiction will just confuse matters, although I understand why you put it in]

I appreciate that you are extremely busy, and thank you for taking the time to consider my proposal. I am of course happy to provide you with any further information, and I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Yours Sincerely,


Overall, a good effort. It just needs to be tightened up a little, and perhaps read it again with a view to being more confident about your credentials - by deleting the second para and going straight into your rationale for writing the book, you will sound more confident, and the tone could also be lifted a little.

What you haven't mentioned: word count. If the manuscript isn't finished, give a proposed word count and say when you think you'll finish writing it.


Sara J. Henry said...

In the States, at least, most publishers don't want to see a finished non-fiction manuscript - they want 1-2 chapters, a proposal, and a table of contents. Because they may have a different idea as to length or direction of the book. I worked for a publisher who always acquired NF manuscripts from proposals.

Agent Sydney said...

Yes, fine, but she's not in the US. Please see query letter #2 as I've given a different answer.