Mar 21, 2009

Query--HENRY HAS NO HAIR

A revision of this query has been posted. Click here to read it.

(Personal reference to agent/agency), I invite you to consider representing my picture book manuscript, HENRY HAS NO HAIR.

Life should be hard for Henry. It’s his first day at a new school and he has nothing to wear—nothing to wear on his bald head, that is. But that does not stop happy-go-lucky Henry. When a classmate asks him the inevitable, but awkward question, he responds in stride. Being bald is actually pretty great. There is no hair to get in his face or provide a target for his baby sister’s reaching hands to pull. Hats always fit and the heat never bothers his neck in the summer. Above all, Henry is happy to be Henry—and that makes others happy, too.

HENRY HAS NO HAIR, complete at 375 words, illustrates how a young boy allows the cosmetic debility of alopecia areta to not only define who he is, but to empower him. A subject close to home, my husband and I have the joy of raising our first son, a balding toddler with the spirit to take on the world.

Per your submission guidelines, the full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration and time. I look forward to hearing from you.



[I posted a shortened version of this pitch paragraph on Bookroast's March 17 Pitch Party and received several comments. See http://bookroast.blogspot.com/2009/03/welcome-to-our-pitch-party.html ]

15 comments:

Rick Daley said...

First off, I have to say: Bald is beautiful!

I think this is a well-written query. It's professional and it follows the structure most agents advocate.

I like that there is a message to the story, but it is not stated blatantly, something I can work on in my own picture book query.

I would remove the "I look forward to hearing from you" at the end, I've read on several agent blogs that this sounds presumptuous, since odds are that most people will get a rejection, and are we really looking forward to that?

I'm not saying anything about your particular query, just the odds in general...

Sarah Garrigues said...

That's a fair point, Rick. Duly noted.

R. Battles said...

First, let me say that you have an unusual and compelling story to tell. I like children’s books that make a difference and empower youthful minds.

I only have a few nitpicks with your query.

Cut the “I invite you to consider representing my picture book manuscript, HENRY HAS NO HAIR” sentence. It’s a given that you are inviting an agent to consider your work by the mere fact you are querying them. Begin your query with your strong hook:

Life should be hard for Henry, who, on his first day at a new school, has nothing to wear—nothing to wear on his bald head, that is.

NEXT PARAGRAPH:

When a classmate asks the happy go lucky ???-year-old the inevitable but awkward question, Henry responds in stride. Being bald is actually pretty great. There’s no hair to get in his face or provide a target for his baby sister’s reaching hands to pull. Hats always fit, and the heat never bothers his neck in the summer. Above all, Henry is happy to be Henry—and that makes others happy, too.

NEXT PARAGRAPH:

HENRY HAS NO HAIR, a 375-word picture book, illustrates how a young boy allows the cosmetic debility of alopecia areta to not only define who he is, but to empower him. A subject close to my home and heart, my husband and I have the joy of raising our first son, a balding toddler with the spirit to take on the world.

CLOSING PARAGRAPH

“Per your submission guidelines, the full manuscript is available upon request” doesn’t make sense. I would close the query by simply saying, Thank you for your time and consideration.

Be careful with your use of commas. Good luck with this!

hope101 said...

These are technical points, but I think important to strengthen your query. (I like the story idea a lot, btw.)

You've mispelled areata. Also, alopecia areata refers to the clinical condition of *patches* of hair loss. If it proceeds to the point of complete hair loss, it's known as alopecia areata totalis. Here's a link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alopecia_areata_totalis

Good luck!

ryan field said...

I really like this one. I like everything about it.

Bethanne said...

I agree, well done. :) The nit-picky things are worth considering...opening line, etc. But over all, this query is great!

Criss said...

Third paragraph says Henry allows the condition to define who he is, which is generally the opposite of what you want to do in these situations; also, I don't know if people generally feel empowered by a debility.

I know what you are trying to say, and you do have a good letter here, but I was stuck on that sentence. It doesn't sound like the words say what you want them to say (bad thing for a writer).

Maybe something along the lines of "... illustrates not only how a young boy does not allow the cosmetic debility alopecia areata to define him, but rather how he feels empowered by his unique physical characteristic(s)."

Good luck! Henry sounds like a great character; the book looks like it will have some great illustrations!

John said...

I think this is an interesting idea, and though I agree with the other posts about some possible tweaks to the query, my biggest concern may go beyond the query to the story itself. I wonder if there is enough conflict, enough of a challenge for Henry to hold the reader's interest.

From the query it sounds as though Henry's biggest hurdle is one awkward question, which he handles very well. I know that in writing for this age level the author is constrained in terms of both length and tone, but I feel the story might be more compelling if Henry faced a less kind reception, and then managed to overcome both his own hurt feelings and the other kids' prejudice.

I recall reading "Just a Little Different" by Gina and Mercer Meyer to my son years ago. The half-turtle, half-rabbit boy is excluded and made fun of by other kids, which makes his eventual acceptance as "one of the guys" all the more rewarding for the reader.

Maybe the conflict is already there in the story and just didn't come through in the query, but if so, I'd advise trying to give a clearer picture of exactly what Henry is up against.

In any case, I wish you the best of luck with this one!

Sarah Garrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Garrigues said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone! I will definitely be implementing several of the recommended changes. All good points.

John, your question about conflict is a fair one. Here's my take on it as it relates to this story. If you have further feedback, I'd love to hear it!

As a parent of a toddler with alopecia, I have only been able to locate two picture book titles related to the disorder (Princess Alopecia by Yaacov Peterseil and Avi Katz; and Bella Gets a New Sweater by Jodi Pliszky). Both of which did not fulfill my son's (or my own) requirements for a good book.

The more common 'illness/debility/minority status' plot involves a child facing his [INSERT ILLNESS/DEBILITY/MINORITY STATUS] and the exclusion it promotes from others and through the story overcoming it somehow.

I have striven to craft HENRY HAS NO HAIR with a different twist.

My protagonist does not begin as a shy, insecure boy and then magically morph into a self-assured hero of sorts. Rather, Henry enters the story with confidence. He walks into the first day of school, not worried over how the children might look at him, but happy and carefree.

All children (and adults too) have something about themselves they could allow to become a crutch in their lives. This story is not just a nitch novel geared towards families struggling with alopecia. The larger theme in HENRY HAS NO HAIR is to love yourself. All children can relate in the same way a Caucasian little girl can pick up Karen Beaumont's 'I Like Myself' and learn self-confidence from the example she sees in the book's pages.

I believe the real 'conflict' in HENRY HAS NO HAIR is more subtle and perhaps even internal. Henry challenges our perceptions of how a 'different' child should behave and even how we should feel about our own shortcomings.

I do plan on taking a closer look at the character who asks the question. I have already written her to show growth through meeting Henry, but I may need to play up that as a way to increase conflict.

In sum, the story's conflict is found in the classmate's initial expectations of Henry and it is resolved by Henry's self-confidence and charming positivity.

Your thoughts, John? Any one else want to weigh in on this? I am curious as to whether others see this as viable story conflict.

Sarah Garrigues said...

Criss,

If you read my response to John above, you will hopefully see what I meant by Henry 'allowing' the condition to define who he is. He is proud to be bald. Throughout the story he tells his classmates of all the reasons he like his bare head. It is what makes him unique and he embraces that uniqueness.

I know that typically people do not want to be defined by their special conditions. HENRY HAS NO HAIR challenges that in a positive way (again, see the note to John above). One of the best examples of this I can give is Karen Beaumont's 'I Like Myself.' The protagonist is proud of her heritage and the physical characteristics that make her unique. The book is a celebration of those things. I see HENRY HAS NO HAIR in the same light.

I do see your concern in that I may confuse an agent or editor with that line and that is not something I want to do. Do you have any suggests on how to convey the book's message/tone (described above) without the possibility of confusion?

Criss said...

Sarah,
I still feel that allowing the baldness to define him means that Henry is a bald kid, and nothing else. It limits his personality to that one characteristic, ignoring the rest of his personhood.

He is much more than just a bald head: he is a confident, friendly, outgoing, intelligent, articulate boy (he handles himself gracefully when the girl asks about his lack of hair; he takes the time to educate her about his condition instead of ignoring her or being mean to her).

Maybe if you rephrase it, to say he embraces his baldness and makes it part of who he is. (Part as opposed to the whole, which is what I felt the original phrasing implies.)

As to the conflict aspect, I agree with you about the cliche-ness of "kid feels bad because of debility, learns to love himself;" I like that Henry is already happy to be who he is. I like your idea of having the conflict be more around the other character, who learns that although Henry looks different, he's just like any other kid in class; making her more the main character. (Query can then be written more from her POV, showing her internal conflict.)

Maybe a "bully" in the class could make fun of Henry, and the teacher tries to address the issue but doesn't know what to say/how to handle it, and Henry ends up educating the teacher as well as his peers? Just a though that popped in my head (we adults also have problems accepting people who are "different").

:)

John said...

Hi Sarah,

Just getting back to the chain after a few days away...

In short, I guess I'd have to see the story to know if the different twist you've used works for me, but I think having internal conflict within some of the other characters would help. Also, I know of some children's books that rely successfully more on other elements, such as humor, than on conflict.

I think I'm facing a somewhat similar issue in my own work. I'm writing a YA novel which to some degree has a teaching purpose. I'm trying to find a balance between imparting the ideas that I want to impart and writing a book that kids will want to read. I haven't succeeded yet, but I feel I'm steadily getting closer.

I wish us both luck!

Sarah Garrigues said...

Thank you for the feedback, John. I am currently contemplating the direction of a serious rewrite based on your and Criss' critiques. I like the story as it is, but recognize that it may be better told from the little girl's perspective. I am really learning the painful value of critiques [see my post: http://sarahgarrigues.blogspot.com/2009/03/painful-value-of-critiques.html ].

Sarah Garrigues said...

Rick, Criss, & John,

Any feedback on the revised version? I'd love to hear it as you three inspired my new direction. Thanks.

~Sarah
http://sarahgarrigues.blogspot.com