Mar 29, 2009

Revised Query--HENRY HAS NO HAIR

Click here to read the original query.

Thank you to everyone who posted feedback on my first query draft. I found the dialogue quite thought-provoking and it led me to do a complete re-write on the manuscript, involving a switch in point-of-view. Below I have included the newly drafted query (which reflects the drastic MS changes) and the first 200 words.

QUERY:

Dear Mr. Agent,

Life must be tough for Henry, the new kid. His baldhead looks silly and a bit odd. Lauren and I giggle about him on the way to school until her brother makes us stop. He said Henry’s probably sick or something.

But he doesn’t act sick. And he doesn’t seem to notice the other kids’ stares and teasing. He’s the best at kickball during recess and he sits with the loner at lunchtime. There sure is something different about Henry, besides his lack of hair. On the bus ride home, I find out what it is. He’s actually happy he’s bald. Weird. He tells me he’s glad there is no hair to get in his face or provide a target for his baby sister’s reaching hands to pull. Apparently, hats always fit him and he makes a great pirate for Halloween. He’s even got me believing that it would be nice to not worry about hair. Henry is most unique because he’s just happy to be Henry—and that makes me happy, too. Funny how that is.

HENRY HAS NO HAIR is complete at 1075 words. Readers witness a young girl’s prejudices and how they are challenged by a boy who does not allow the cosmetic debility of alopecia areata totalis to define who he is. Instead, she is roused by the way Henry embraces his unusual physical trait and is empowered by it. A subject close to my heart and home, my husband and I have the joy of raising our first son, a balding toddler with the spirit to take on the world.

Because of your interest in children’s picture books, as listed on your Publisher’s Marketplace page, I invite you to consider representing this manuscript, which is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration and time.



FIRST 200 WORDS:

Who is that, I wondered as I walked to the bus stop. I haven’t seen him before. He must be new. I eyed him up and down. What’s wrong with him? He looks funny and a little bit weird. He must be sick, I decided.

After he said goodbye to his mom, he looked at me and smiled. I turned so quickly I almost tripped on my way to stand under the tree by Lauren and her older brother, Thomas.

On the bus, the boy sat a few rows in front of us.

“Did you see his head?” Lauren giggled. “He’s balder than my daddy!”

“Mine, too,” I chuckled back.

“Shh, you guys.” Thomas reprimanded. “He’s probably got leukemia or something. You shouldn’t be laughing at him.”

“He still looks silly, even if he is sick,” Lauren whispered to me with a gleam in her eyes.

I watched him talk excitedly to an older kid in the seat next to him. His book bag rested on the floor in front of him with a red baseball cap hooked to one of its straps.

If I were him, I wouldn’t ever take off my hat, I thought.

12 comments:

Belinda Frisch said...

Having read both versions of your query, I like the *old* one much better. The first pass felt cheery and hopeful where this second one lost the initial charm.

I realize you were acting on suggestions, but I think you need to stay in Henry's POV. Definitely. He's your main character and I believe his confidence IS what would sell your book and be uplifting to children with this condition.

The first one would work well with a minor conflict inserted. Maybe Henry has just ONE girl that doesn't embrace his baldness, but his confidence and the other children liking him so much changes her mind. How that one girl makes him feel can be your central conflict, if you stay in his POV. You're writing this book for kids like him presumably so let them see that someone understands how they feel. Don't make your reader's feel like a secondary character.

Hope this helps.

Sarah Garrigues said...

Belinda,

Thanks for the feedback. I value your comments.

The typical plot involving a child facing his [INSERT ILLNESS/DEBILITY/MINORITY STATUS], the exclusion it promotes from others, and the miraculous overcoming it all has been done before--many times and in many ways. I have striven to craft HENRY HAS NO HAIR with a different twist.

My target audience is not specifically children with alopecia, although there is something in HENRY for them, too. The audience is more general.

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 one of the larger themes 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.

The other theme is this: Henry challenges our perceptions of how a 'different' child should behave and even how we should feel about our own shortcomings. My goal for this MS is that a young reader (listener) changes his or her views on how a sick/different child should behave, realizing that they are just as 'normal' as everyone else and can be very cool, too.

I do want to assure you that Henry is not 'lost' in this draft. Although he isn't seen closely in the first 200 words, he plays a very large role throughout the remaining 900 words. The main character witnesses him confidently initiating conversations, speaking in front of the class, ignoring stares, befriending the friendless, excelling in sports, etc. In fact, Henry is more visible in this draft than the first one (which was only 375 words, a third as long). In the closing scene (400 words), the main character is so overcome by Henry's openness that she asks him about his baldness. He continues to surprise her with his response. He tells her all the reasons he is happy he's bald. This section closely parallels the original text, but instead of reciting this list in front of the class, he's having a one-on-one conversation with the main character.

I do want to clarify one more thing. The previous reviewers suggestions did lead to the POV change. However, they did not change the type of story I wanted to tell. This is exactly the story I wanted to tell from the beginning. Rather, the reviewers helped me to discover for myself that the best way to tell this story was from another POV. From Henry's perspective, or even 3rd person, I didn't see real growth taking place. This way, I witness a young girl's prejudices melt away as she learns tolerance and develops a friendship.

Finally, children with alopecia can gain two things from this story.

1) HENRY will increase awareness and acceptance of this relatively unknown disorder.

2) HENRY provides a strong role model for them. Children with alopecia witness how they can excel in life by embracing their uniqueness. They know what it feels like to be teased. Now they can see what it could be like for them when they accept themselves just as they are. Most kids with the disorder act normally and have positive self-esteem. They don't look in the mirror depressed. The image they see is all they have ever known. I hope they learn (with all my other readers) that confidence is appealing and happiness is infectious.

Thanks for the dialogue.

~Sarah

Belinda Frisch said...

Then may I suggest changing the title? Perhaps "The Boy With No Hair" or something along those lines so as to eliminate the expectation that this is Henry's story?

I think targeting an audience of alopecia-suffering children is the best angle for pitching this project. You can bolster the marketability of your ms with statistics about the number of children suffering this disorder and further assert yourself as an "expert" in the emotions it causes based on your first-hand knowledge.

Whatever you decide, I wish you the best of luck.

Sarah Garrigues said...

I'm not sure how the POV change would lessen my ability to:
1) market the book to alopecia organizations, or
2) decrease my platform as an author and mother of a child with alopecia.

Ultimately, HENRY HAS NO HAIR, is still a book about a child with alopecia. And though Henry is not the first-person 'main' character, he is still the hero of the story. The entire plot still revolves around him and what the main character things of him.

I am still very interested in specific feedback on this version of the query.

hope101 said...

I have two comments:

1. I'm not clear on who comprises your target audience of readers. If you are thinking 4-7 year olds, then I doubt there would be many kids familiar with words like "leukemia". Either way, you might want to test drive your text a few times with your target readers, and then be clear about your market in the query letter.

2. I'm still not certain you've set yourself up for the best story with what you have here. What is your protagonist's goal? What is at risk for her? What are the consequences for her if she doesn't alter her behavior? It is a lot easier for us, as the reader, to conceptualize this for Henry. I think you if you can answer these questions you'd have a much stronger book and query letter.

Good luck!

Rick Daley said...

This is tough. Both queries are written well, but I like the first one better, it seems more suited for a picture book. I think it captures Henry's spirit better.

Is 1,000+ words long for a picture book? I don't know what the typical word count is.

There have been a lot of comments regarding character development, but I think if you add too much weight and conflict to the story, you take away the charm.

We're analyzing this like adults. But the kid in me wants a fun book to read, one that will make me giggle along with Henry.

Sarah Garrigues said...

Trouble is I have gotten more than one rejection from an agent stating that the previous query (the only version I have submitted thus far) sounded very plot-driven and not character-driven. The revised MS and query were in part an attempt to address this critique. Do you have suggestions on other ways to add voice to either version of the query?

I realize it is hard critique the tone of a story without reading it. I truly believe the new version of the MS is lighthearted and retains all of Henry's original charm. It is not shining through the first 200 words, but it didn't come out that early in the first draft either.

BTW, 1000 words is still within the acceptable length of a picture story book (see This Link ).

Rick Daley said...

That's a great link, thanks for sharing!

I haven't done much research on picture books. The MS I wrote for Rudy Toot-Toot was just for fun.

I've received two rejections for the three queries I submitted, but they were basic form rejections, no feedback at all.

Criss said...

I like how you let the little girl tell the story in the query, but a lot of the language sounds too grown-up. "No hair... to provide a target for his baby sister's reaching hands" is way to adult for a child to say (very complex sentence structure for 4-7 y.o.) Also, while I like it, I think I've heard agents find that "gimmicky" (but I might have heard that for adult books, maybe it's an acceptable practice with kids' books? It could also be personal preference...)

The beginning of the story seems slow. From the first query, it seemed we saw Henry in class on the first day of school, where he immediately has to confront students looking at him funny or teasing him. But in this story, we see him from afar and completely skip the first day of school -- why not start the story when the little girl walks into her kindergarten class and sees a bald boy sitting there? What if she has to sit at his table, but she's worried because she heard someone say that if she sits near the bald kid she's going to get bald cooties too, and all of her hair is going to fall out? Put some action at the beginning, cut to the chase.

I agree that young children would not know what leukemia is. The older brother could bring it up, but then the little girls need to ask him what it is. However, I'd rather see the girls talking to Henry directly instead of spending so much time thinking about him inside their heads.

(PS: "bald head" should be two words. Wasn't sure if that was a typo.)

Sarah Garrigues said...

Criss,

Thanks for the feedback. I've made some changes to the query recently. I've deleted 'reaching hands' and replaced 'got leukemia' with 'is sick.'

The book still takes place over the course of Henry's first day at school.

As far as the pacing, your point is a good one. There is action through, but she doesn't actually talk to Henry until the last scene (which is about halfway through the book). I'll take a look at this.

Thanks!

~Sarah
write Check out my blog!

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

First of all, I'd have to say that I'd request this if I were an agent. (I guess I'm still in agent for a day mode, lol.) Great voice in this. My comments are mostly nit picking since overall, I like it. Here you are:


Life must be tough for Henry, the new kid. His baldhead looks silly and a bit odd.
I'd condense this to one sentence. Something like: Henry, the new kid, has a bald head and it looks a bit odd.

[There sure is something different about Henry, besides his lack of hair.] I'd delete this sentence and include the sentiment in the next one. e.g. On the bus ride home, I notice something different...

Great "why I wrote this" paragraph.

Sarah Garrigues said...

Thanks for the positive feedback and rewriting suggestions. I am still in the process of tweaking the manuscript and query.