Sep 24, 2009

Query for memoir-THE VOICE OF BEAST

Dear [agent's name inserted here],

Beast, a metaphorical character create to speak on behalf of my pain, is birthed the evening Esther, a gifted Christian counselor, asks, "What does the pain look like?" Her bent for asking unusual questions opens doors long shut on my abusive childhood and invites me to know my pain. Admitting I need help, that self-harm is a broken crutch I use to cope, lifts the fog on
my pain because ignoring my past is finally more painful than the perceived risks of facing it. I begin sending Esther regular installments of the Beast's world within my heart and embrace his character as an unlikely ally who leads me to discover the Little Girl within in me, memories of abuse and the courage to confront my father, and forge genuine relationships with
those around me, beginning with myself.

THE VOICE OF BEAST is a 85, 000 word memoir told through both Beast's eyes and my own as I awaken to pain and then surrender it into God's hands; my ashes for His beauty. This book is for those affected by mental illness, particularly those who battle with self-harm or depression and have their own Œbeasts¹ and Œignored little girls¹ living inside them. It offers insider's perceptions to anyone who has a relationship or support and counseling role with abuse survivors or mental health suffers. It reaches out to anyone who has ever had cause to hurt, or ever ached to ask God the difficult questions surrounding abuse and its effects. The foreword is
written by [insert name], BOccThy (UQ), MCouns (CHC), counselor, guest speaker and university lecturer.

I contribute regularly to Footprints Magazine (Australia) and wrote on the topic of Self harm in my article Beast: A Story of Self Harm for their winter 2009 issue. I have also been published in Home Life Magazine (USA) and Parenting Express (Australia).

I am seeking agent representation and would appreciate your consideration. Thank you for your superhuman effort to connect with and support writers via your blog. I appreciate that you represent the works of fine authors like [insert name of author] and [insert name of author], whose soon to be released book promises to expose tough questions about Christianity and her
search for authentic answers.

Included with this email, as requested, are the first ten pages of my memoir.

I look forward to hearing from you.

[insert my name]

(please note that this query is targeted to a specific agent and follows her
guidelines for what to include, thus the mention of target audience for


Tabitha Bird said...

Okay, so I am going to put my hand up and own this one. Now, I know it needs work and I have already picked up that spelling mistake. I am really happy to hear honest feedback on this one, so pick it to bits, but try not to shot me :) Memoirs are really hard to know how to query. This one follows as much info as I could find on how to do it, but I am sure there is so much I don't know. Comments much appreciated :)

Tabitha Bird said...

sorry, I meant 'shoot'...

Donna Hole said...


I have written and deleted several responses to your query. Let me assure you it has nothing to do with the content of your disclosure, it is merely a uncertainty of how to give feedback on such personal, sensitive issues.

This critique is on the quality of the query - which I do believe should actually take the form of a proposal for memoir. So let me know if you feel I am being insensitive or offensive to your specific issues themselves.

I'm not sure exactly what a writer is supposed to put in a memoir proposal, but I think it is supposed to cover why you are writing your story, who your target audience is, what message you are trying to impart in the telling, things like that.

I'm not clear on your motivation or your message. You state (This book is for . .) clearly who your target audience is, but the not why they would be interested in YOUR STORY. People suffering from the same mental health issues as yourself already have an "insider's view" of the illness, though they may not be able to articulate their feelings in the same manner you have discovered.

If you are writing this as a journal, as a way of (ooh, tricky here) working through and, uhm, divesting yourself of the memories and emotions, then it would be very cathartic for yourself, but not necessarily for someone in your same situation.

If you were perhaps writing this - and hopefully publishing this - for families of similarily afflicted individuals, then you need to bring out that concept much more strongly in the "query".

I wonder if the Agent wouldn't like to know what medium to expect in the memoir. By that I mean, what form the writing will take. Is it journal entries, or narrative, or story format? Are you relating the journey in the present tense, as it is happening, or recounting something in the past.

I am also not getting a sense that your have recovered from the issues that brought about the "self harm". You mention several times that "The Beast" is a voice you use to get your story told, and has enabled you to turn your pain over to God, but says nothing of struggles you have overcome to become a healthy individual able to function and interact within accepted society.

To get this far in your journey towards self discovery, you must have had innate strengths. It is that I'd like to see you capitalize on. Yes, tell the agent you had struggles and issues, and even disclose some of them, but also show how you overcame and became a better, stronger person. The person who now can tell her story, and possibly assist others in attaining the self fulfillment you have discovered.

I feel you have written an excellent description of your journey, a story that needs to be told, but I'm not getting a clear picture in this query.

I wish you well on your agent searc journey.


Anonymous said...

Tabitha, I looked at your website after reading your blog, and I have to say I was very relieved to see that you must be in a very good place with your life and family. Based upon the Beast, I was scared what I might find.

Regarding your query, your memoir may be one of the few times where I don't think the query letter or the writing matters that much. The query communicates that the memoir is going to be powerful. Everything is going to pale in comparison to your story. I probably would not read your book because it would scare and sadden me but I know a lot of people who would run to the bookstore for it. Even though you made it through the abuse, I would not want to have to experience your pain. I write fiction (try to anyway) and the imagination that is a huge asset in that process can become problematic when exposed to dark thoughts or images, if that makes any sense to you.

Just reading the query is an emotional punch to the gut. I admire your courage, your life is your living manuscript. Someone is going to get lucky and get this manuscript. My only caveat would be to make sure you choose an agent who does not in any way identify with the that might be a risk. Get someone who is detached and sees it purely for the art. I think if you get someone who gets emotionally attached to your story it could lead to some problems.

Your query is a reminder of the power inherent in a story.

Please let us know what happens. Rick's blog is about queries, but your story is so much bigger.

Tara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TLH said...

I can't offer too much here, since all of my research has focused on fiction queries. Memoirs are their own animal, separate even from non-fiction. I know that you have to have the memoir complete (done), but then you write the letter more as a proposal (as you would for regular non-fiction). That's about the limit of my knowledge.

I should say, though, having read some of your work, that this letter does not do your writing justice. Your voice in your writing is very strong and unique, a reflection of your inner self, and I would like to see more of that in the letter. I know an agent that reads your work would sign you without hesitation, but you are better than this letter shows us.

Having said that, I will try to give you my thoughts based on my experience writing letters to agents.

Start with that first question, the spark for the creation of Beast, and therefore the memoir: "What does the pain look like?" I would see this as your non-fiction "hook," the thing that makes your book so uniquely presented. This is what will drag the agent in from the first line.

Also, I would think that showing me how the story will be written would be more helpful to get a sense of you as a writer, instead of laying out the elements of the story itself. You might try to make the letter more narrative based on the reasons you wrote this, and why you want to publish it:

"What does the pain look like?" the counselor asks me. She invites me to know my pain. Beast is birthed the evening Esther asks this simple question..."

Does that make sense?

Sorry if this is really long! I love you and your work, so I want to try to help as best I can. Like I said, I know how immense an impact your story will have, and I want agents to see that right off the bat! If they pass this story up, they'd have to be crazy. :D


Tabitha Bird said...

Thanks for the comments all.
Donna, you raised some excellent points that I had not considered. You are right, I need to give a sense of having overcome and how that happened.

As far as I am aware (and the agent who I want to submit to says as much on her blog) memoirs are queried like novels, but with the addition of target audience and yes, why I am writing the story.

So I will go back and rework it because I don't clearly define why I am writing it or why someone who has gone through what I went through would want to read it- very important points. thank you for bringing them up. Motivation and message need to be clearer.

And no, the book isn't written as a journal and I agree that would only benefit me. That's why I didn't write it like that. I will add in approach for writing it to.

Thank you so much Donna for the time to write a detailed feedback. Very helpful and I have pretty thick skin, but no, I didn't think you were insensitive at all :)

Tabitha Bird said...

TLH- thank you for your kinds words. yeah, I will work on the voice thing. I think you are right about that. I would rather write a whole book than a query letter. there seems like so much to say and so little space to make it happen. I'll work on the hook too. That first sentence is VERY hard :)

Tabitha Bird said...

Anon- Thank you for your comments. Yes, I am in a good place :)
Thanks for your insights though. Having gone through stuff you kind of forget that it is hard for others to read, and that the query needs to offer the hope I found in the end. And I understand why you wouldn't be able to read it. i totally get that :) I can't read a lot of these books myself. I don't think it will be a book for everyone, but hopefully it will be a book at the right time in the right place for someone...

Donna Hole said...

:) :) :)

Vipul said...

I am so glad you've written this memoir, Tabitha. My wife has suffered from severe depression, and I think there needs to be a lot more understanding about dealing with mental illness, particularly in the Christian world. Memoir queries are really tough, because it's combining fiction and non-fiction together. I like the format of your query: with a narrative at the start followed by your platform and experience. I think you just need to polish the first paragraph some, to make it a little more dramatic and have better flow. I also wonder if you have to write in the first-person present tense--maybe since it's first person you could get away with past tense, which would be much easier to write. (I don't really know.)

At any rate, this sounds really powerful, and I think it would appeal to not only those with mental illness but the many, many people who are affected around them.