Friday, August 07, 2015

Query Critique: Nonfiction

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Greetings Query Queen:
Everyday parenting is demanding enough, but expecting parental perfection is the curse of our age. As a grandmother, I have seen way too many households ruled by small despots, with parents scurrying to clear the path for the mini-monarchs. Really? I wonder. Could this be doing anyone any good? 
            Grandma Has Seen It All, and She Suggests That You Avert Your Eyes gives moms and dads the support and tools they need to enjoy a more balanced, productive, and fun parenthood. The tone is calm, authoritative, and light. I haunt mommy blogs and toy-strewn playrooms, and load up my pocketbook with nuggets of wisdom from the best current research. The book will be 250 -300 pages.
            Some background: my book, [redacted], was quoted on the front page of the New York Times, and Time magazine, and sparked a family meals movement. Since becoming a grandmother (I now have four grandchildren.) For years, I have written a family meals blog for the [redacted] Company. I have written a blog about grandparenting for [redacted]. And I have my own grandmother blog. Now I want to help the beleaguered parents I have seen in my recent time on the playground. Many of them could do with the hugs and forgiveness and dignity that they lavish on their children.
            Today’s parents wistfully recall the freedom they enjoyed as youngsters, but insist that the world is now too dangerous to let their kids out of their sight, despite all evidence to the contrary. Child abduction? Recent research from the University of New Hampshire shows that children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children. We turn our worry that our kids won’t get into college or get good jobs into straight jackets for them and for us.  And our culture of competitive, fear-centric parenting doesn’t help. Today’s families are smaller, with older parents who are unlikely to have experience taking care of kids other than their own. We are facing a famine of common sense. Somebody has to call “Time!”
            I trace the beginnings of our current “priceless child” mentality to the end of the 19th century, and help parents to move themselves, and their families, out of the path of this anxiety juggernaut. The bonus is that our kids are more likely to grow up to be responsible, optimistic, capable, fun-loving adults.
            Important books about the meaning of parenting draw wide audiences and spark intense conversations across the culture. Many of the recent popular books have been written not by parenting experts, but by journalists like myself. This book, which questions current assumptions and gives parents more satisfying options, has the potential to be such a book. 
            More background: an earlier book, [redacted], won the National Jewish Book Award, was on the Boston Globe bestseller list, and was translated into German, French, and Dutch.
 Many thanks,

Miriam Weinstein

I have to say. This is a really strong query.

I love that you started out with "Greetings" instead of the typical "Dear". While it's not that big of a deal I think it opens the book in a friendly, cheerful way and I think it really represents your voice and tone.

Your first paragraph grabbed me and hooked me in. I'm not a fan of rhetorical questions, but it works here.

I don't love your title. It just doesn't grab me, but that can easily be fixed. By the way, I only thing titles can be easily fixed if the rest of the query is working for me.

It's smart to open with your credits which are quite impressive. What would add to this would be numbers. When writing nonfiction, we want to know who your audience is and how big they are. We don't need numbers on everything, but generally that you're reaching 10,000 people a week would be hugely helpful. This is almost required. Mommy bloggers were huge a few years ago, but the ones who sold books had not just a great voice and idea, but a huge following.

My only concern with the next paragraph is that it feels very specific and a little judgmental. Not the tone any parent wants, especially from a grandparent. I wonder if you can't blend the next two paragraphs, discuss some of the specific issues you will be addressing, but also talk about tracing the "priceless child" trend.

I think you have a good idea here and I won't be surprised if you get lots of requests on this.



Christian said...

I would most certainly read this book based on Grandma's query!

Although, Jessica, I disagree with your comment about the tone being too judgmental. Many new parents (myself included) are concerned that they may become helicopter parents even as they notice themselves tripping into the very same snares they hope to avoid (e.g., spending excessive time analyzing the pros and cons of buying organic strawberries although the effects of a single purchase are miniscule).

An author with a strong opinion is as endearing as your favorite personal trainer: a bit of yelling is necessary to get you through the pain!

More critiques, please! I love to read the queries.

AJ Blythe said...

I'm not very familiar with non-fiction queries, although I know the process is done before the book is written, as opposed to after for fiction. So I can't offer much comment on this query, other than to say it would be great if you could reach parents with this book!