QueryDice #42

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

There is no greeting in this query. This won’t get you an immediate rejection, but agents would rather you address them personally, otherwise, they’ll feel like you’ve just dropped something in their lap and walked away. 

It’s the question that women in every century, in every part of the world have asked.

It’s the question that I asked myself four years ago, before a frantic trip to Rite-Aid during my senior year of college.

Am I pregnant?

The above is a great way to turn the oft-scorned hypothetical or rhetorical question into a definitive statement. This author could have written, “What would you do if you found out you were pregnant when you were in college?” That question, even if it is a compelling one, would have had me rolling my eyes. Who cares? Tell me about your book instead of asking me useless questions. Great job, there.

For me, and the one-million college-aged women in the U.S. who face unplanned pregnancy, two tiny blue lines announced one life lost, one life just beginning.

I’m not sure how I feel about the word “lost” in the above sentence. Remember that anyone reading your query brings his or her own baggage to it, and that baggage is going to color it. I happen to be a mother, and I happen to have found out I was pregnant as a very young wife on my college campus, and I happen to have thought my life was totally done-for. I cried all the way home on the A-train, like one of New York’s numerous psychos. There is a Duane Reade I cannot pass without thinking of that page of my life. Turns out, being a mom is not the death sentence I thought it was, but something entirely different and awesome. So the words “one life lost” are offensive to me. I suspect that what you meant to get across is that college girls who find out they’re pregnant invariably feel like they’re losing their life. But don’t leave the impact of your words up to the reader’s ability (or lack thereof) to infer and be reasonable.

Struggling with the difficult emotions, stigmas, and decisions surrounding an unplanned pregnancy, I searched for an inspirational and practical book directed towards women like me, but found nothing.  Non-fiction books in the market focused on older mothers as well as teenage mothers, with a noticeable absence on the college-aged mother.

After I successfully navigated college as a pregnant student, found the resources and help I needed, and joyfully (albeit painfully) delivered my daughter sans-epidural one week after graduation, [redacted] was born. [redacted] is the non-fiction book I sought while pregnant; A slightly irreverent, hopeful and humorous, yet realistic and down-to-earth account of my story and the stories of other women, in dealing with pregnancy, classes and a newborn, telling the parents, and defying societal stereotypes.

I would rather know, right off the bat, about your book, rather than about your personal story. Very often, authors use a query letter to tell the reader how they came to write the book, but this information is not very important. What is important, is the book’s ability to sell. An agent is thinking, who would buy this? Is there a place for this on bookstore shelves? Use the words you have to tell us what the book offers to college-age moms and to the scared crying-on-the-A-train girl. The following sentence is the tip of the iceberg I want to see.

College-aged mothers are not “Teen Mom” material, nor are they ready for the soccer-mom and mini-van crowd; [redacted] reaches this new generation of mothers under the veil of what they really are–smart, successful, and driven individuals searching for a way to be accepted as mothers.

As the former College Outreach Program Coordinator for the  pro-woman organization Feminists for Life, I have helped hundreds of student activists bring pregnant and parenting resources to their campuses.  Continuing now as a professional speaker for Feminists for Life, I deliver lectures and workshops on Capitol Hill and across the country.  My work with Feminists for Life has been featured in national publications, such as The Boston Pilot, and on Catholic TV.

Currently, I work as a labor and delivery nurse, continuing a passion for caring and advocating for women and their children. Now married and the mother of two daughters, I am pursuing a life-long dream of writing, with work published on Yahoo Shine, Babble, Scrubs, and in online health publications

The last two paragraphs, while they can be boiled down a bit, are great and they are the most important part of your query. When I was an agent–and I know I wasn’t alone–I would read the bio paragraph of a nonfiction query before reading the synopsis portion. Why? Because if the author has no platform or means by which to market herself and her book, there’s no point reading further.

[redacted] is the first book of its kind to reach out specifically to the one-million college-aged woman who have unplanned pregnancies each year in the United States. This is a book that will change the face of young motherhood.

A completed book proposal is available at your request. I look forward to hearing from you and I thank you for your time.

Warmest regards, <–There’s something really nice and comforting about this send-off.

This query needs some work, but as an agent, I probably would have wanted to see a proposal. My last suggestion has more to do with your book than your query: expand this to reach the largest possible audience while still focusing on the niche audience you’ve already targeted. Publishers (and agents) will want to know how to get the highest sales numbers for your book and that means they will wonder how many people are going to buy this…how many college-age moms are really out there? I advise against using the word “college” anywhere near the title, and overusing it in your query, proposal and manuscript. Make this a guide for women between the ages of 18 and, let’s say, 25. Then, in your query, tell us about what you’re offering to those women. Insight? Comfort? Know-how? Do you touch on money? Social services programs for young moms? What will it be like to juggle motherhood, maybe school, a job, dating if that’s the case, the naked ring-finger but big belly embarrassment? Lastly, you have not given us a word-count.

Good luck. I would have liked (and bought) a book like this back when I was the girl on the A-train.



Posted on September 6, 2012, in Advice, literary agency, manuscripts, publishing, queries, Query Dice, rejection, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Thanks to everyone for clarifying. I agree it’s important to state openly and up front exactly what the book is about.

    I recently read a novel that was actually just propaganda. The true subject was never mentioned in any of the book’s descriptions; it hit like a sledgehammer about a quarter of the way through and never let up. I was so angry I didn’t finish reading it. Had the author been honest and up front, I wouldn’t have had a problem.

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I love reading QueryDice and always find it a great learning opportunity. Hope you do too. 🙂 Enjoy!!

  3. PS– I should add I have no idea if the author HAS a stealth agenda or not. As I said, if she doesn’t, she should take the mention of FFL out of the query. If she does, she should rewrite the query and un-stealth it.

    • I think the mention of the author’s work with the FFL is important for developing platform in the query. The author might consider clarifying that while she does have marketing opportunities with the organization, the book takes no specific point of view in that regard…if that’s the case.

  4. To both Ella’s. This isn’t a political comment on your advice. I’m just curious.

    If the book had been written from an entirely “Pro-choice” perspective, would you say the author was trying to “proselytize a certain political viewpoint”?

    Would you have advised her to add a “Pro-Life” perspective in order to achieve a “straight up nonjudgmental book” and make her audience as wide as possible?


    Dawn, to be honest, I’d probably use different phrasing but would still think the author was making an unwise choice, if she was offering one thing and providing another. I’ve always, since childhood, been annoyed by “stealth” messages, whether moral, political, or religious, and whether I agreed with them or not.

    I feel completely different if a book is up-front about its agenda. There’s obviously a place for books that take a political stance– and they usually have titles and blurbs that tell us what that stance is. Then the reader can make an informed choice to read them– “I’d like to learn more about this viewpoint”.

    I also agree with Lauren’s comment that seeking a wide audience is best. The book described in the query would have a much wider audience than a book that was pro-choice or anti-choice. In the internet age, of course, a book with a stealth agenda would be outed by reviewers on goodreads or amazon before you could say “Roe v. Wade.” And that would lead to low numbers of stars on both sites, which never, ever helps.

    • Also Ella! (who from now on will be known as Ella Finley)

      That is precisely what I think. My issue is not that the book is pro-life, but that it isn’t clear about the fact that it is. I would have the same issue were the author part of a pro-choice organization. I would think about perhaps saying this book is for the new adult women who raise their children- without denigrating either side- and leave politics out of it altogether.

  5. To both Ella’s. This isn’t a political comment on your advice. I’m just curious.

    If the book had been written from an entirely “Pro-choice” perspective, would you say the author was trying to “proselytize a certain political viewpoint”?

    Would you have advised her to add a “Pro-Life” perspective in order to achieve a “straight up nonjudgmental book” and make her audience as wide as possible?


    • Dawne:

      That’s a great food-for-thought question. I’d like to weigh in. I think no matter what the book’s aim is, or what it is about, the author should attempt to target the widest audience possible. The widest is often pretty small, though. If this is in fact a politically bent book, the audience would of course need to be limited. I would advise the author not to let the book lean either way and focus on ALL moms between the ages of 17 and 26.

      Great comment, thank you!

  6. Hm. I felt like I was seeing a niche for the book that the author was describing, until I got to the political aspect. Feminists for Life is an anti-choice organization. Specifically so: “Refuse To Choose!”. So when the author mentioned her involvement in that group, I wondered if the book was just a disguised polemic.

    My advice to the writer: If you plan to take a strong anti-choice stance in the book, leave the FLL mention in to avoid ructions. If the book doesn’t take such a stance, if this really is a straight-up, nonjudgmental book about dealing with pregnancy in college, then take the FLL mention out.

    Btw, “refuse to choose” seems self-contradictory. Isn’t refusing to choose a choice?

    • PS– oops, I mean FFL.

    • Also Ella! (Ella, you and I really should choose code names or something)

      I was completely taken with this query (though it needed a little bit of polish) until I got to the OTHER Ella’s comments. I did not know that FFL had such a strong political bent, and that worries me.

      I would say, include the info in your bio, but make sure to mention that your book takes NO political stance. Or if it does, I suppose you should include that too, though I would seriously reconsider that, since you’ll turn off a great portion of 18-25 year olds, including me.

      I’m a 21-year-old college student, and though I’m not a mother, I know other people my age who have gone through the process you describe. I would definitely buy them this book, as long as it didn’t proselytize a certain political viewpoint. Make your audience as wide as possible.

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