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.
Dear Agent X: (Readers, please note that this author probably wrote “Agent X” just for this exercise. You should always use the agent’s name, as in “Dear Ms. Ruth”.)
Have you ever wondered if parents can love an adopted child as much as “one of their own”? When you first heard the story of the mother who sent her adopted son on a plane back to Russia with a note pinned to his jacket stating she “no longer wished to parent this child,” were you horrified? Were you empathetic?
I normally abhor questions at the beginning of a query, because you just don’t know what the agent’s internal response is going to be. What if my answer to the first question is, “No. I don’t really care.” In that case, I would read the rest of this query thinking I don’t care about what you have to say. In this case, I just so happened to be intrigued by the questions, but that’s left up to chance. Don’t leave it up to chance.
In Children of My Own: Bringing Borya Home, I bring first-hand perspective to thoughts like these in the tale of the adoption of my 13 year old son, who struggles with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Memoir is tough. Unless you’ve been through something no one has ever been through, or that is extremely compelling or extraordinary, a memoir is hard to sell. I’m already thinking about this after this paragraph. Many people write memoirs about their parenting experience, but unless it’s radically different from everyone else’s experience, it won’t be enough. I’m going to keep reading to see if this is different enough. The query itself, though, minus the questions in the beginning, has a good start.
In this 22 chapter (a word-count is good to know, but since we have no idea how long your chapters are, this is not helpful) memoir, readers will first be introduced to Borya in the dusty play yard of an orphanage in Kazakhstan when I was there adopting another child. (This is interesting because there are not many books set in Kazakhstan) They will learn of the five year quest to find him, adopt him, and bring him home. They will come to realize, as I have, that there is more to bringing someone home than changing their address. For children with RAD, bonding and attaching to a family does not come naturally, or easily, and sometimes it never comes at all. For a parent to love a child without reciprocity can be heartbreaking, and has led to parents disrupting adoptions, abusing their children, and even sending them back on a plane.
I’m mildly interested. I do think this is radically different enough to have potential.
This book describes my initiation into the world of RAD. There is raw honesty (always awesome, in a memoir) as I share my successes, my failures, my moments of weakness, my fear at thinking that I would not be able to do this. By weaving a few tales of my own upbringing throughout the book, I hope to give the reader some perspective as to who I am as a person, as another flawed and imperfect parent.
When I searched for books on RAD, I found many titles. After all, of the roughly one million children adopted annually, more than 10% will present with severe challenges related to RAD, and all prospective adoptive parents are instructed to educate themselves on this frightening “what-if”. The books I found, however, discuss treatment strategies for RAD, or delineate the ordeal of families who have struggled to come to terms with this disorder, only to end in sadness, with broken hearts and feelings of failure all around. To my surprise, I found no books that recounted personal tales of success in raising a child with RAD. My son, who has made so much progress towards becoming a part of our family, tells me I need to write this book so that others can see that it can be done.
Children of My Own has evolved into a book from its origins as a blog. The blog was begun during the adoption process, but continued once the kids were home so I could share both the comedy and insanity of raising six children while RAD unfolded itself before my eyes. The blog’s readership has grown to roughly 6,000 per month and has given hope to many other parents who are also struggling to raise a child with RAD.
Even outside of the adoption community, my story has served as an inspiration to many, and my platform is growing rapidly. In addition to the blog, I have several published essays/articles in the magazines Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, and Country Magazine, as well as two essays published in the book The Foster Parenting Toolbox, published by EMK Press. Through my blog, I have been contacted by an agent from the Magical Elves production company, who expressed interest in doing a segment about our family in an upcoming show. I have given permission for an adoption counselor to use posts to help educate prospective families. My blog is also featured periodically on the blog Five of My Own, which receives more than 60,000 hits per month.
Ms. X, I know I will need the guidance of a professional to help polish this manuscript (my first), (so, then you admit to being unpolished? This is risky. Even if you are a newbie, don’t wave that flag) and when I read your bio and saw that you specialize in blog-to-book projects, (it does not say that in my bio. And I don’t. I wonder whose bio you were looking at? Did you just assume?) I had such a strong feeling that you are the person to champion this book. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and I hope you will see something in my story that you feel is worth telling.
This query is a bit long and rambling. Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 are fine. The only truly helpful information in paragraphs 5 and 6 are the statistics on how many kids are adopted and how many face RAD-related challenges, the fact that you have a successful blog with an audience (is it 6,000 or 60,000? You’ve used both figures.) and that you have six adopted (?) kids. This information should be concisely incorporated into paragraph 7. The rest can be scrapped without consequence.
All in all, this wasn’t half-bad. And while I think this query rambles a bit, and I have a hunch the rest of the manuscript does too, I would like to request it anyway. This subject matter is compelling to me, and I’m curious to see what the author does with it.