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See, it’s a good thing when I post those big whiny complaints because I get so much encouragement and positive feedback, it keeps me going. I especially appreciated hearing from all the people who said they could tell exactly which words in the DF article were mine and which were the editor’s. I guess my voice is being heard above the static after all!

I’m taking a deep breath and diving right in by posting two verisons of my query letter for your very expert review. I feel nervous about this, like it’s easier to send these to perfect strangers (even perfect strangers who hold the key to my future career) than to show them to you. Sort of like how it’s emotionally safer to make out with some random crush at a party than to kiss your best guy friend (I’m talking years and years ago, people). You know, that sense of vulnerability or fear of judgement that exists with the people who know you best. But oh well, I’ve never been one for sitting on the sidelines avoiding vulnerability, so here goes.

Keep in mind that a query letter serves as your introduction to a literary agent, who you hope will then read your enclosed pages (usually five to ten, depending on what they ask for) instead of automatically putting them in the reject pile. This golden letter is one page and one page only (and both of mine, which officially fit on one page, veer towards long so don’t tell me to combine it all into one version). The query should include your hook (the quickie statement about what makes your book special, which I have yet to perfect), a brief synopsis or overview of your story, and any relevant information about the author (which can be left out if you have no publishing history). Agents receive upwards of fifty unsolicited queries a day, so they are rather quick to reject them. Feeling desperate yet?

And now…..

Version One:

Dear Gatekeeper of my Future (or Mr/Mrs So-and-So),

The luckiest. That is what we called ourselves, that is what we believed we were. We were wrong.

My 81,900-word memoir Whoosh: One Ordinary Family, One Extraordinary Year traces my son Austin’s eight-month battle with bilateral Wilms’ tumor, a rare and sneaky pediatric kidney cancer. All the elements of a typical cancer story are present: A family’s stunned disbelief as we slowly reconcile the idea of this dreaded, deadly disease with our lively, lovely child. The litany of gruesome medical procedures, surgery after surgery, complication after infection, night after night in the hospital. The anguish of parents forced to admit that even the fiercest love may not conquer all. But this narrative touches upon the unexpected as well: The atheist mother grappling with how to accept the prayers of others on behalf of her child. The moments of laughter and joy, normal family life carrying on despite our horrific new reality. The concern for all that our other son stands to lose, from his beloved brother to the gift of growing up in a home not shadowed by sadness. And also this: There is hope, amidst the gritty and the heartbreaking, the mundane and the humorous, there is always hope and there is always love.

Whoosh tells Austin’s story with raw immediacy, interweaving postings from the Carepage blog I wrote during his illness with private journal entries. The inclusion of the most poignant messages posted by Carepage visitors lends a conversational tone to the book, drawing the reader directly into our lives. Like Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place, you can “come for the writing, stay for the drama. Or vice versa. Either way, you won’t regret it,” (San Francisco Chronicle). But unlike Corrigan, who is stuck between being a mother and being a daughter, trying to balance caring for her sick father with caring for her sick self with caring for her healthy children, my role is unambiguous: I am the mother. And my task is clear and pure: I will care for my son, I must save my son.

I have enclosed the first xx pages and would be happy to send the completed manuscript upon your request. Please note that I am simultaneously submitting this to other agencies. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

KDG

Some comments, although I should really let you think these things on your own: It’s often recommended to compare yourself to a current book or author, while also pointing out how your work differs from theirs. Of course, my comment about Kelly Corrigan is a tad obnoxious as she is on the NYT Bestseller list and I basically said I was as good a writer as she. At least I didn’t say Oprah would love my book (which she would!).

And numero dos:

Dear xx,

The setting: From a hot July day to the cusp of spring the following year, from Cleveland’s premiere children’s hospital to our nearby home and back again and back again and back again.  The protagonist: Ten-month-old Austin, a sweet and spunky boy facing the fight of his life, while his parents and brother watch from the sidelines, doing all they can but never convinced they can do enough.  The antagonist: The brutal rogue that is cancer, six tumors destroying Austin’s kidneys, taking up vital space in his small body and challenging him and his family to an epic battle.

Whoosh: One Ordinary Family, One Extraordinary Year, an 81,900-word memoir, traces my son’s eight-month battle with bilateral Wilms’ tumor, a rare and sneaky pediatric cancer of the kidney.  Austin is obviously the hero of the book, but it is also a mother’s story and a mother’s journey, as she moves from a gloriously normal life to the edge of disaster and back again.  Part medical mystery, part epic adventure, part motivational guide, Whoosh is, at its essence, a love story: a great big public declaration of a mother’s love for her sick son, her healthy son, her husband, the family, friends, doctors and nurses, and wide community that sustained one family through its darkest hour.

Told with raw immediacy as the drama unfolds, Whoosh interweaves postings from the Carepage blog I wrote during Austin’s illness with private journal entries. The inclusion of the most poignant messages posted by Carepage visitors lends a conversational tone to the book, drawing the reader directly into our lives. While Austin’s tale is both as stunningly extraordinary and sadly ordinary as any other sick child’s tale, it is rendered with such an abiding love and endless optimism that this book would appeal to anyone who has ever been afraid,  down on their luck, or faced with a nearly impossible task. It is a lesson in hope, in community, in courage, a lesson in living and dying and loving.

I have enclosed the first xx pages and would be happy to send the completed manuscript upon your request. Please note that I am simultaneously submitting this to other agencies. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

KDG

Alrighty, there you have it. Please post your comments here, good and bad, I can take it, I promise!

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