Ask Daphne! About My Query VIII

May 21st, 2009 • Kate

ajustshoesAdjustable shoes for C.C., who is today’s “About My Query” contestant. We’re switching things up today, with an adult nonfiction proposal. Things to bear in mind: the tone and audience is vastly different from a YA or middle grade novel, but the query still needs to hook a reader. How’d she do?

Dear Daphne Un:

I am currently working on a project entitled Reaching for Sanity: Bipolar Chica’s Journey. This book will discuss what it’s like to be a newly diagnosed Bipolar Disorder patient, from everyday nuisances like mania, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, and hallucinations, and explain them in easy-to-understand language. It will then look at different methods of treatment usually provided by psychiatrists to herbs and teas. The enclosed table of contents and overview provide more information about the scope and organization of the memoir, which I believe will run about 62,000 words.

You are probably aware that the diagnosis of bipolar patients is on the uprise. 5.7 million patients have Bipolar Disorder in the United States. This means that three out of a hundred Americans have the disorder. This doesn’t include the amount of children and adolescents that are being diagnosed each year. The numbers of psychiatrists are 13.7, the numbers of psychologists are 31.1 and the numbers of social workers are 35.3 per 100,000 patients in each state of America.

As a Bipolar patient with over three years of experience, I know that most patients are interested in doing all they can to maintain their mental health. Yet all too many psychiatrists are only familiar with the medications they prescribe. They aren’t familiar with first hand knowledge of the disorder and how the medications affect patients. The Bipolar Disorder books now on the market reflect this fact, offering little guidance for the patient that wishes to optimize their mental health, the use of medications and their side effects. While this book will cover similar subjects addressed in other bipolar memoirs, it will give the readers something they’ve never had before: a true first-hand experience of treatment of a Bipolar Disorder patient.

Much of my success as a Bipolar Patient has stemmed from many hours of research on the disorder. After many years of blogging online, Psych Central.com named my blog Best of Bipolar Blogs ‘08. I published an article on Health.com entitled Life as a Bipolar Mom. I now write weekly columns in my blog at www.bipolarchica.com.

It is my hope that Reaching for Sanity: Bipolar Chica’s Journey will guide patients in helping them live longer and healthier lives. I look forward to receiving your response to this proposal. Please be aware that this is a multiple submission.

Sincerely,
C.C.

Here’s my worry, C.C. I think you’re trying to do two vastly different things with this book, and that’s the #1 problem with a lot of nonfiction proposals (I may be pulling that number out of my head, but it’s close). From what you’re telling me, I don’t see that you have any qualification to write a medical book on bipolar disorder. As a patient with a blog that’s been acknowledged by your peers, you ARE qualified to write a memoir, and I think you should concentrate on that.

Trying to do too much — to both tell your personal story and provide information for other patients — is overreaching. If you wrote a brilliant memoir, other patients might turn to your blog for more general information. But if you try to do everything at once, you risk alienating those readers who would be interested in a well-crafted memoir, regardless of their own mental condition — and that needs to be the audience you reach for, not others with bipolar disorder.

As a memoir, the book needs to be finished, not just outlined. And your query letter needs to tell the reader more about you and your personal story, not the bland statistics of the disorder. For more helpful advice on crafting a nonfiction proposal or memoir query, check out fellow Colorado literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s helpful blog posts on platform here, here, and here.

What do you guys think? Is this something you would pick up? How would you improve the query?

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7 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query VIII”

  1. Scott Says:

    Just a few thoughts . . .

    You are probably aware that the diagnosis of bipolar patients is on the uprise – no, I'm not aware of that. Personally, this sounds way too familiar and casual for a non-fiction proposal.

    On a more positive note, the 'newly diagnosed' part, and how she deals with the disorder sounds interesting. Overall, I think the whole premise is far too general. There's nothing to really hook me. What is unique about CC's experience? Is she going to detail treating bipolar through herbs/teas versus traditional medicine? If so, that would pique my interest.

    S

  2. Jamie Says:

    I stumbled on the you are probably aware part because I'm not at all aware of that statistic.

    I would actually leave out that paragraph entirely and the one before it as well, because the third paragraph is where I start to get interested in the proposal…

    Your story is an interesting one though, and it seems like it would be really helpful to others going through the same thing!

  3. gm Says:

    I think these sentences should be rephrased:

    >>It will then look at different methods of treatment usually provided by psychiatrists to herbs and teas.

    as

    It will then look at different methods of treatment provided by psychiatrists from X and Y, to herbs and teas.

    Where X and Y are vastly different methods from herbs and teas in terms of treatment.

    Also,

    >>As a Bipolar patient with over three years of experience

    Three years of experience sounds like something we put on a resume. Probably you can rephrase it to:

    As a patient of Bipolar disorder for over three years…

  4. cv Says:

    Just a question regarding Daphne's response. Daphne, you say that as a memoir, C.C.'s book should be FINISHED by the time she contacts a publisher. Is that the case for all genres? What if you have an outline for a YA work, with about 2/3 fleshed in–is it unacceptable to contact a publisher at that point?

    Thanks,

    cv

  5. CC Says:

    Thanks for all the help! I'm sorry I couldn't respond sooner, but my father has been in the hospital going on three weeks now. When I've completed my query, may I send it back for a quick look?

    Thanks for everything,

    CC

  6. Kate Says:

    CV – Unless you've been previously published or are writing serious nonfiction, your manuscript should absolutely be finished — and revised — before you consider contacting publishers or agents.

    Cheers,

    Kate

  7. CC Says:

    Which book on queries do you recommend? Right now I'm reading How to Write Irresistible Queries.

    I've been keeping up with you on Twitter!

    Thanks,

    CC

    @bipolarchica