Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

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elmtree322
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Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by elmtree322 » February 5th, 2011, 8:11 pm

Hi all! This is my first draft of a query for my travel memoir, English Lessons. As this is in its first stages, I would appreciate any and all thoughts! Thanks!


Dear [agent],

I’m seeking representation for my travel memoir, English Lessons: An American Girl’s Quest to Become British in 52 Weeks. I’m querying you because of your work with [insert specifics here].

For one year, my attempts at experiencing British culture were described in newspaper print: I saw Roger Fedderer take the record for most Wimbledon wins; spent two nights in a Cornish castle; met with Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles…twice; played an ill-advised polo match despite never having ridden a horse in my life; donned a giant bee suit to serve as mascot for a game of pro football (that’s soccer to you and me).

A nice Jewish girl from South Florida, I had no idea where I would sleep or how I would earn a living when I first landed in London, a broken heart causing me to flee with little planning. Fortunately, a newspaper job led to a weekly column, Erica from America, chronicling my haphazard and disastrous attempts at navigating Tube stops, radiators and surprising communication barriers. Apparently, we do not share a common language.

I presented a goal of 52 adventures to readers, one for each week of the year, aimed at turning me into a tea-swilling Brit by the end of twelve months.

Travels took me to Rome and Venice, to Barcelona and some place called Düsseldorf. I visited the Middle East and North Africa, enjoying a particularly moist ride with a spitting camel named Carmel. I attended the races at Royal Ascot, dined with a lord and lady, performed at the Globe Theater, watched the sunrise at Stonehenge and drank lots and lots of lager.
At the end of it, I realized adventure can be found whether you’re abroad or at home, and love and friendship are worth its weight in luggage fees.

I’m a professional journalist, a current associate editor with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and a past reporter with the Jewish Journal and London Jewish News. I’ve tested the salability of this work of narrative non-fiction through my blog, Erica from America. Please let me know if you would like to read the completed 85,000 word manuscript.

Thanks for your consideration,

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Dankrubis
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by Dankrubis » February 5th, 2011, 9:39 pm

Wow. Honestly, this doesn't need much work, if any at all. You've presented yourself quite professionally, and it sounds like a great read. If I were an agent, I'd ask for a partial. And I'm picky as shit.

But you asked for a critique! All I can do is nitpick. But since this is already so tight, if I were you, I wouldn't listen to a word I say. But here goes. Things I take issue with are in red, my thoughts are in blue.
elmtree322 wrote: Dear [agent],

I’m seeking representation for my travel memoir, English Lessons: An American Girl’s Quest to Become British in 52 Weeks. I’m querying you because of your work with [insert specifics here].

For one year, my attempts at experiencing British culture were described in newspaper print: I'm not sure the setup here is ideal. You're basically saying, 'Hey, here's some things I was involved in that were in the newspaper!" Totally get Fedderer, Tony Blair, the Queen, the Prince, but a polo match? A Cornish castle? A mascot? It all sounds amazing, but with the way you set it up, I was like "How did this Cornish castle make it in the paper? Was there a story about her being a bee? Etc. I saw Roger Fedderer take the record for most Wimbledon wins; spent two nights in a Cornish castle; met with Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles…twice; played an ill-advised polo match despite never having ridden a horse in my life; donned a giant bee suit to serve as mascot for a game of pro football (that’s soccer to you and me).

A nice Jewish girl from South Florida, I had no idea where I would sleep or how I would earn a living when I first landed in London, a broken heart causing me to flee with little planning. Fortunately, a newspaper job led to a weekly column, Erica from America, chronicling my haphazard and disastrous attempts at navigating Tube stops,I have no idea what a Tube stop is. I'm assuming, possibly incorrectly, that American agents don't know either. radiators navigating radiators? Que? and surprising communication barriers. Apparently, we do not share a common language. I take slight issue with this sentence. I think 'surprising communication barriers' is sufficient for getting your point across. When you take it even further, I found myself disagreeing with you. Of course we share a common language, we both speak English. But I think your point is that there are a TON of crazy little differences, almost to the point where you literally can't understand some people, and I think that comes across perfectly with 'surprising communication barriers.'

I presented a goal of 52 adventures to readers, one for each week of the year, aimed at turning me into a tea-swilling Brit by the end of twelve months.

Travels took me to Rome and Venice, to Barcelona and some place called Düsseldorf. I visited the Middle East and North Africa, enjoying a particularly moist ride with a spitting camel named Carmel. Love the camel comment, pretty sweet. I attended the races at Royal Ascot, dined with a lord and lady, performed at the Globe Theater, watched the sunrise at Stonehenge and drank lots and lots of lager.
At the end of it, I realized adventure can be found whether you’re abroad or at home, and love and friendship are worth its weight in luggage fees. Hmmm. Worth its weight in luggage fees. The cliche is 'worth its weight in gold.' Luggage fees are cheap, or at least a lot cheaper than gold. It's almost like you're taking a cheap shot at love and friendship, but that can't be it. I... don't really get it.

I’m a professional journalist, a current associate editor with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and a past reporter with the Jewish Journal and London Jewish News. I’ve tested the salability of this work of narrative non-fiction through my blog, Erica from America. I find this statement a bit odd. It's like it begs an answer that you don't give. "Hey agent! I tested the salability of my book on my blog!" You expect the next sentence to be something like, "People love it!" or "My views per page/time per visit/other random blog stat increased immensely!" Please let me know if you would like to read the completed 85,000 word manuscript.

Thanks for your consideration,
All right, there ya go. Feel free to ignore everything I suggested. I really think you'd get plenty of bites as is. Good luck!

elmtree322
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by elmtree322 » February 5th, 2011, 10:11 pm

Thanks very much Dankrubis! As you are now officially the first person to comment on my query, it's nice to hear I may be hitting the right tone. Your comments make a lot of sense, and I'll definitiely be using some of them to revise. Thanks again!

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on the blog line. Has anyone else had experience with mentioning a blog tied to their work in a query letter?

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Quill
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by Quill » February 6th, 2011, 1:44 am

elmtree322 wrote:
I’m seeking representation for my travel memoir, English Lessons: An American Girl’s Quest to Become British in 52 Weeks. I’m querying you because of your work with [insert specifics here].
Your title would normally be ALL CAPS including subtitle.
For one year, my attempts at experiencing British culture were described in newspaper print: I saw Roger Fedderer take the record for most Wimbledon wins; spent two nights in a Cornish castle; met with Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles…twice; played an ill-advised polo match despite never having ridden a horse in my life; donned a giant bee suit to serve as mascot for a game of pro football (that’s soccer to you and me).
Good. My only nitpick would be to omit "in my life" as being redundant to "never".

Otherwise I keep seeing this list bullet-pointed for some reason. I think all the semi-colons are a little awkward and disturb the flow some.
A nice Jewish girl from South Florida, I had no idea where I would sleep or how I would earn a living when I first landed in London, a broken heart causing me to flee with little planning.
Ah, the heart of the matter. Too bad some of this couldn't be in the subtitle; as it is it seems a bit frivolous (and long).
Fortunately, a newspaper job led to a weekly column, Erica from America, chronicling my haphazard and disastrous attempts at navigating Tube stops, radiators and surprising communication barriers. Apparently, we do not share a common language.
Okay this is your second listing of items from the year of adventures, but it largely works. I'd pick one adjective for the Tube stops, though (haphazard OR disastrous), as I didn't find the Tube stops warranting two.
I presented a goal of 52 adventures to readers, one for each week of the year, aimed at turning me into a tea-swilling Brit by the end of twelve months.
Okay this is your second mention of 52 weeks to become a Brit, and it seemed repetitious, though very nicely worded here. Wondering WHY you wanted to become a Brit and why the time limit. Seems almost gimmicky, like that was the set up for the column (almost an arbitrary goal, as a marketing tool) and you just carried it over. Be better if there was another, deeper reason for it. Or am I just not getting that this is a completely humorous take on traveling.
Travels took me to Rome and Venice, to Barcelona and some place called Düsseldorf. I visited the Middle East and North Africa, enjoying a particularly moist ride with a spitting camel named Carmel.
Besides being the third list (and I wonder why we need three), I'm wondering why we are talking about other countries in the same breath/query/book about becoming a Brit. Confused, here. Are these part of the British Empire you are choosing to visit, or are you simply throwing in side trips that have nothing to do with Britain and becoming a Brit?
I attended the races at Royal Ascot, dined with a lord and lady, performed at the Globe Theater, watched the sunrise at Stonehenge
Now we seem to be back in England.
and drank lots and lots of lager.
Now we seem to have jumped back to Düsseldorf. Confusing.
At the end of it, I realized adventure can be found whether you’re abroad or at home, and love and friendship are worth its weight in luggage fees.
Good.
I’m a professional journalist, a current associate editor with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and a past reporter with the Jewish Journal and London Jewish News. I’ve tested the salability of this work of narrative non-fiction through my blog, Erica from America. Please let me know if you would like to read the completed 85,000 word manuscript.

Thanks for your consideration,
I think the blog mention is fine, but I feel you need to quantify your claim that you tested the work, by saying how.

Overall it sounds like an interesting book, though I'm not sure quite what is the tone of it, lightly humorous, laugh-out-out funny, or more or less a straight travel book laced with wit.

Your query seems a bit long, and it's probably due to the repetition of 52 weeks to become a brit, and also the three lists of activities. Maybe these could be condensed to one and two. Good luck!

elmtree322
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by elmtree322 » February 6th, 2011, 11:35 am

Thanks for the thoughts Quill. It looks like I could stand to do some condensing here. Also, it hadn't occurred to me that the references to other places I visited while abroad might be confusing. ANyone else have thoughts on this?

Thanks again!

glj
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by glj » February 6th, 2011, 5:37 pm

I agree with the previous comments, so won't repeat anything.

The phrase "For one year, my attempts at experiencing British culture were described in newspaper print" threw me, too. Upon re-reading, I think what you mean is that because you were working as a journalist, you not only had experiences but you also wrote them up and they were published in newspapers. I think this could be clearer, as I had to back up and re-read, then figured it out based on Dankrubis' comment.

Since "in 52 weeks" is in the title, is there some time limit? Is that why you included it in the title? Did the journalism job have the time limit, so you had to achieve British-ness within that time? Sounds like it could be fun and would be reflected in the newspaper articles you wrote, but maybe you could draw this out more in the letter? Just a thought.

It seems like paragraph 2 should be after paragraph 4? It seems out of order to me, presenting the result before the setup, but maybe you have a reason. That is just my impression upon reading the letter.

Good luck with this, and let us know if you get any responses.

jmbrinton
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by jmbrinton » February 8th, 2011, 3:27 am

I had the same reaction as Quill when you started mentioning other countries. I am sure it works in the book but it does confuse in the Query.

To help you tighten this up, you might want to look at the book flap/description of some of Bill Bryson's stuff. They are pretty entertaining books and will show you how to describe an adventure in which you (a journalist) are the main character. In particular, A Walk in the Woods gives a great set up for Bryson's decision to walk the Appalachian Trail and a flavor of the characters he meets, and misadventures he has, along the way.

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Quill
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by Quill » February 8th, 2011, 1:10 pm

jmbrinton wrote: To help you tighten this up, you might want to look at the book flap/description of some of Bill Bryson's stuff. They are pretty entertaining books and will show you how to describe an adventure in which you (a journalist) are the main character. In particular, A Walk in the Woods gives a great set up for Bryson's decision to walk the Appalachian Trail and a flavor of the characters he meets, and misadventures he has, along the way.
Oh wow, dunno about the book flap, but I just listened to Bryson's Appalachian Trail book on audio book and loved it.

elmtree322
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Re: Non-fiction Query: English Lessons

Post by elmtree322 » February 8th, 2011, 4:56 pm

I've read Bryson's Notes On a Small Island, and I love it. Definitely a good place to look for inspiration! Thanks for all the feedback, I'm revising now.

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