Query Critique: Iron Makeover
(This is the first of the query critiques I’ll be doing over the next few weeks, probably one or two a week. Look for them on Wednesdays and sometimes Thursdays. Please bear in mind that these will be longer than my typical posts. )
Hi there! I’m seeking representation for my 60,000-word non-fiction manuscript IronMakeover: As an Overweight Mom I Battled Fear, the Clock, and Expectations to Become an Ironman Triathlete… Come Along for the Ride.
When a woman finishes her first triathlon (swim+bike+run) it changes her worldview. It changes her perception of what’s possible. She’ll be a stronger, wiser, happier woman, mother, sister, daughter, friend and employee. Training for a triathlon of any distance (sprint to Ironman) helps reshape a woman’s body, family and community.
IronMakeover takes readers from signup to throwup, from good pain to bad pain and from failure to the finish line as they cringe, chafe, marvel, dream and experience the rewards triathlons (of any distance) offer.
I’m a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach and a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach. In 2009 I created Village Bootcamp, a free weekly bootcamp-style workout held at a neighborhood park. In 2010 I formed Village Athlete LLC and will be offering Village Triathlon in addition to Village Bootcamp.
I’m the only female volunteer moderator of Active.com’s triathlon community. In this community I interact with new and experienced triathletes on a weekly basis generating direct traffic to my blog. [URLs included but redacted.]
IronMakeover is my first manuscript. I worked as an editor of a financial trade magazine for five years with a degree in Family & Consumer Journalism.
Five-time Ironman Champion Heather Gollnick is interested in commenting on my manuscript once contracted. And, Nicole DeBoom, former professional triathlete and owner of Skirt Sports, has agreed to provide endorsements and write a foreword to IronMakeover. I also have supporters at active.com and other professional endurance athletes.
My phone number is —and my email is —.
Thanks for your time and consideration,
One of the things I really like about this query is the enthusiasm. This author is really excited about what she does, and excited about her book. That passion should carry her a long way. I also like that this is a book I’m not going to see everyday. The idea of a “regular mom” competing in the Ironman (shouldn’t it be IronWoman?) is intriguing. So this book idea has a few things going for it.
But there are some issues that need to be fixed. First, it seems obvious that the subtitle is way too long. It tries to accomplish too much, and it does it in a corny way (“come along for the ride”). A good subtitle could be five or six words, possibly ten words max.
The biggest concern I have with this query is that I can’t tell what kind of book it is. Is it self-help (i.e. “how to train for the Ironman”)? Is it memoir? Is it supposed to be inspirational? Who’s the audience? The biggest question of all (for a non-fiction book) is not answered: Why would someone pick up this book? For that reason alone, I wouldn’t ask to see more, because I assume the writer hasn’t clearly identified the purpose of her book.
The query feels scattered. The thoughts don’t flow logically and are not expressed clearly. I’d assume the book is the same way.
In paragraph #2, I am unsure whether she is talking about herself (the author) or talking about her reader, or trying to talk about both. This is where the confusion about self-help vs. memoir begins. This paragraph also makes broad, generalizing statements that, because of their lack of specificity, fail to intrigue me. Changes her worldview, changes her perception, she’ll be happier… vague statements like this don’t draw in a reader. Plus… what if I don’t want my worldview changed? What if I’m already happy? It relies on assumptions about the reader that may not be true.
Paragraph #3 is clunky and awkward. The writer is trying to create an experience, but using too many words so that I have a hard time picturing anything. It would be better as two sentences. More importantly, it’s not selling me on the book. I still don’t know why someone would buy it.
Paragraph #4 could be sort of impressive if I had any idea what it meant. The author, if she’s querying general agents (as opposed to someone who specializes in sports-related books, for example), needs to take into account that none of that will mean anything to someone who’s not immersed in the world of triathletes and the Ironman. Take pity on your reader! Let go of the need to rattle off all these names, and instead, help me to understand what they mean. I want to know that you have credentials, but I also need you to educate me about the significance of these credentials within your specialized world.
Paragraph #5 is good but again, help me understand the significance of this. How many women are members of this sports community, and what is your blog traffic like? I have no idea if we’re talking dozens or thousands.
Paragraph #6 is fine, but #7 again suffers from the problem that the names don’t mean anything to me, and the way it’s written, I don’t get a feel for the significance of these women and how much clout they’d lend to the manuscript. Also, I don’t know what it means that the five-time Ironman champion will “comment on the manuscript.” How does that increase its value?
This is a situation where my complete ignorance of the “world” of the book makes it difficult for me to imagine its potential. It’s really important in a case like this to explain to the agent a little bit about the audience, how many people are involved in this sub-culture, and why they’d want to buy this book. I need a sentence explaining to me that thousands of women compete in triathlons each year, and that they need this kind of encouragement because it doesn’t exist in a book as of yet. Or something like that.
I need a description of exactly what this book is intended to do. Does it encourage female athletes? Does it explain the Ironman for women who are interested in considering it? Does it teach a woman how to train for one? Would it be relevant for any woman considering a marathon or triathlon? Or is it simply a memoir of one woman’s experience?
I happen to be a person interested in sports, I’ve considered training for a triathlon (but haven’t done it yet), and I’m ripe to be your audience—yet I haven’t been drawn in by the query. I think you should take a a few steps back and look at your project, decide WHO your audience is and WHY you’ve written the book, then work harder at making it appeal to that audience while also educating the agent about that audience.
If this isn’t strictly a memoir but rather self-help, it needs to appeal to the felt need of the prospective reader. What is her felt-need? Identify it, then convey with the query that you’re going to meet it.
I’d recommend this writer take some time to carefully rework the query, sentence by sentence. Read it out loud to help determine if it sounds right. Run it by a couple of people you can trust to give you honest feedback. Let your enthusiasm carry you through the hard work, and let that passion come through in the final query, but don’t let it keep you from being able to write a clear and powerful letter that accurately conveys the essence of your book.
Readers: Feel free to comment, agree or disagree.
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent