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Successful Queries: Agent Verna Dreisbach and 'The Power of Memoir'

This new series is called "Successful Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked. The fifth installment in this series is with agent Verna Dreisbach (Dreisbach Literary) and her author Linda Joy Myers, for her nonfiction book, The Power of Memoir.

This new series is called "Successful Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked. 

The fifth installment in this series is with agent Verna Dreisbach (Dreisbach Literary) and her author Linda Joy Myers, for her nonfiction book, The Power of Memoir.

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Dear Ms. Dreisbach,

It was so wonderful to meet you at the East of Eden Writers Conference a couple of weeks ago. I felt that you understood my work and not only saw what I had accomplished but could see my vision of the kinds of books I want to write in the future, and how it all connects to my larger platform for the National Association of Memoir Writers. As I mentioned to you, my work as a therapist, healer, and writer all intersect to provide books, workshops, online coaching, and tools for memoir writers all over the world through my two websites and my social networking connections on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

My nonfiction, self-help guide Becoming Whole, Writing Your Healing Story is a pioneering how-to book on healing one’s emotional life through the practice of memoir writing. As a therapist and memoirist, I have developed ground-breaking techniques that have helped thousands of people realize the wisdom and power of their personal stories. Becoming Whole offers specific guidelines and exercises to help both experienced and novice writers unravel the complicated, sometimes daunting, and always exhilarating task of penning a memoir. This important and accessible book provides essential tools and techniques to help writers open to layers of inner listening, explore their deepest thoughts and feelings, and express the unexpressed.

Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story is part of a new generation of books about writing and healing, an area of focus that is growing every year in both psychotherapy and medicine. The subject of writing and healing came into the public view nearly fifteen years ago with the work of Dr. James Pennebaker and Dr. Joshua Smyth, and has been followed by several other generations of study and research. The research is documented in various journals, one of the most famous articles was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999, which documented that writing helped to heal diseases such as arthritis and asthma.

I have a Ph.D. in psychology and have had a therapy practice in Berkeley, California for thirty years. I’m currently the president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, which connects memoir writers from all over the world, with several international members and guest speakers. I teach memoir-as-healing workshops in the Bay Area and nationally, and offer online coaching and workshops. A frequent traveler to writing conferences as a consultant and workshop presenter, I enjoy presenting the “good news” about memoir writing and the power of writing to heal to therapists and writers, and to those who don’t see themselves as writers who want to capture their family stories.

Endorsements: I received a number of endorsements for Becoming Whole, including Dr. James Pennebaker, the premier researcher about how writing heals, and various memoir writers—Michele Weldon, Susan Albert, John Fox, and Maureen Murdock, author of Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory and The Heroine’s Journey. Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story was a Finalist in the ForeWord magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year in the nonfiction self-help/writing category, and my memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment, received the Gold Medal Award from BAIPA, Bay Area Independent Publishing Association, First Prize in the Jack London Nonfiction Contest and endorsements from many well known writers and memoirists. I’ve earned numerous awards in a variety of writing contests in the genres of fiction, memoir, poetry and nonfiction. My fiction manuscript, Secret Music, a novel about the Kindertransport, placed as a finalist at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference.

I am not just a one-book author, with several more books that I want to get out into the world—a World War II fiction book, a how-to book on writing spiritual autobiography, and another memoir. I hope you will consider representing me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.

Commentary from Verna

I’ve had several inquiries as to the difference between a fiction and a nonfiction query letter. I figured I could be helpful by providing a nonfiction query as an example. A nonfiction query letter will tend to be slightly longer than the average fiction query, partially because the agent will need to know a little about the market, audience and expertise of the author. Still, it should be concise - otherwise it will start to read like a proposal and agents tend to have rather short attention spans reading query letters. If an agent is intrigued by the query, then they will ask for a proposal.

First and foremost, the query is in the form of a business letter with a formal introduction and closing, and she has spelled my name correctly. You would be amazed at how frequent a mistake this is in query letters. Already, the author has my attention. Professionalism is what gains my attention. I believe professionalism is just as important as good writing.

Linda immediately addresses the fact that we have met and reflects upon the personal nature of our conversation. These reminders are helpful, especially since agents meet with a large number of writers at conferences. We may need reminding. What I like about Linda, and what I look for in nonfiction authors, is an understanding that the book is not the ultimate goal. The book is only a natural byproduct of a larger platform. She has a passion as a therapist and as a writer and wants to share that passion with others, naturally leading to founding a national organization to serve her goal. Impressive.

She then provides a brief synopsis of her book in a way that should entice the agent to want to read more. As a writer, you are offering a product. We need to see a need for your product and you only have one paragraph to hook us.

Her next paragraph addresses the market, clarifying the need for her book not only in field of writing, but in the field of psychotherapy as well. She notes a few experts in the field and documented research that’s been conducted, although, I would have preferred a more recent article to be cited in the query.

Linda then lists her relevant expertise and introduces her platform. Let me repeat this part—relevant experience. I do not need to know life stories or childhood dreams. I liked that Linda has traveled to writers' conferences, taught workshops, has been interviewed on the radio, etc. This shows to me that she’s motivated and proactive – imperative qualities to have as a published author.

Acting proactively, Linda secured prominent and relevant endorsements for her book, showing that professionals in the industry also support her work. She then touches upon the writing awards she’s won, leading me to believe that when I actually read her sample chapters, she’ll have something to say and be able to say it well.

I was looking forward to reading Becoming Whole. I did offer representation to Linda and have enjoyed working with her. Becoming Whole later sold to editor Alan Rinzler at Jossey-Bass. Becoming Whole was expanded and the result is her soon to be released book, The Power of Memoir – How to Write Your Healing Story.

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