A Query Critique Focusing on the Hook: Taking Care of Mother When Mother Didn't Take Care of You

Marla Miller, of Marketing the Muse, explains to a writer with excellent credentials how to make her query letter stand out by strengthening the “hook”:

I agreed with Marla’s advice. Did you? Would you want to read a memoir on this subject? How do you determine a good “hook” in your own writing? Do you have a good critic who helps you?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Angela Foster on September 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    I am interested to hear if anyone would want to read a book about this subject. I would.

  2. shirleyhs on September 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I would too, Angela. I think this subject offers much room for deep exploration of character. Both the mother’s and the writer’s. How will she imagine her way into forgiveness, I wonder. Or won’t she? Thanks for your response. I hope the writer finds our votes of confidence in her subject.

  3. marla miller on September 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Shirley, thanks for posting this one–I thought it quite compelling but it left me wondering how a writer works this through via a memoir—more about that would ‘sink’ the hook that this writer already has set—

  4. shirleyhs on September 22, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Welcome, Marla. Glad you chimed in here. I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean about sinking the hook. Could you explain, please?

    • marla miller on September 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      Hi Shirley
      The hook is my interest in wanting to read more of this story-the goal of a query letter—hook me. At this point, this letter reads like a lot of other letters re: family dysfunction. I had a post QQC thought-probably because I listened to it again here at 100Memoirs.com–this is a memoir about forgiveness-that’s the theme. I’d wrap the rewrite around that–

      • shirleyhs on September 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm

        Ah, that helps, Marla. Thanks! Got it. The author should know that the line you picked out and the forgiveness theme are resonating here with at least some readers. I think they would resonate with me–especially since the writer appears to be experienced.

  5. Gutsy Living on September 23, 2011 at 4:43 am

    Hi Shirley and Marla,

    First, I’m so happy Marla helped me with my Query and that she will be speaking at the Southern California Writers Association in October. My first thought was, “Another story about childhood abuse.” The reason I say that is because I have finally realized why my memoir has been rejected. I took the angle of my “defiant teenager,” and there are tons of books out about problem teenagers, and other subjects like autism, cancer survivors, divorce, etc. It has taken me 3 years to “listen” to a past Gotham Writers Memoir teacher, and agents, that what is unique about my memoir is not how my family got to Belize, but the fact that we did it. Therefore all the chapters about my defiant teenager aren’t as important as the fact that we uprooted our three kids and moved to experience adventure in Belize, and changed because of that.

  6. shirleyhs on September 23, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Yes, Sonia, you have written an adventure memoir–you did what most people just fantasize about.
    I think the advice to focus on this aspect of your story is good. And I think getting involved in Chris Guillebeau’s blog and movement is a good idea, too. I found his blog because of you. Thanks!http://chrisguillebeau.com/

    Thanks, too, for the shout out to Marla. I wonder how many query letters she has read by now? What a great service to writers!

  7. Gutsy Living on September 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    I still follow Chris Guillebeau, and attended his conference this year. I was too late to sign up for 2012, plus, the price went up. I’m curious what you enjoy about his movement.

  8. shirleyhs on September 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Well, I just dip into his posts now and then, but I am impressed that he has turned his lifestyle into an object of admiration and emulation. That’s what I meant by taking action, not just fantasizing.

  9. Linda Gartz on September 24, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Shirley,
    I thought Marla’s advice on changing the hook of this query was right on. A story about how a daughter puts aside the resentment against her mom for not protecting her from abuse so that she can care for the mother is much more compelling than another story about an abused child. Here we get into great themes of forgiveness vs vengeance; putting aside bitterness and why she chose to do so.

    BTW, Lynette Benton interviewed me about the family history I’m working on (some of which is highlighted in my blog, Family Archaeologist), and in the interview I mentioned your site as a great resource for memoir writers I couldn’t find any place on your blog to contact you directly, so I’m putting it in the comments. The links are here for part I http://lynettebentonwriting.com/2011/09/family-history-writing-guest-post-by-linda-gartz-part-1/ and here for part 2: http://lynettebentonwriting.com/2011/09/family-history-writing-guest-post-by-linda-gartz-part-2/
    I hope these links go live once posted as I can’t see them here. or just try http://lynettebentononwriting.com, another excellent site on memoir writing. Lynette’s also an avid tweeter on all things writerly. (@lynettebenton)

  10. shirleyhs on September 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Thanks for telling our readers about Lynette, who has commented here before, and about your guest post, which I read, enjoyed, and commented on. Highly recommended! Really appreciate that you thought about linking back to this site.

  11. Linda Gartz on September 26, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Glad to pass it on.

  12. Grace on November 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    This is my first visit and won’t be my last because your topics are so relevant to where I’m at in my writing aspirations. My memoir is, like so many, of a turbulent childhood but my hook is that as a young adult with a bad case of postpartum psychosis I got involved in a cult. Perhaps this too is a little chiche I’d don’t know. I have an Indie publisher looking at my ms now but if that doesn’t work out I’m going to take this advice to heart and really sharpen my hook! Thank you for a great post.

    • marla miller on November 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm

      Grace-so glad you found the advice helpful—Hooking, whether it’s to an agent or a blogger like Shirley who like me looks for good content to post, you need to know how to hook! It’s a skill that develope ‘writing short’-a good tool to have in every writer’s toolbox. And your’re so right, Shirley has an awesome site-so darn helpful to writers—it’s the teacher in her…she just can’t help it!! :))
      Marla Miller

      • shirleyhs on November 12, 2011 at 11:24 pm

        Thanks so much, Grace and Marla. You remind me to put up some of Marla’s latest memoir query videos. She found some winners in her slush pile. 🙂 And she’s helping them get even better.

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