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  1. Halvani

    Halvani New Member

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    Query Letter Dangerous Narratives (non-fiction book query)

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Halvani, Aug 8, 2019.

    Any advice/corrections/comments on the query letter below would be greatly appreciated. What do you suggest in order to make this query more polished and maybe add a bit of pizzazz? Also on a side note, if you now of any agents who would be interested in this topic, please let me know.

    Dear Mr./Ms. (agent name)


    I am seeking representation for my debut non-fiction book, Dangerous Narratives: an inside look into the mind-forged manacles that shackle the Muslim world. The book stands completed at just over 41,000 words. (Personalized note)


    The Muslim world is in a wretched state. Economically, politically, socially, we lag behind the rest of the world. Why so? This book seeks to provide an answer to that question.


    While mainstream narratives lay the blame either on religion or socio-economic conditions, I present a different explanation. In the book, I argue that this condition stems from maladaptive behavior rooted in a set of cultural scripts and worldviews, which I call Dangerous Narratives. Over the course of 16 chapters I act as a tour guide, elucidating each narrative as I usher the reader on a Conradian journey into the Muslim mind. In so doing, I shed light on the mental demons that torment Muslims and hold them back.


    I was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1985. I completed my undergraduate degree there at the American University of Beirut then did my Master’s degree in Ireland at University College Dublin. I now work in academia as an English lecturer at Bezmialem Vakif University in Istanbul. Aside from my brief stint in Ireland, I spent most of my life in the Middle East. In this book I draw from my decades long exposure to Middle Eastern and Islamic culture. The narratives that I identify are not polemics divorced from reality. I was raised with these narratives. I’ve encountered them repeatedly from dining room discussions to Friday sermons at the mosque. And I’ve witnessed the way they’ve bled into the social fabric of my homeland.


    This book will be of interest to those seeking a cerebral and non-biased critique of the culture in the Muslim world. It will also be of interest to many Muslims, particularly those living in the West, as this book articulates what I think many of them already feel.


    Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration to my query. If you’re interested, I would love to send you a copy of the manuscript.


    Sincerely,
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
  2. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not familiar with non-fiction queries, though I do know you need to submit with a book proposal - you'll have to read up on what that is yourself as I don't write non-fiction, so I've never studied it enough to say for certain. I believe it is a chapter by chapter outline of basically what your book says?

    In your biography, you take about half the paragraph before you get on to what actually qualifies you to write this book. I think that's a mistake. Move the relevant stuff forward. Does it matter to me that you have an unnamed undergraduate degree or that you have another unnamed Masters in Dublin? How are these things relevant to me, who's looking to see if you have academic or personal insight into the subject matter of Muslim culture? Also, if you're a university lecturer, it could be assumed that you probably have at least a Masters - most would probably even assume a PhD. Thus I feel like your undergrad and masters sorta go without saying. Unless they're in a subject related to Muslim culture, I would just skip it.

    All this time I kept wondering: are you Muslim yourself? Were you raised Muslim? Was your family Muslim? Are these observations from living within Muslim culture, or are these insights you've lived and come to critique? (or is this a faith you believe in, or used to believe in?) Also, now, I have no clue what sorta university the American University of Beirut really is - I just know I saw the word American and then you promptly follow that with Ireland. You've placed emphasis on your western ideals, or at least given me a clue on how you have westernised your ideas. I feel like the emphasis has been put in the wrong place.

    It's not interesting to see how a westerner might see the Muslim world - it is very interesting to see how a Muslim might see the Muslim world. I have no idea of your full heritage either way, but these are assumptions I will make based on how you've written your query.

    Again, I don't write non-fiction, nor have I ever studied or written a non-fiction query, so take everything I say with a gigantic pinch of salt. However, I would probably like to see more qualification - I don't mean your degrees. You're basically saying you know what you're talking about because you've lived within the Muslim world - but that's not necessarily enough to qualify you to writing an actual book on the subject. How do I know these are not just all biased, unfounded opinions you've based on a hundred anecdotes? I've lived in Hong Kong and by blood I'm Chinese - does that necessarily qualify me to writing a book on Chinese culture? No way. Sure I'll know a bit more than the average non-Chinese person but not at book level.

    I'm not sure what you need per se, but I would say definitely strengthen yourself on the qualification front. What makes you different to the millions of Muslims around the world that you think you can write on the subject matter? What gives you that knowledge or insight that tells me what you say will be substantial?

    Otherwise, personally, as a reader, your book sounds fascinating to me!
     
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  3. Halvani

    Halvani New Member

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    God bless you for your detailed analysis. That was really helpful. Here are some thoughts on the points you brought up.


    Regarding non-fiction books and proposals, I’m not sure about this but from what I’ve read, proposals are generally required because most non-fiction books are written only after they’ve been accepted by a publisher. Since that’s not the case for this book, I think a query makes more sense. To write a proposal at this point would be like writing a business plan after starting a business.


    Regarding the point about the biography section, I totally agree. I moved my qualifications up and took out the stuff not directly related to the book. I’ve also incorporated the answers to the questions you were wandering about. This should highlight the fact that unlike other books in the market, this is an insider’s perspective. This is the updated biography section:

    I am a Muslim, I was born into a Muslim family, and I’ve lived almost all my life in the Muslim world. The narratives that I identify are not polemics divorced from reality. I was raised with these narratives. I’ve encountered them repeatedly - in dining room discussions, in Friday sermons at the mosque, and in the lecture halls of the university where I teach. I’ve seen how these narratives have bled into the social and political fabric of my homeland - and how they shape this part of the world.​

    With regards to qualifications, I agree that I could use more to bolster my credibility, but I am not sure on how to do so. This book stems from my deep interest in social and cultural issues, my intellectual non-conformism, and the symbiosis of my Middle Eastern upbringing with my Western-influenced education. It is the confluence of all three that make the book possible. I don’t see how that can be packaged as a traditional qualification, especially within a query letter.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
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  4. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Mckk that your book sounds fascinating. When it's done, I will definitely buy a copy and read it! I don't write non-fiction, but I love reading it. And I would love to consider the various perspectives that Muslims have—towards themselves, other Muslims, and the non-Muslim world.

    I don't know anything about querying or proposals, but I do think your title is a bit ...over-dramatic? Maybe something more like: Dangerous Narratives: an insider's view of attitudes in the Muslim world. Or something else more accurate ...but less melodramatic than mind-forged manacles?

    Otherwise. Hey. I'm really keen to read it. It sounds as if it's something we all need to hear. I reckon your chances of getting looked at by an agent/publisher are very good. It's incredibly topical.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
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  5. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Any publisher with education, or sophistication, perhaps...is the word...will stall, falter, suck his teeth at two particular expressions in the text:

    'Mind-forged manacles'
    'Conradian'

    ...when applied to a world religion. A suggestion, [bells will ring] that the author is rather more crank [because the terms are very 'undergraduate' or trope, or cliche, baggage-heavy] than the rigorous intellect...ual.

    Otherwise, it's an interesting pitch and you may well receive an exciting response.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
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  6. Halvani

    Halvani New Member

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    First, you all have my thanks for the replies and words of support.

    Regarding the subtitle of the book, the term ‘mind-forged manacles’ comes from a poem by William Blake which I quote in the epigraph.

    I wander through each chartered street,
    Near where the chartered Thames does flow;
    A mark in every face I meet,
    Marks of weakness, marks of woe.


    In every cry of every man,
    In every infant’s cry of fear,
    In every voice, in every ban,
    The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

    I think the theme of that poem resonates with the one in my book. As for the metaphor itself, it allows me to avoid repeating the word ‘narrative’ in the subtitle or having to resort to a substitute for it which wouldn’t fully capture the essence of that word.

    It also communicates that it’s doesn’t look at all the prevalent beliefs in this part of the world, just the ones with an adverse effect.
     
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  7. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Using Blake's most quoted couplet/phrase is akin to 'Nasty, poor, brutish and short.' It is lumpen usage, same with Conrad up the Congo.

    You know!

    Was it John Lennon who said 'All you need is Love?' Did Kennedy really believe he would place a man on the moon before the decade was over? Was Marilyn Monroe attractive to men? And whilst Donald Trump still divides opinion it is inside the pages of this ground-breaking study that I...I..
     
  8. Saphry

    Saphry Member

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    Hi Halvani,

    Your book sounds interesting and I’d be keen to read it. I’d like to feedback on your reference to the Muslim world.

    Are you referring uniquely to the Middle East or Muslims around the world? If it’s the latter, getting my figures from Wikipedia, the largest Muslim population in the world is in South Asia. Out of 24% of total world population of Muslims, 13% lives in Indonesia. I understand from your query that your views are from a Middle Easterner’s perspective, so the cultural/behavioural problems that plague the Middle East will not hold true for the rest.

    If the counter argument is similarity of Islamic culture worldwide, then wouldn’t the cause be mainly a religion one?

    If it’s the former you’re basing your work on, perhaps consider a more specific term? Just my humble opinion.
     
  9. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm. That poem is an interesting connection, and I confess I wasn't aware 'mind-forg'd manacles' was a quote from a poem. (I'm pretty well-read, but Blake is not on my list of favourite poets! :) )

    The problem is, I reckon there are lots of other people out there who are also unlikely to make the connection. Putting it directly into your title DOES sound a bit over-the top, without the explanation.

    What about simply putting the phrase in quotes? ...something like: Dangerous Narratives: an inside look into the 'mind-forged manacles' that shackle the Muslim world.
     
  10. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Maybe a more folksy critique of Islam is due an appearance?
     
  11. Halvani

    Halvani New Member

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    The point you make is totally valid. Of course I am also aware of these statistics and I've dedicated a chapter right after the introduction to explain this. I provide multiple reasons why I use that term.

    Though of course, there's no denying that the term 'Muslim World' is to some extent a mental shorthand. But it is necessary to use some form of abstraction if you want to show the big picture. Not every narrative I discuss is applicable to all Muslim majority countries around the world in equal measure.

    Good idea, that might actually work. Thanks.
     
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