Clash of the Query Letters 2024—1st place

Congrats to Maxine Meju for winning first place in the Clash of the Query Letters 2024! Here's what our judge (Michelle Barker) had to say:

"The memoir I Can't Sleep caught my attention because of the author's plans to combine their struggles with insomnia and their experiences navigating the British health care system... as a physician. This book promises to explore a pervasive problem most of us have experienced at some point in our lives from the point of view of someone who struggled to find a solution even as a medical insider."

An excellent example of a query letter for a memoir or narrative nonfiction story


Dear Agent,

I was a medical student when I lost my ability to fall asleep. Instead, I would toss and turn in bed, my body stuck in fight-or-flight mode and my mind’s eye flooded by images from my turbulent childhood. 

Initially, I was told that the insomnia was due to anxiety, and I diligently cycled through every recommended treatment: mindfulness, medication, therapy. Despite my efforts, by the time I qualified as a doctor, I found myself dependent on prescription pills or alcohol to fall asleep; a doctor debilitated by a symptom, with no idea why. 

That is, until a memory of saving Mum’s life from fifteen years earlier resurfaced in a nightmare, and I finally realised why I had never felt safe to fall asleep since. I had complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD)—“complex” because there was no escape from my childhood scattered with traumatic events, big or small. 

Now that I had an accurate diagnosis, I could simply turn to the NHS for help and very soon sleep peacefully ever after, right? 

Echoing the interweaving of personal and professional experiences of illness in Henry Marsh’s And Finally, my debut book, I Can’t Sleep, details my healing journey as both mental health patient and doctor and my discovery of the harsh realities of Britain’s healthcare system, mirroring American physician Michele Harper’s The Beauty in Breaking

I am a London-based junior doctor and freelance medical writer, holding a medical degree from the University of Cambridge. I am also a 2023 graduate of the Non-Fiction stream of the HarperCollins Author Academy for under-represented writers. I Can’t Sleep was longlisted for the Summer 2023 Letter Review Prize for Unpublished Manuscripts—an international competition—and the current manuscript length is 85,000 words. 

Thank you for considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Best wishes,

Maxine Meju 

Maxine Meju, author of I CAN'T SLEEP: A MEMOIR, for which this is the award-winning query letter

Maxine Meju is a British junior doctor, freelance medical writer, and aspiring author. I Can’t Sleep: A Memoir marks her debut writing project. Originally growing up in the rainy North of England, Maxine now calls the slightly less rainy London her home. When not immersed in medical work or writing, she loves practising yoga, which she also teaches to fellow NHS staff at a local hospital. A devoted enthusiast of musical theatre and film, Maxine can shamelessly recite lyrics on-demand from the most iconic soundtracks such as Hamilton and The Sound of Music.

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