Can I write in a query that some of my book is based on personal experience?
My main character is a single mother with severe social anxiety, who moves to a new city with her autistic daughter who doesn't talk and their live-in nanny. The daughter is a younger version of my daughter, who is autistic and communicates through baby signs, memorized phrases/song lyrics, and sometimes remembers she has picture cards.
The mother and her struggles with social anxiety is based on me and what I've been through (although when my baby-sitter said she was going to grad school in a different state, I resigned myself to never leaving the house again rather than moving ... I'm only half-kidding. I still have to leave the house to mow the backyard).
I don't want to say semiautobiographical, in part because I'm not 100% sure what that entails exactly, but also because the plot is fiction. There are a few scenes in the book that mirror things that have happened to me and my daughter, but the over-arching plot, the subplots, all the other characters, and the rest of those two characters' personalities - for better or worse, those are all from my head.
Is it a good idea mention in my query that those two characters are based on real people? I thought that would lend an authenticity to my novel, but I'm also concerned I'd be taking up valuable real estate in a query with information that'd be better suited to an "about me" blurb. And also maybe scaring away agents by telling them I have social anxiety.
I always hate to read "this is based on a true story" or "on real people" or worst of all "this is based on my life" in a query.
I hate it because most people do not live lives that make good stories. Not even really well-known people. Story has a narrative arc, it has antagonists, it has a plot. My life has people who annoy the snot outta me, a to-do list that really needs to get over itself, and a lot of blog readers who make me laugh. It's a great life, but it's sure not a novel.
And most writers (particularly at the early stage of their career) are not brutal enough to create villains out of the very real people in their lives. "Based on real people" isn't the selling point you think it is.
Your book can certainly be informed by the experiences you've had. But your book must be able to bring that world alive without a reader knowing anything about you.
If you really want to mention this in a query here's how you do it:
Paragraph One is the same set up we always have: Who the main character is, and what does she want. What's keeping her from getting it? What's at stake if she doesn't? What will she have to give up or lose
to achieve her goal (ie what's her skin in the game?)
Paragraph Two is any writing credits you may have.
Paragraph Three is your bio. You'll say "this story is informed by my experiences with social anxiety and raising a daughter who is on the autism spectrum.
"Thank you for your time and consideration,
And I'm not sure what semi-autobiographical is either. It sort of feels like hedging. Either it's a novel and you make it all up or it's an autobiography/memoir, and you don't make up any of it. Very different kettles of fish.