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Queries and Agents => Query Review => Topic started by: Mark_Hughes on August 24, 2013, 11:14:52 AM

Title: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 24, 2013, 11:14:52 AM
Here's my offering to the crowd:

I’m seeking representation for my historical novel, A PLACE FOR EVERY GIFT. (129,000 words).

In 1932 Berlin, Daniela Goldman is the university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her drive put her at the head of her class, but her new, misogynistic, and very Aryan professor clearly intends to deny her the degree she must obtain if she’s to have a chance of redeeming her past.

April, 1968. A manuscript telling the story of Daniela’s life comes to a senior editor at Scribner’s, a curmudgeon whose belief in both people and the power of story has all but died. When Daniela is twelve, he reads, her part in her mother’s horrific death leaves her aching with guilt, rejected by her only friend, and estranged from her father. Years later, she learns about the science of anthropology, sees her chance to make good, and pours all she has into it. Her last hurdle, the pursuit of her dissertation, takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse still is her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.

Daniela’s story resonates deeply with the editor. Upon finishing it, he hurries to meet with the woman who lived this inspiring life, little suspecting what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.

I believe this novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE HELP, and SARAH’S KEY. Thanks for your time and consideration,
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: augusto on August 24, 2013, 01:01:46 PM
This sounds very interesting, even if I am confused. Is this Daniela's story as she lives it? Or her story as the editor reads it? Or the story of the editor meeting Daniela? Either way sounds wonderful but I think you have to point us in a single direction or show us how they all fit together. I'd read it just because I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. Good luck!  :up:
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 24, 2013, 01:37:50 PM
I get that confusion, and I'd wondered about that hitch in the second paragraph's opening. What makes this story tricky to fit into a query is that it's framed, and the frame is a crucial aspect of the story. Let me know if this version clears the murk a little:

I’m seeking representation for my historical novel, A PLACE FOR EVERY GIFT. (129,000 words).

In 1932 Berlin, Daniela Goldman is the university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her drive put her at the head of her class, but her new, misogynistic, and very Aryan professor clearly intends to deny her the degree she must obtain if she’s to have a chance of redeeming her past.

When Daniela was twelve, her part in her mother’s horrific death left her aching with guilt, rejected by her only friend, and estranged from her father. Years later, she learns about the science of anthropology, sees her chance to make good, and pours all she has into it. Her last hurdle, the pursuit of her dissertation, takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse still is her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.

April, 1968. A manuscript telling the story of Daniela’s life comes to a senior editor at Scribner’s, a curmudgeon whose belief in both people and the power of story has all but died. Her story moves him deeply, and he immediately arranges to meet with the woman who lived this inspiring life, little suspecting what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.

I believe this novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE HELP, and SARAH’S KEY.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: KimE on August 24, 2013, 02:06:14 PM
It does sound like a very intriguing story. I also question whose story this actually is- the editor's or Daniela? And whether the bulk of the story/conflict occurs during her struggle to get a Ph.d in the 1930's or during his encounters with her later in life. To be consistent, if you say "In 1932" as your leader in one paragraph, then use "In 1968" in the subsequent. The word count is ambitious too.

I would suggest trying a different approach to see if it flows better by starting the query with the editor in 1968 reading her story, then describing her conflict, then sandwiching in the editor meeting up with her at the end of the query.

Good luck!
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Nostrabuttus on August 24, 2013, 02:53:44 PM
I get that confusion, and I'd wondered about that hitch in the second paragraph's opening. What makes this story tricky to fit into a query is that it's framed, and the frame is a crucial aspect of the story. Let me know if this version clears the murk a little:

I’m seeking representation for my historical novel, A PLACE FOR EVERY GIFT. (129,000 words).

In 1932 Berlin, Daniela Goldman is the university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her drive put her at the head of her class, but her new, misogynistic, and very Aryan professor clearly intends to deny her the degree she must obtain if she’s to have a chance of redeeming her past.

When Daniela was twelve, her part in her mother’s horrific death left her aching with guilt, rejected by her only friend, and estranged from her father. Years later, she learns about the science of anthropology, sees her chance to make good, and pours all she has into it. Her last hurdle, the pursuit of her dissertation, takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse still is her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.

April, 1968. A manuscript telling the story of Daniela’s life comes to a senior editor at Scribner’s, a curmudgeon whose belief in both people and the power of story has all but died. Her story moves him deeply, and he immediately arranges to meet with the woman who lived this inspiring life, little suspecting what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.

I believe this novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE HELP, and SARAH’S KEY.

I vowed to never rewrite anyone's query again, but in this case I'm going to make an exception. My idea may not work for your story. Much depends on whose POV character the story is told. in any event, you might consider using some of the rewritten sentences in your query. I hope this helps you. Best of luck with your project.   

I’m seeking representation for my historical novel, A PLACE FOR EVERY GIFT, complete at 129,000 words.

In April of 1968, a manuscript which tells the story of Daniela’s Goldman’s life comes to a senior editor at Scribner’s. He’s a curmudgeon whose belief in both people and the power of story has all but died. Paragraph by paragraph, page by page, he becomes enthralled. 

Estranged from her father and rejected by her only friend, at the age of twelve, Daniela’s part in her mother’s horrific death left her aching with guilt. Years later, she learns about the science of anthropology, sees her chance to make good, and pours all she has into it. By 1932, in the city of Berlin, she is the university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her resolve has placed her at the head of her class, but her new, misogynistic Aryan professor clearly intends to deny her the degree she feels she must obtain to have a chance of redeeming her past.

Her last hurdle, the pursuit of her dissertation, takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse still is her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.


Deeply moved by what he has read, the senior editor rearranges his schedule in order to meet with Daniela, unaware of what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.

I believe this novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE HELP, and SARAH’S KEY.



Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 24, 2013, 03:16:56 PM
Thanks for making the exception, as I believe you gave me several good tidbits.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Kaiodem on August 27, 2013, 01:04:05 PM
I’m seeking representation for my historical novel, A PLACE FOR EVERY GIFT. (129,000 words) This seems forced in here. Why not say: complete at 129, 000 words?.

In 1932 Berlin, Daniela Goldman is the university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her drive put her at the head of her class, but her new, misogynistic, and very Aryan professor clearly intends to deny her the degree she must obtain if she’s to have a chance of redeeming her past. That is one very long sentence. Besides I don't understand why she needs to redeem her past if the past wasn't her fault.... or is it?

April, 1968. A manuscript telling the story of Daniela’s life comes to a senior editor at Scribner’s, a curmudgeon whose belief in both people and the power of story has all but died. When Daniela is twelve, he reads, her part in her mother’s horrific death leaves her aching with guilt, rejected by her only friend, and estranged from her father. This sentence is a little hard to read. Did Daniela kill her mom? The meaning to this sentence is muddled with a bunch of extra information.Years later, she learns about the science of anthropology, sees her chance to make good, and pours all she has into it. Her last hurdle, the pursuit of her dissertation, takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse still is her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves. This is a good ender right here.

Daniela’s story resonates deeply with the editor. Upon finishing it, he hurries to meet with the woman who lived this inspiring life, little suspecting what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.


I believe this novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE HELP, and SARAH’S KEY. Thanks for your time and consideration,

This is good. It reads very nicely except for that one sentence that makes me entirely confused.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 27, 2013, 01:18:30 PM
Having thought it over more, I just can't have the hook concern itself with the story's opening frame. I've been down that road and it simply doesn't resonate (nor draw agent interest). The fact is, a framed story is tough to squeeze into the query format.

Augusto wrote: Is this Daniela's story as she lives it? Or her story as the editor reads it? Or the story of the editor meeting Daniela?

Answer: it's all three. The manuscript is told in 1st person, the outer frame in third. Daniela lives it, Burt reads it, and then he goes to meet with her.

My biggest concern is that if I don't mention the frame and then send, say, the first ten requested pages, the agent will say - what story is this? Where is Daniela? Who the hell is Burt and why isn't this 1932 Berlin? And so on.

That said, I have incorporated some of your suggestions. I've also moved the word count to the end so agents don't stop reading in the first line (as it is a long novel). Here is the latest incarnation:

I’m seeking representation for my literary/historical novel, A PLACE FOR EVERY GIFT.

In 1932 Berlin, Daniela Goldman is her university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her relentless drive put her at the head of her class, but her misogynistic, Aryan professor clearly intends to deny her the degree she believes she must obtain if she’s to redeem her past.

When Daniela was twelve, her part in her mother’s horrific death left her rejected by her only friend, estranged from her father, and aching with guilt. Years later, she learns about the emerging science of anthropology, sees her chance to make good, and pours all she has into it. Her last hurdle, the pursuit of her dissertation, takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse still is her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.

In April 1968, a manuscript relating the story of Daniela’s life comes to a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. Surprised by her story’s effect on him, he immediately arranges to meet with Daniela, unaware of what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.

I believe this 129,000 word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE HELP, and SARAH’S KEY.

Thanks for taking the time to review my work and provide guidance.

Mark
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: augusto on August 27, 2013, 02:31:10 PM
I think it moves quite smoothly this way. I'd bite.  :up: I am concerned that other publishing houses might be miffed that you chose Scribner & Sons to be the discoverers of this great find.  ;D
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: slightlysmall on August 27, 2013, 04:11:10 PM
I like your new revision. there's just one thing i would tweak:

Quote
unaware of what wasn’t revealed in the manuscript.

Obviously, since he hasn't met her yet. I think you can spare a few extra words and say "unaware of just how much wasn't revealed in the manuscript" or similar.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 27, 2013, 04:59:21 PM
Thanks for the votes of confidence; you've helped counteract the two rejections I received today. And I agree about being uncomfortable with the "unaware of what wasn't revealed in the manuscript". It sounds like 1930's sci-fi radio, and so does about any other rendition of the sentiment. My solution is to change it thus:

Surprised by her story’s effect on him, he immediately arranges to meet with Daniela. There, what he learns about the "real" Daniela and the manuscript leaves him shattered.

Does it raise too many questions? I'm walking a fine line here, toying with the reader a bit. But if it comes across as off-putting, I'll cease and desist (and redraft).
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: slightlysmall on August 27, 2013, 05:32:31 PM
I like the new way you word it. It makes more sense.

And it raises precisely the correct number of questions in my mind - a young woman, now much older, has a compelling story to tell about her childhood. But that isn't even the half of it. I'm ready to know what the other half is. (no, seriously, I am.)
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Pandean on August 27, 2013, 07:05:20 PM
I think it's pretty solid, actually. :) Good luck with querying.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 27, 2013, 07:51:06 PM
Thank you both for the shots in the arm (a good thing, in case that phrase is too old to be recognized :) It's only taken me since February to get this right. Really. But then, I'm old and a slow learner, obviously.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Pandean on August 27, 2013, 07:52:41 PM
Thank you both for the shots in the arm (a good thing, in case that phrase is too old to be recognized :) It's only taken me since February to get this right. Really. But then, I'm old and a slow learner, obviously.

Maybe I'm too young to understand that phrase but

how is a shot to the arm a good thing????

And good luck! I hope you go far!
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 27, 2013, 08:09:12 PM
I started to guess - but hey, what's the Internet for? Here's the origin of the phrase: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/318925.html

BTW, my guess was right.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Pandean on August 27, 2013, 08:11:58 PM
I started to guess - but hey, what's the Internet for? Here's the origin of the phrase: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/318925.html

BTW, my guess was right.

Guess what?

Ah. Interesting origins.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on August 28, 2013, 11:53:01 AM
A LITTLE bit of news to pass along - I just received my first full request, from Alexandra Machinist at Janklow. Happy day indeed...
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: slightlysmall on August 28, 2013, 12:05:31 PM
Congrats!  :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Pandean on August 29, 2013, 03:09:21 PM
A LITTLE bit of news to pass along - I just received my first full request, from Alexandra Machinist at Janklow. Happy day indeed...

Yay!
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: urschel on August 29, 2013, 03:21:06 PM
Mark:

I think overall the query is solid.

Random thoughts:

I wondered what the connection was between the mother's death and anthropology.

I have friends who queried the same time period/place, 1930's Germany, and found that a lot of agents shy away from that era for a host of reasons, including the soial climate. May take you a bit of work.

Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: augusto on August 30, 2013, 08:39:15 AM
A LITTLE bit of news to pass along - I just received my first full request, from Alexandra Machinist at Janklow. Happy day indeed...
Great news!  :clap: :up:
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: urschel on August 30, 2013, 02:32:00 PM
Good work. I missed it last time I was on.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 02, 2013, 01:15:10 PM
Thanks for the support everyone. Now, even though the current version is drawing more than stale form letters, I think it can yet be improved (after all, I'll probably live a few more years, why not spend them chasing the Perfect Query?) Umm, well, maybe not. But for today at least, I have some changes to offer up to the critique masters:

November 1919. In the defeated city of Berlin, twelve-year-old Daniela Goldman’s rebellious and kinetic relationship with her mother leads to her mother’s horrific death. The incident leaves Daniela rejected by her only friend, estranged from her father, and all but crushed beneath a leaden yoke of guilt.

May 1932. Daniela is her university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her relentless drive propelled her to the head of her class, even as her Aryan professor throws nothing but boulders and broken glass in her path. In this fledgling science, he proclaims, scarce and precious grant funds cannot be wasted on a woman.

Undaunted, she pursues her dissertation research. It takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. But that is as nothing compared to her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.

April 1968. A manuscript relating the story of Daniela’s life comes to a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. Stunned and moved by her story, he arranges to meet with her. There, what he learns about the “real” Daniela and the manuscript devastates him.

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Kaiodem on September 02, 2013, 06:02:38 PM
Thanks for the support everyone. Now, even though the current version is drawing more than stale form letters, I think it can yet be improved (after all, I'll probably live a few more years, why not spend them chasing the Perfect Query?) Umm, well, maybe not. But for today at least, I have some changes to offer up to the critique masters:

November 1919. In the defeated city of Berlin, twelve-year-old Daniela Goldman’s rebellious and kinetic relationship with her mother leads to her mother’s horrific death. The incident leaves Daniela rejected by her only friend, estranged from her father, and all but crushed beneath a leaden yoke of guilt.

May 1932. Daniela is her university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her relentless drive propelled her to the head of her class, even as her Aryan professor throws nothing but boulders and broken glass in her path. In this fledgling science, he proclaims, scarce and precious grant funds cannot be wasted on a woman.

Undaunted, she pursues her dissertation research. It takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. But that is as nothing compared to her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her—will grant her the redemption she craves.

April 1968. A manuscript relating the story of Daniela’s life comes to a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. Stunned and moved by her story, he arranges to meet with her. There, what he learns about the “real” Daniela and the manuscript devastates him.

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.


This flows very very well. And I forgot to mention before that The Secret Lives of Bees is a PERFECT comparison. The last time I read this, I only got slightly confused. This time I read it through with no problem at all. You'll have more full requests being thrown at you in no time.

 :up: Seriously, I wish you could give a course on query writing because you've mastered this.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mavia on September 02, 2013, 07:55:18 PM
Mark - Beautiful query. I just have a couple of nitpicks that you might want to look at.


Thanks for the support everyone. Now, even though the current version is drawing more than stale form letters, I think it can yet be improved (after all, I'll probably live a few more years, why not spend them chasing the Perfect Query?) Umm, well, maybe not. But for today at least, I have some changes to offer up to the critique masters:

November 1919. In the defeated city of Berlin, twelve-year-old Daniela Goldman’s rebellious and kinetic relationship with her mother leads to her mother’s horrific death. The incident leaves Daniela rejected by her only friend, estranged from her father, and all but crushed beneath a leaden yoke of guilt.

May 1932. Daniela is her university’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Her relentless drive propelled propels (keep in present tense?)  her to the head of her class, even as her Aryan professor throws nothing but boulders and broken glass in her path. In this fledgling science, he proclaims, scarce and precious grant funds cannot be wasted on a woman.

Undaunted, she pursues her dissertation research. It takes her across oceans to a strange place (Cahaba, Alabama) where her study’s subjects thwart her at every turn, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. But that is as nothing compared to her growing fear that even if she manages to complete her study, outmaneuver her professor and win her PhD, no contribution to science—no matter what it costs her I would put 'no matter the cost' - too many hers in the sentence  —will grant her the redemption she craves.

April 1968. A manuscript relating the story of Daniela’s life comes to a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. Stunned and moved by her story, he arranges to meet with her. There, what he learns about the “real” Daniela and the manuscript devastates him.

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.

Looks great, and congrats on the requests!! Let us know your progress.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 02, 2013, 09:48:33 PM
Thanks to both of you for the kind words. And yes, Mavia, you're right that I missed on the tense conflict in that sentence. Good catch. Perfection is such a fine thing to imagine, ever to exceed our grasp - and there's nothing like a bit of distance to show us exactly how far off we are. Thanks again,

Mark
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: kharmamea on September 04, 2013, 09:32:12 AM
Hi Mark,

     Love your story line. I have no doubt you have written a great book. Having had my query critiqued by you I've learned you are extremely insightful and have a vast knowledge of the art of querying.

    My experience is limited, and as I read your query, I didn't know what was wrong with it. So I just laid aside all the rules and tried to get a feel from it as a prospective reader and prospective agent.

    The information was all there, but it just didn't have the connectivity or easy flow I like to see. I myself didn't know how to go about improving that aspect so I didn't comment. But as I read through the other critiques one really struck me as nailing it.

     It might be worth your while to revisit Nostrabuttus's post. I realize he rewrote your query to some extent but what I really like was how he started it with your last MC the editor. The story then made so much more sense and had a even flow and connectivity that I thought was lacking.

     I see you got a request for a full. Congrats on that, that is huge. Maybe you are on the right track. But personally I think following a format more like Nostra's would get you more.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 04, 2013, 10:19:33 AM
K -
Thanks for the read and comment. As I saw you noted on some other critique, I went through a HUGE number of revisions with this query. Many of them, in fact all the early versions, began with the opening frame and the editor. They didn't work, and why was that? Because when I used the editor as the hook's subject, and then switched to Daniela and her woes, all the tension the hook set up evaporated - because it was no longer about the editor.

It took me a long time to see this, but I'm convinced of it now. Still, maybe it was chance that the query was accepted after I switched to the form you see here now. I tend to doubt that, but it may be. More time will tell.

My philosophy at this point is that a query focuses on the MC and their journey, one that must entail ever-rising mountain of conflict - both internal and external. Then cap it all off with either the agonizing choice between two terrible options, or in my case - toss in a curve ball designed to intrigue.

In the end, you do the best you can and from there it's a numbers game. So far, I'm batting 18 and 1. Not great, by any means, but then I only began to understand (I think) a few weeks ago. Elana Johnson, on the Query Tracker site, tells of her success story: somewhere between 150 and 200 rejections, she finally signed with an agent. And she really knows what she's doing in terms of queries - now, at least.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: kharmamea on September 04, 2013, 11:11:39 AM
Mark,

     Thanks for not taking offense to my short lived viewpoint.

Quote
Because when I used the editor as the hook's subject, and then switched to Daniela and her woes, all the tension the hook set up evaporated - because it was no longer about the editor.

     That makes perfect sense. Something I didn't see until it was pointed out. By the way considering the failure rate of most queries I'd say 1 out of 18 is pretty good. I was under the impression you had sent out hundreds without a bite and thought perhaps a new approach might change that. I was remiss for not following some of your posts to realize you had tried it the other way.

    I defer to your expertise and wish you the best of luck, and congrats on your recent success.

   
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: MookyMcD on September 04, 2013, 11:17:39 AM
My philosophy at this point is that a query focuses on the MC and their journey, one that must entail ever-rising mountain of conflict - both internal and external. Then cap it all off with either the agonizing choice between two terrible options, or in my case - toss in a curve ball designed to intrigue.

I could not agree with this philosophy more.  That is essentially how I would define a query letter (for concept or genre commercial fiction, anyway).  

Having said that, I also agree with Karma's feelings about the flow, which would be more accurately described as voice.  I think it's probably worth looking at your voice in the novel and your voice in the query and make sure they're the same thing.  I get the feeling from the query that you are almost telling me what happens in a book someone else wrote.  

On the numbers game thing, I think I disagree.  I don't have enough experience to disagree for certain, but my limited experience seems to indicate a laser-focused query on a strong premise can cut through the noise and garner interest most of the time, even from the cream of the cream of the crop.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 04, 2013, 04:35:00 PM
Mooky - not to give the heart of my story away, but your impression that my query seems to be about book someone else wrote is eerily on target. And that's the last I'll say of that. :wink:

As to the numbers game comment, I'm merely passing it along. I think it may have been Donald Maass who said it, or perhaps the agent who taught the Writer's Digest course on queries that I took. Either way, it was an agent. Or two. The point, as I see it, is that what floats one person's boat won't another - that's the numbers aspect. For example, I know Scorsese is one of the most talented directors out there, but he's often too violent for my taste. While I've seen some of his movies, I'll never see others. Doesn't say a thing about his execution.

Mark
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: MookyMcD on September 04, 2013, 05:20:51 PM
I'm with you on that, but just see the result differently.  I guess my point is that I'd rather be doing the homework up front and receiving less rejections than querying Quentin Tarantino with my documentary about an orchid blossom. 
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 04, 2013, 06:02:36 PM
Okay, we're still not communicating with perfect clarity. A further example: agent A decides, based on her view of the situation, that the world needs a new book about a woman who's cooking ability borders on magical, along with thus and such specific kind of complication.

Now, regardless of how much research you do, you won't know that - unless maybe she mentions it in a blog or tweet, and I think that's rare. Naturally, you don't query her with a literary query when all she does is YA Fantasy (as we discussed in another forum), so the Tarantino reference isn't apt to you and I. The point the agents I mentioned (and Noah Lukeman was another, BTW) meant is that their tastes are specific, as is their sense of market timing, and you just can't know all that. Seems to me that's the reason stories of serial rejection behind novels like The Help and A Confederacy of Dunces are so well known - they give us hope. What concerns me about your argument is that it implies that a well written query will garner waves of full requests. I don't think that's true, and I don't want to get people's hopes up in that regard.

It would be cool to know the best request ratio ever experienced. Think it's even 2:1?

Mark
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: MookyMcD on September 04, 2013, 08:42:41 PM
Okay, we're still not communicating with perfect clarity. A further example: agent A decides, based on her view of the situation, that the world needs a new book about a woman who's cooking ability borders on magical, along with thus and such specific kind of complication.
I agree that if you sent her the query for that book it would be like lightning striking and she'd probably call rather than write you to get your MS.  But I doubt there is an agent who is just waiting for the magic cooking story and hitting reject on everything else that comes in.  If she reps up-market concept fiction and has an interesting, well parsed query with a passing nod to a ready market to exploit (the thing I think most queries lack) and a clever, unique pitch, I would say the odds of her at least saying "sure, send me a few pages" are reasonably good.

Please also bear in mind, I am FAR from an expert on this stuff.  I sent out my first query ever just over two weeks ago.  You may have noticed a lot of qualifiers creep into my posts along the lines of "I don't really know much about this."  That's not false modesty, I really don't.   I seem to be experiencing some significant success and I like to think it is a product of what I am doing more than luck, but can't altogether rule that out as a possibility, either. 


It would be cool to know the best request ratio ever experienced. Think it's even 2:1?

Here's a ratio of 5 positive responses (5 or so, it got a little confusing) for every reject off the query:  http://querytracker.net/forum/index.php?topic=14630.0 (http://querytracker.net/forum/index.php?topic=14630.0)

Comparing that to 100 or 150 tries without a yes, I think it boils down to something other than a numbers game.  That is an element of it, sure, but I think our job here is to minimize the luck factor as much as possible, maximizing the number of agents who will actually be looking at a completed manuscript and basing a decision on that. 
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 04, 2013, 09:54:06 PM
Believe it or not, that very specific example I gave was loosely based on a real-life experience that the agent who taught a query-writing class offered up. Yes, she doubtlessly wasn't rejecting everything else, but she was looking for that story.

I liked the link you passed along, and I feel really confident that's far from the average experience. BTW, you asked in that thread about what to do when the agent calls. I'll pass along the link where you can download Elana Johnson's book, From the Query to the Call. She does an excellent job of giving guidance on the entire process.

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/123185124/From-the-Query-to-the-Call-by-Elana-Johnson

And now I'm done discussing this topic. Moving on...
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 17, 2013, 05:20:41 PM
Well, response from agents to my query's current form could most optimistically be described as tepid. As in, during the summer season, the Saraha is a kinda on the dry side. So, I decided to get the silver polish out and apply some elbow grease to the prose. Here, for your critiquing pleasure, is the result:

Germany, November 1919. In the defeated and conflicted city of Berlin, twelve-year-old Daniela Goldman reviles her mother and then flees. Her mother pursues. At the busy Potsdamer Platz intersection and before Daniela’s eyes, as her mother crosses the slushy boulevard against the light, a horn-blaring truck smacks her into eternity.

May 1932. Daniela is Frederick Wilhelm University’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Despite her misogynistic professor’s opposition, her relentless drive propels her to the head of her class. His mistreatment and some strong doses of Nazi-inspired abuse lead Daniela to an idea: discrimination and prejudice cost everyone, oppressor and oppressed alike—and it’s possible to determine the magnitude of that economic penalty.

Most breathtaking is the thought this theory could be her contribution to the world, the means to ransom the guilt she’s borne all these years. Because she cannot test it in Germany without accusations of impartiality, she obtains an invite from the town of Cahaba, Alabama. Although the mayor welcomes her, the townspeople thwart her efforts, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. If she survives the summer, she vows, she’ll never leave Germany again.

April 1968. The story of Daniela’s life comes to a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. After reading it, he arranges a meeting. But when the story behind the story is revealed, his admiration turns into something else entirely.

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: kharmamea on September 17, 2013, 08:31:55 PM
Hi Mark,

     I hesitated to critique your query because I know you've studied extensively and have learned a lot about the art of query writing. You've turned it into a science, trying to make it the best using statistics and formulas while digging into your bag of experiences. I have seen you do wonderful critiques for other people (myself included) and your advise will be forever appreciated. But and here it comes, apparently you still aren't connecting with the agents.

     Being a beginner, my observations of course must be taken with a grain of salt, and they may be totally off the mark, but I am going to tell you where I think you may be slipping a little. IMO your query is a little stiff, a and a little too academic. I think you may be using too many descriptors and making it more complicated than it need be, making it a little less easy to read. With the goal of trying to touch the agent with a little more human interest, here is what I probably would do with your query.

     
Quote
It is November 1919, the city of Berlin is one year into the the crisis that Germany's defeat in WWI causes. Twelve-year-old Daniela Goldman is in the midst of her own crisis. After having a terrible fight with her mother, Daniela rushes out of their home into the busy street below. Her mother in hot pursuit, unthinkingly runs into traffic only to have a horn-blaring truck smack her into eternity.

Fast forward to May 1932. Daniela is Frederick Wilhelm University’s first female anthropology PhD candidate.
Because of her misogynistic professor's treatment towards her and the abuse she faces for being Jewish in Nazi Germany, she germinates a remarkable ephiphany. Discrimination and prejudice extracts a high price from both the victims and the oppressors alike - and its possible to determine that price economically.

The idea that could be her contribution to the world could also prove to be the ransom payment her guilt has been demanding all these years. Daniela accepts an invitation from the mayor of Cahaba, Alabama to work on her theories but once again meets high resistance from the townsfolk who drive her to the point of collapse.   

If she survives the summer, she vows, she’ll return to Germany and never leave again.(Why would any Jewish person return to Nazi Germany in 1932?)

Fast Forward again to April 1968. The story of Daniela’s life comes to a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. Moved by her story, he arranges a meeting. There, the thrill of meeting her soon turns into an entirely different emotion. (That last sentence falls flat, you need a bigger bang to end your query)

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.

Mark I have absolutely no doubt that your story and writing in your book is excellent. But for your query I think you need to focus on hooking that agent into wanting to read that excellent book by condensing, and putting a little more feeling into it. Hope I had an idea or two that might be helpful. Good Luck.

Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: slightlysmall on September 17, 2013, 10:14:08 PM
FWIW, I found Kharma's rendition much easier to read and more engaging. I agree too that it's difficult to critique, knowing the work you've put in to studying the arts of novel and query writing. But I was lost in overly complicated sentence structures in your newest version and lost the real heart of the story.

Also, I don't yet see the connection between the three time periods.

Good luck with it! I am still certain that it is a great story.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: oldbag on September 18, 2013, 06:00:28 AM
Hi Mark,

I futzed with making it more 'reader-friendly'...

Regards,
-oldbag



Berlin, Germany - November 1919. In the defeated and conflicted city of Twelve-year-old Daniela Goldman reviles her mother and then flees. causes the unthinkable to happen. Her mother pursues. Following an argument, her mother pursues her through At the busy Potsdamer Platz intersection and before Daniela’s eyes, as her mother crosses the slushy boulevard against the light, a horn-blaring truck smacks her into eternity.

May 1932. Daniela is Frederick Wilhelm University’s first female anthropology PhD candidate. Despite her misogynistic professor’s opposition, her relentless drive propels her to the head of her class. His mistreatment and some strong doses of Nazi-inspired abuse lead Daniela to an idea: Discrimination and prejudice cost everyone, oppressor and oppressed alike—and it’s possible to determine calculate(?) the magnitude of that the(?) economic penalty.Most breathtaking Fueling her motivation is the thought this theory could be her contribution to the world the means to  may ransom the guilt she’s borne all these years.

Because She cannot test it her theory in Germany without accusations of im partiality, so she obtains an invite from the town of Cahaba, Alabama. The unforgiving culture of her proving ground drives Although the mayor welcomes her, the townspeople thwart her efforts, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. If she survives the summer, she vows, she’ll never leave Germany again.

April 1968. The story of Daniela’s life comes to lands on the desk of a curmudgeonly senior editor at Scribner & Sons. After reading it, he arranges a meeting. But when the story behind the story is revealed, his admiration turns into something else entirely.

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.

Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 18, 2013, 10:35:34 AM
Truly excellent ideas, everyone. I shall return to my mountaintop laboratory and fire up the megawatt generators...this Frankenstein monster will come to life yet.

Stay tuned.
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: MookyMcD on September 18, 2013, 10:53:15 AM
I think you may be better to substitute prose for the dates (e.g., substituting "thirteen years later" for May, 1932).  I would even toy with the idea of making your first sentence purely action without reference to time or place, then follow it with a statement that it occurred in Berlin at the close of WWI.  I think that could be powerful.  Although I will also say up front that this smacks of something I would think of for myself, spend a day trying to do and probably eventually discard. 
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 19, 2013, 01:04:02 PM
Okay, S&M fans, here is another shot at this. BTW, Office kindly notified me this morning that the document I'm currently using to create these query versions contains nearly 7,000 words. And, uh, it's only one of 18 files containing other versions. Hence, S&M...

If you lived in 1932 Berlin and met Daniela Goldman, you’d likely consider her the most driven person you knew. Oddly enough, she’s also the most self-effacing—but then you might be too if your battles with your mother had led to her horrific death, right before your eyes. When you were twelve.

Daniela’s twenty-five now and has but two goals in life: to make a scientific contribution that will ransom the guilt she’s borne all these years, and to pay her father back every penny it’s cost him to raise her. To those ends, she’s become not only her university’s first female PhD candidate in anthropology, but first in her class as well. All this, despite the fact her professor despises her for being female and Jewish and does everything he can to block her path. He’s not alone in that, but she accepts people’s ire, seeing as no one despises her more than she does.

She manages the seemingly impossible: a dissertation proposal so outstanding he can’t refuse it. But that victory only introduces her to bigger challenge. The inhabitants of the town she chooses for her research rebel against her, driving her to the point of physical and mental collapse. Worse though is her growing fear that no contribution, no matter how hard won, will ever redeem herself in her eyes.

I believe this 129,000-word novel will appeal to readers who liked THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES, THE BOOK THIEF, and SARAH’S KEY.


For those of you who have tuned in regularly to follow my query saga, you'll note I've dropped the frame entirely. I dither about this, but figure I'll mention the frame when a given agent wants to see only the first chapter.

And with that, let the food fight commence!

Mark
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: kharmamea on September 19, 2013, 01:23:17 PM
WoW Mark,

    I think that new revision is so so much better than your last one. I honestly can't make any recommendations to improve it. I liked that you dropped the editor segment even though I suspect it's a crucial part of your book's surprise ending. And you had a much better flow of events and information and maintained an interest in the MC.

Well Done Mark.  :clap: :clap: :clap:
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: slightlysmall on September 19, 2013, 01:26:30 PM
On a second (or third) read, I do like it much better. There's more tone to it, it feels more like your own book, and you present the problem in a straightforward manner.  :clap: :clap: :clap:
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: oldbag on September 19, 2013, 02:38:36 PM
Hi Mark,

I like the tone better... 

But the whiff I got from the other version - where she was going to compare the Nazi/Jewish thing
to the White/Black thing in Alabama - was what really piqued my interest. (What the hell happened that would send her running back to the ghosts of Germany?) I think this is what makes your story sound like something worth reading...
Don't lose it.

Regards,
-oldbag
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mark_Hughes on September 19, 2013, 05:49:32 PM
I want to thank everyone who gave me advice and support along the way. The journey's not over, of course, but I wanted to say that even if/when I don't take someone's input, I appreciate it. In this largely solitary pursuit, sometimes just one comment, good or bad, can be the finger in the dike (and boy, don't we know there's pressure behind that earthen wall).

But I think I've abused you all long enough with my query mosaics. Not that I'm done contributing, mind you. See you all around...

Mark
Title: Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
Post by: Mavia on September 19, 2013, 07:36:27 PM
Hi Mark,
Guess I got to this game a little late. I hope you have good fortune with your query. I think it looks great.
Mavia