Author Topic: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]  (Read 250487 times)

Offline MookyMcD

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #30 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.
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Offline Mark_Hughes

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #31 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
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Offline MookyMcD

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #32 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. 
« Last Edit: September 04, 2013, 05:22:23 PM by MookyMcD »
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Offline Mark_Hughes

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #33 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
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Offline MookyMcD

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #34 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

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. 
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Offline Mark_Hughes

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #35 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...
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Offline Mark_Hughes

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #36 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.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2013, 07:46:25 PM by Mark_Hughes »
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Offline kharmamea

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #37 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.

« Last Edit: September 18, 2013, 05:18:07 AM by kharmamea »

Offline slightlysmall

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #38 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.

Offline oldbag

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #39 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.

« Last Edit: September 18, 2013, 06:02:30 AM by oldbag »
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Offline Mark_Hughes

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #40 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.
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Offline MookyMcD

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #41 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. 
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Offline Mark_Hughes

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #42 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
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Offline kharmamea

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #43 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:

Offline slightlysmall

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Re: A Place for Every Gift [historical fiction]
« Reply #44 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: