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Author Topic: Query: Zwerfster Chic - Commercial Fiction  (Read 3120 times)
billiek
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« on: November 03, 2017, 09:16:48 AM »

Okay. Tossed! Thanks for the slap of reality. Rewriting Writing all-new version. (Also have been reading through queryshark. Thanks, jcwrites, for sending me there.)

New version below. (Is that How I do this? Or do I place it here?)
-b

Zwerfster Chic – general fiction – 91,000 words – airport, not lit


Dear [AGENT],

A former federal agent, just out of prison, is in search of a mother. She discovers one in the con artist she’s been hired to follow.

Hidden behind the lurid headlines about arms traffickers and drug cartels, hedge fund stars and scam artists, is the story of little Elise — one-time mixed-race child of Apartheid, now forty-five years old and still dressing like the shabbiest loser you knew in high school.

No one can imagine that this “tiny Coloured girl” might be the one to bring it all crashing down.

She longs for the feeling that she belongs. That, and the ability to hold her sh** together long enough to get back to her family. But by accepting a strange offer from a secretive security company, Elise steps across a line that may mean never coming back. And it’s while she’s out there on her own, dog-paddling among the sharks, that she finds the most beguiling and dangerous woman in her life.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is kind of like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but nowhere near as dark and sinister. Maybe if it had been written by Nora Ephron, if she had been an FBI Special Agent. And she was something of a loon.

Included are the first five pages of my completed first novel as part of this email.

I appreciate your time and attention.

Kind regards,
billiek
billiek@blahblahblah.com
« Last Edit: November 06, 2017, 10:03:25 AM by billiek » Logged
jcwrites
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« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2017, 11:19:25 AM »

While there are no hard and fast rules as to query letter format, the received wisdom is that it should answer these five questions: Who is the main character? What does she want? Who or what stands in her way? What does she plan to do about it? And what's the price of failure?

Follow this with a "housekeeping" paragraph containing the title (ALL CAPS), word count (rounded up to nearest thousand), and genre. Saying the novel is complete is superfluous, since no one's supposed to query a work-in-process anyway. (One of the few inviolate rules.)

Do all of this in around 250 words, max. And remember: a QL is neither a synopsis nor a cover blurb. Its sole purpose is to entice the agent to read your material.

Before you tackle a rewrite (yeah, you should start over), visit http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ , where a genuine literary agent reviews query letters submitted for critique. Spend a few hours perusing the archives; you'll be glad you did.

Good luck.
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gushags16
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« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2017, 11:32:18 AM »

I will say up front that I am better at editing prose than query letters, but I see a few problems with this that you should probably address.


A former federal agent, just out of prison, is in search of a mother. She discovers one in the con artist she’s been hired to follow.

I assume Elise is the con artist. So why are you leading with the Federal Agent? With the weight you give the agent in this query, she sounds like a narrative device that allows us to get to know Elise.

Quote
Hidden behind the lurid headlines about arms traffickers and drug cartels, hedge fund stars and scam artists, is the story of little Elise — one-time mixed-race child of Apartheid, now forty-five years old and still dressing like the shabbiest loser you knew in high school.

No one can imagine that this “tiny Coloured girl” might be the one to bring it all crashing down.

She longs for the feeling that she belongs. That, and the ability to hold her sh** together long enough to get back to her family. But by accepting a strange offer from a secretive security company, Elise steps across a line that may mean never coming back. And it’s while she’s out there on her own, dog-paddling among the sharks, that she finds the most beguiling and dangerous woman in her life.

Almost all of this is description of Elise. It is not plot. And what is plot gets qualified by cliches: "But by accepting a strange offer from a secretive security company, Elise steps across a line that may mean never coming back."

(After reading this last part again I'm starting to wonder if Elise is the federal agent. If I don't know, odds are an agent won't either.)

Quote
ZWERFSTER CHIC is kind of like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but nowhere near as dark and sinister. Maybe if it had been written by Nora Ephron, if she had been an FBI Special Agent. And she was something of a loon.

You need different comps. Don't choose a book that was a massive success. Ideally choose a couple books that resemble yours from within the last five years. Some people say only the last two or three years. I know, it's hard.

Second, we need to know what your qualifications are to write this book. Not, Nora Ephron if she was a loon. This should basically be a business letter at this point: "I've been published here, here, here. I got an MFA from here. My work as an FBI Agent exposed me to drug cartels etc. etc." I think that's especially important in this case because of the racial component you are inserting into the query. Are you originally from South Africa? Do you have experience growing up under apartheid? It sounds like you are or were a FBI Agent: make that more clear. Does this book take place in South Africa or the U.S.? And if it's in the U.S., what is the significance of Elise's race?

Basically, we need more information in this query. You seem to be trying to hint at what's in the book. You need to give the agent about three-quarters of the plot of the book, only holding back the ending. Instead of "Hidden behind the lurid headlines about arms traffickers and drug cartels, hedge fund stars and scam artists, is the story of little Elise," we need the story of Elise.

And I want to emphasize again that without a reason for race to be in the query (you have it twice) I feel like there are a lot of agents who are going to give this a quick pass. I think it's one thing for a character in the book to speak derisively about someone as a "tiny Coloured girl," but another thing to include it in the only 250-word introduction you will ever have with this agent. If it's important enough to include in a query, the agent better understand why.

Hope this helps.

EDIT: Also everything JCWrites said.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2017, 11:34:44 AM by gushags16 » Logged
billiek
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« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2017, 03:57:49 PM »

Yeah, keep going! Nothing to see here. Newest version further along.

New version of query
------------------------

Dear [AGENT],

Elise was the mixed-race child of a white woman in Apartheid South Africa, the light-skinned daughter of a minority activist in Boston, an undercover agent with an affinity for the people she was investigating (for which she just finished nine years in federal prison). She’s spent most her life feeling as if she’s trapped between worlds.

Given a chance to start anew, Elise is hired to associate herself with Mia, a financial con artist stealing millions from a hedge fund genius. But it will mean traveling the world under a false passport, and if caught, Elise will be the one going back to prison. Her gut tells her to have nothing to do with any of this, but after an hour with the woman, it’s clear that Mia has the ability to give Elise everything she’s been looking for.

Now if she can only keep her little sister from telling Mom.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is a 91,000-word general fiction about race, love, a dysfunctional family, aggravating sisters, and falling under the spell of someone you know is not good for you. Included are the first five pages of this, my first novel, as part of this email.

I appreciate your time and attention.

Kind regards,
billiek
« Last Edit: November 04, 2017, 12:19:45 PM by billiek » Logged
MKWrites_318
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« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2017, 04:29:55 PM »


Elise was the (I would say "grew up a" or "started life as the" instead of "was the.") mixed-race child of a white woman in Apartheid South Africa, the light-skinned daughter of a minority activist (I would say what race her father is instead of just "minority activist") in Boston, an undercover agent with an affinity for the people she was investigating (I'd be specific about what she did instead of just saying "developed an affinity for...") (for which she just finished nine years in federal prison). (Alright, that sentence is super unclear and runs on for a while. I would split it into two or reword it: "Elise started life as the mixed-race child of a South African white woman and an American minority activist. She's just finished nine years in federal prison, because she developed an affinity for the people she was supposed to be investigating, and that's not allowed when you're an undercover agent." She’s spent most her life feeling as if she’s trapped between worlds.

Given a chance to start anew, Elise is hired to associate herself with Mia, (What does that mean "hired to associate herself"? Be specific. What is she doing for Mia?) a financial con artist stealing millions from a hedge fund genius. But it will mean traveling the world under a false passport, and if caught, Elise will be the one going back to prison. Her gut tells her to have nothing to do with any of this,. If they're caught, Elise will be thrown back in prison, but after an hour with the womanMia, it’s clear that Miashe has the abilitycan to give Elise everything she’s been looking for.

Now if she can only keep her little sister from telling Mom. This sentence breaks the flow for me. It suddenly feels like Elise is underage. It's phrased the way it would be for sisterly hijinks in a YA or middlegrade novel.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is a 91,000-word general fiction about race, love, a dysfunctional family, aggravating sisters, and falling under the spell of a woman you know is not good for you. Included are the first five pages of this, my first novel, as part of this email. You probably already know this, but just in case, make sure you always follow their specific submission guidelines, instead of just sending 5 pages.

I hope my notes are clear. Best of luck!
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billiek
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« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2017, 05:35:31 PM »

MKWrite,

Thank you. Your notes are very clear and they've helped make my query much better.

(And I do know.)

-b
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billiek
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« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2017, 12:23:24 PM »

Nope! This sucked before the night was through.

Sorry.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2017, 07:46:13 PM by billiek » Logged
mgmystery
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« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2017, 09:08:36 AM »

I know you're probably rewriting, but I have some suggestions. Since Elise was in federal prison 9 yrs and had a career before, I'm assuming she's at least in her thirties. I think it would help to concentrate the query on who Elise is now. Failed at her job, just got out of prison, what does she do? Is she forced to return to her family? How does she meet Mia? What does she hope to accomplish?

Queries are a nightmare, and it's not unusual to write several. Cry Good luck on the rewrite!
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billiek
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« Reply #8 on: November 06, 2017, 09:41:47 AM »

Thanks, mgmystery, for the suggestion. In this novel, who she was is more important than who she is now, as she's dealing with that history. Hopefully, I get it righter(¯\_(ツ)_/¯) this time.

Update: crumbled and tossed into trash. Bounces off rim. Now I have to go pick it up.

Move along.

-----------------------------------------------
Dear [AGENT],

Elise feels like she’s always getting sh** wrong.

She was the mixed-race child of an unmarried white woman in Apartheid South Africa, then the light-skinned stepdaughter of a minority rights activist in Boston. As a federal agent, she was labeled the office quota-filler despite proving her ability. While working undercover, she became close with the people she was investigating — and they tried putting a bullet to her head.

Now she’s out after nine years in federal prison.

Because of an incidental connection, a private security company wants to hire Elise to ingratiate herself with Mia, a financial con artist who’s stealing millions from one of their clients. Her gut tells her to have nothing to do with any of this, but with the money they offer, it’s her best shot at starting over. Taking the job requires Elise leaving the country — if she goes, it may mean never coming back; if caught, she’ll be the one thrown back into prison.

She’s done stupider. Many times. It's almost a gift.

Mia is beguiling, quickly making Elise believe she’s appreciated. Valued. Wanted. But as exhilarating as it all feels, Elise knows this woman can’t be trusted.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is 91,000-word commercial fiction about race, love, dysfunctional families, guys and their goddamned guns, the perfect airport reunion, and finding stylish shoes that are also good for when it’s time to run. Included are the first (x) pages of this, my first novel, as part of the email.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards,
billiek
« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 04:30:09 PM by billiek » Logged
paddler
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« Reply #9 on: November 06, 2017, 09:25:05 PM »

Just a couple of quibbles

The first line needs to be cleaned up. Maybe something like knowing it is her last chance.

Querys are generally done in present tense. The was in that second line could be misconstrued as a mistake by a hurried agent or assistant. Maybe Born the mixed-race child...

Do not do stupider.

That line of housekeeping has to be redone. Many agents will drop down there first to make sure the parameters are something they can sell. Decide on a genre and dump all the rambling wreck.

Other than that, it is close.
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MKWrites_318
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« Reply #10 on: November 06, 2017, 10:24:08 PM »

It just needs to be tightened up a bit.

I worry it might be too many paragraphs.

Elise feels like she’s always getting sh** wrong.

She was the mixed-race child of an unmarried white woman in Apartheid South Africa, then the light-skinned stepdaughter of a minority rights activist in Boston. As a federal agent, she was labeled the office quota-filler despite proving her ability. While working undercover, she became close with the people she was investigating — and they tried putting a bullet to in her head.

Now she’s out after nine years in federal prison.

Because of an incidental connection, (This clause is unnecessary, unless you're going to clarify the connection.) a private security company wants to hire Elise to ingratiate herself with Mia, (I wouldn't say "ingratiate herself." Something with more intrigue, like "spy on" or "investigate") a financial con artist who’s stealing millions from one of their clients. Her gut tells her to have nothing to do with any of this, but with the money they offer, it’s her best shot at starting over. Taking the job requires Elise leaving the country — if she goes, it may mean never coming back; if caught, she’ll be the one thrown back into prison.

She’s done stupider. (Don't like "stupider.") Many times. It's almost a gift.

Mia is beguiling, quickly making Elise believe she’s appreciated. Valued. Wanted. But as exhilarating as it all feels, Elise knows this woman can’t be trusted.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is 91,000-word commercial fiction (I agree with paddler that you should pick a genre.) about race, love, and dysfunctional families, guys and their goddamned guns, the perfect airport reunion, and finding stylish shoes that are also good for when it’s time to run. (It's just way too many themes for the query.) Included are the first (x) pages of this, my first novel, as part of the email.

I like the voice in this version a lot. Smiley 
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billiek
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« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2017, 07:14:56 AM »

paddler & MKWrites, thanks for your suggestions.

MKWrites: you suggest ditching "Because of an incidental connection,..." and I admit, I hate the clunkiness of that clause, but after reading just about every one of the entries in Query Shark, I added this bit because I could hear her asking "Why the hell would they hire this person for the job? She's obviously not top-of-the-class." I've tried finding better ways to phrase this succinctly, so if anyone can give a suggestion.
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mgmystery
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« Reply #12 on: November 07, 2017, 08:07:26 AM »

I like the voice in this one too! I really think the office quota filler helps tie the past to the present. Nice job pulling everything together!  Thumbs Up I added a few suggestions below. (Also, I don't know what agents you're querying, but some agents who also rep kid lit might have a spam filter that rejects queries with language.)

Elise feels like she’s is always getting sh** wrong.

She was Born the mixed-race child of an unmarried white woman in Apartheid South Africa, then raised the light-skinned stepdaughter of a minority rights activist in Boston,
 she was always in the wrong place
. As a federal agent, she was labeled the office quota-filler despite proving her ability. While working undercover, she became close with the people she was investigating — and they tried putting a bullet to her head. (gun to her head or bullet in her head)

Now she’s out after nine years in federal prison.

Because of an incidental connection,The past finally seems to be in her favor when a private security company wants to hire Elise to get close to ingratiate herself with Mia, a financial con artist who’s stealing millions from one of their clients. Her gut tells her to have nothing to do with any of this, but with the money they offer, it’s is her best shot at starting over. Taking the job requires Elise leaving the country — if she goes, it may mean never coming back; if caught, she’ll be the one thrown back into prison.

She’s risked more for less done stupider. Many times. It's almost a gift.

Mia is beguiling, quickly making Elise believe she’s appreciated. Valued. Wanted. But as exhilarating as it all feels, Elise knows this woman can’t be trusted.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is 91,000-word commercial fiction about race, love, and dysfunctional families, guys and their goddamned guns, the perfect airport reunion, and finding stylish shoes that are also good for when it’s time to run. Included are the first (x) pages of this, my first novel, as part of the email.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 08:09:18 AM by mgmystery » Logged
billiek
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« Reply #13 on: November 07, 2017, 09:22:07 AM »

mgmystery,

Thank you! I can maybe live with "get close to." ("Ingratiating herself with" is what she's actually doing, but ingratiate is such a horrible sounding/looking word. It should be stricken from all dictionaries.)

Shoot! Sorry. Reading it aloud, I see I already used the word "close" in the first big paragraph. I don't like repeating words so close (Shoot! Again!) together unless it's to make a point. Though your suggestion did lead me to "hire Elise to connect with Mia," which has a connotation of dating that I like.

I am trying very hard to avoid terms and phrases that are spy/crime thriller genre specific because, though the inciting incident might make it sound like one, it's not. Every reader so far has said it's "women's fiction, and something else." An agent specializing for women's fiction said "No, it's general fiction." The story itself is clear enough, but here, I have only 250 words to entice, not explain.

Thus the voice towards the end. It's the voice of the novel and, more importantly, I'm trying to get across the point that this is not the genre fiction they might think it is. Airport — yes, lit or genre — no.

Makes for a hard sell, but we write the stories we have to write.

Also, I originally had "Elise is always getting sh** wrong," but then that makes it sound like her being born a mixed-race child in that place, at that time, was somehow her fault. It's not her fault, but that doesn't stop her from feeling like it is ("If only I had been whiter/smarter/prettier/taller/a boy."). Am I thinking too much into that? (I process every word I write through how I think Query Shark might respond.)
« Last Edit: November 07, 2017, 10:22:15 AM by billiek » Logged
billiek
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« Reply #14 on: November 07, 2017, 12:13:15 PM »

I've wrestled this into an ending that expresses more clearly the point I'm trying to get across by tying it to the beginning.

I can't change to "Born" because that gives the impression that she was born black in S.A. to a white woman (though she was actually termed "Coloured" back then, being mixed-race) so shipped off to the States. She lived in S.A. until she was nine, when the woman decided she would rather end her own life than continue on disowned by her family and living in poverty, or admit to being the girl's mother.) I know the reader of the query doesn't know this, but this particular wording serves its purpose.

And I keep, but alter, the "stupider" (yes, it's a word, as lousy as it sounds) phrase because I'm trying to convey the voice of a novel titled "Bag Lady Chic." (It's a loosely translated Dutch word. Zwerfster, that is; not stupider.)

And I just added the echo of that line. (Yes, I know! Y'all say "Get rid of it" and I say "Double-down!")

And just added ", breaking parole."

Thank you for the help.

(And does anyone else have the Preview pane show up as only one line tall? It's irritating.)

Toss! Bonk! Hit the cat.

-------------------

Dear [AGENT],

Elise feels like she’s always getting sh** wrong.

She was the mixed-race child of an unmarried white woman in Apartheid South Africa, then the light-skinned stepdaughter of a minority rights activist in Boston. As a federal agent, she was labeled the office quota-filler despite proving her ability. While working undercover, she became close with the people she was investigating — and they tried putting a bullet in her head.

Now she’s out after nine years in federal prison.

A private security company wants to hire Elise to connect with Mia, a financial con artist who’s stealing millions from one of their clients. Her gut tells her to have nothing to do with any of this, but the money they offer is her best shot at starting over. Taking the job requires leaving the country, breaking parole — if she goes, it may mean never coming back; if caught, she’ll be the one thrown back into prison.

She’s done stupider things. Many times. It’s almost her gift.

Mia is beguiling, quickly making Elise believe she’s appreciated. Valued. Wanted. She knows this woman can’t be trusted, but the little girl in Elise finds the attention intoxicating. And she’s done stupider things.

ZWERFSTER CHIC is 91,000-word commercial fiction. Included are the first [X THINGS] of this, my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards,
billiek
« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 04:31:17 PM by billiek » Logged
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