Author Topic: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity  (Read 172 times)

Offline C.F.K.

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Dear fellow writers,

I’m calling for your help because I am considering that I’ve been wrong about the genre of my book.

You surely know how it is to write and edit over and over a story that you created and then you just don’t have enough objectivity to decide in which category your story belongs. I hate boxes and etiquettes but the truth is, if you want to "sell" your story to an agent, it has to belong in a specific genre.

I’ve queried so far agent who like "military" stories. I also queried French publishing houses, especially their thriller/noir department.
I have refused so far many polite and encouraging refusal mentioning the quality of the documentation or how delighted they were to finally see a female lead character in this type of story, but this is useless to me since a refusal is a refusal. Yet there was something about it that made me think. Could I not be “a fit” or the “right project” because I am querying the wrong persons?

Here is a summary of what my story is about:
- Life of female soldiers in a war zone,
- Difficulties of international coalition work in a war zone,
- Forbidden romance,
-  All kind of illegal trafficking in dangerous places,
- State secrets – dark secrets surrounding the use of attack drones.

Honestly, I would say that many things in my story are dramatic. And not often addressed in books or movies. Now I’m afraid that the fact that the story is taking place in the military could have sidetracked me. It’s also about a romance but this is no happy ending story either. Could it qualify for women fiction anyway?

As you can see I am lost and desperate to understand. Agents don’t have enough time to give the reasons for their refusal (the first chapter sucks, the synopsis sucks, the entire book sucks, your style, your character, your plot…), I get it, really. Yet I refuse to consider their refusal as the end. I’ve considered self-publishing but what could be worse for the future of my story than hurrying and disregard the fact that there might be a reason for the lack of interest/success in my queries? Perhaps I should focus on one genre and edit my story so that it “fits” one and only genre?

What do you think?
Thank you for time and thoughts.
Cécile
I won't ever give up on them. Their lives, their stories....they are real to me.

Offline jcwrites

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2019, 11:32:57 AM »
It's hard to offer advice without seeing your actual query letter. (And tell us how many agents you queried).

Offline C.F.K.

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2019, 12:44:39 PM »
Thanks, jcwrites for your time.

Below is my query letter:

Dear...
I am seeking representation for my military fiction novel, Occupational Hazard, complete at approximately 94,500 words. I have enclosed a synopsis and a sample chapter for your convenience. (when it was required)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom. Lieutenant Charlie Fournier is finally given the chance to achieve something significant. She is deployed in a US outpost with a difficult mission: prepare the arrival of a French detachment on the compound and find out, without anyone noticing, what the US military plots with its attack drones so close to the Pakistani border. She is young, French, female, and inexperienced. She doesn’t suspect the nature of the threats she faces and soon interferes in a situation beyond her control. She is alone and an outsider, which is bad, but soon she becomes a target, which is worse.

“Occupational Hazard” gives life to a tenacious female character, exposed to military life in one of the most secret place of Afghanistan. This novel brings to light the life of deployed female soldiers, especially how they deal with their responsibilities or develop friendships in spite of the omnipresence of sexual violence at their workplace. I was a soldier myself and even if my book is a work of fiction, parts of it portray own experiences.

My manuscript is innovative, not only because its sensitive and actual topics were never addressed from a French perspective but also because of my dynamic and biting style which takes the reader on a journey through a gripping story.

I would like to thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely,

In February, I've queried 19 agents (US, UK) labeled "military" without any success.
In May, I've queried 13 french publishing houses (there are no agents in France, and you must query with a full manuscript). I've received four refusals so far.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2019, 02:06:57 PM by C.F.K. »
I won't ever give up on them. Their lives, their stories....they are real to me.

Offline jcwrites

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2019, 01:55:09 PM »
This would be easier to read if you'd insert line spaces between the paragraphs. (Use the "modify" button.)

Offline jcwrites

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2019, 12:43:00 PM »

Dear...

I am seeking representation (this is a given) for my military fiction novel, Occupational Hazard (Title should be all caps), complete at approximately 94,500 (round to nearest thousand) words. I have enclosed a synopsis and a sample chapter for your convenience. (put this info at the bottom) (when it was required)

Suggest you rewrite your opening something like: OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD is a 95,000-word military novel and add a brief hook like about a female French officer who must fight not only Taliban geurillas but also etc. etc.....

Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom. Lieutenant Charlie Fournier is finally given the chance to achieve something significant. She is deployed in a US outpost with a difficult mission: prepare the arrival of a French detachment on the compound and find out, without anyone noticing, what the US military plots with its attack drones so close to the Pakistani border. She is young, French, female, and inexperienced. She doesn’t suspect the nature of the threats she faces and soon interferes in a situation beyond her control. She is alone and an outsider, which is bad, but soon she becomes a target, which is worse.

Much of this vague ("something significant", "situation beyond her control", "becomes a target"). A query letter should be around ten sentences that focus on the main character: Who is she? What does she want? What stands in her way? What does she plan to do about it? What are the consequences of failure? Craft those answers into a narrative that will entice the agent to ask for more pages. That's the goal.

“Occupational Hazard” gives life to a tenacious female character, exposed to military life in one of the most secret place of Afghanistan. This novel brings to light the life of deployed female soldiers, especially how they deal with their responsibilities or develop friendships in spite of the omnipresence of sexual violence at their workplace. I was a soldier myself and even if my book is a work of fiction, parts of it portray own experiences.

My manuscript is innovative, not only because its sensitive and actual topics were never addressed from a French perspective but also because of my dynamic and biting style which takes the reader on a journey through a gripping story

These sentences tell us "about" your story instead of leading us through it. Suggest you cut them and devote the space to the answers to those five questions.

I would like to thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


If you post a rewrite, append the newer version to the bottom of the thread; that way, others can more easily follow your changes.

I truly hope this helps. I can relate to how your experiences must have impacted your life and led you to express yourself through this story. Stay with it.

Offline C.F.K.

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2019, 03:06:47 AM »

Dear...

I am seeking representation (this is a given) for my military fiction novel, Occupational Hazard (Title should be all caps), complete at approximately 94,500 (round to nearest thousand) words. I have enclosed a synopsis and a sample chapter for your convenience. (put this info at the bottom) (when it was required)

Suggest you rewrite your opening something like: OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD is a 95,000-word military novel and add a brief hook like about a female French officer who must fight not only Taliban geurillas but also etc. etc.....

Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom. Lieutenant Charlie Fournier is finally given the chance to achieve something significant. She is deployed in a US outpost with a difficult mission: prepare the arrival of a French detachment on the compound and find out, without anyone noticing, what the US military plots with its attack drones so close to the Pakistani border. She is young, French, female, and inexperienced. She doesn’t suspect the nature of the threats she faces and soon interferes in a situation beyond her control. She is alone and an outsider, which is bad, but soon she becomes a target, which is worse.

Much of this vague ("something significant", "situation beyond her control", "becomes a target"). A query letter should be around ten sentences that focus on the main character: Who is she? What does she want? What stands in her way? What does she plan to do about it? What are the consequences of failure? Craft those answers into a narrative that will entice the agent to ask for more pages. That's the goal.

“Occupational Hazard” gives life to a tenacious female character, exposed to military life in one of the most secret place of Afghanistan. This novel brings to light the life of deployed female soldiers, especially how they deal with their responsibilities or develop friendships in spite of the omnipresence of sexual violence at their workplace. I was a soldier myself and even if my book is a work of fiction, parts of it portray own experiences.

My manuscript is innovative, not only because its sensitive and actual topics were never addressed from a French perspective but also because of my dynamic and biting style which takes the reader on a journey through a gripping story

These sentences tell us "about" your story instead of leading us through it. Suggest you cut them and devote the space to the answers to those five questions.

I would like to thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


If you post a rewrite, append the newer version to the bottom of the thread; that way, others can more easily follow your changes.

I truly hope this helps. I can relate to how your experiences must have impacted your life and led you to express yourself through this story. Stay with it.

Thanks for your help. It wasn't easy to go so deeply into her real motivations and what truly is at stake.

Here is my attempt to answer the five questions. I kept the part about her mission since I consider important for the agent to know what the story is about.

"Dear Agent,

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD is a 95,000 words military novel about a tenacious female French officer, exposed to military life in Jalalabad - one of the most secret place of Afghanistan- during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Driven by the arrogance of the youth, the inexperienced Lieutenant Charlie Fournier arrives in the US base of Jalalabad eager to achieve her mission - prepare the arrival of a French detachment and find out, without anyone noticing, what the US military plots with its attack drones so close to the Pakistani border.

Her desire to prove her worthiness blinds her. The hostility she had feared as an outsider reveals to be the least of the overwhelming obstacles that lie in her path. Her security and her life are at stake, on both sides of the barbed wire.

Fighting back is her only option, yet will that be enough when coming back home alive also means being a different, emotional shattered person?

I was a soldier myself and even if my book is a work of fiction, parts of it portray own experiences.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,"

Is this going in the right direction?
« Last Edit: September 07, 2019, 09:18:36 AM by C.F.K. »
I won't ever give up on them. Their lives, their stories....they are real to me.

Offline jcwrites

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2019, 08:18:10 AM »

Dear Agent,

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD is a 95,000 words 95,000-word military novel about a tenacious female French officer, (no comma) exposed to military life in Jalalabad - one of the most secret place of secretive places in Afghanistan- during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Driven by the arrogance of the youth, the inexperienced Lieutenant Charlie Fournier arrives in at the US base of Jalalabad, (comma) eager to achieve her mission -[:] prepare for the arrival of a French detachment and find out, without anyone noticing, what the US military plots with its attack drones so close to the Pakistani border. (This sounds like a high-level assignment for an inexperienced LT. Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "what the US military plots". Perhaps "why the US military keeps its attack drones etc. etc."?)

Her desire to prove her worthiness blinds her. (vague) The hostility she had feared as an outsider reveals to be the least of the overwhelming obstacles that lie in her path. (This is way too general.) Her security and her life are at stake, on both sides of the barbed wire. (Wouldn't this apply to anyone in a combat zone? Why is it unique to Charlie)

Fighting back (against whom?) is her only option, yet will that be enough when coming back home alive also means being a different, emotional[ly] shattered person? (I can't follow the logic here.)

I was a soldier myself[,] and even if although my book is a work of fiction, parts of it portray [my] own experiences.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The basic conflict of your story is unclear (especially in that there's no named antagonist). I think you need to drill down closer to the action. What is Charlie's mission? Who is blocking her and why? What are Charlie's options, and--most importantly--what are the stakes? (Emotional damage is not enough.)

One minor nit: consider replacing the "space-hyphen-space" punctuation with double hyphens closed up (Example: "Jalalabad - one" would be "Jalalabad--one") or even better with an em dash.

Last thing: Your command of English is awesome. (I lived in France for several months, so in a reverse way I have a strong appreciation of your accomplishment). However, your posts contain a sprinkling of idiomatic faults. In submitting to American publishers, your query letter must be grammatically perfect, else publishers may fear that the manuscript itself will require close scrutiny. You might consider having an American friend check your material for such errors.

Sorry for the delay in replying. (Trying to get ready for Pitch Wars.)

Offline C.F.K.

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2019, 07:44:18 AM »
Dear jcwrites,

Thank you for your answer.

I’m struggling with that query for multiple reasons but mainly because there are many plots and characters which stories interact with others.
When I try to summarize those plots I’m ending up with a synopsis which the agent didn’t ask for.

I’m going to tell you a bit more about my story.

Charlie arrives in a US base. It’s 2007, there is a war going on. She is a female, young but also a desk jockey and French. She would be exposed to prejudice and hostility for each one of those characteristics taken separately but she is all that at once. She is desperate to belong and has always dreamed of more action (background: trouble in her old unit).

She is sent with an impossible mission. Why? Her ex-boss wants her fired. What’s the deal with drones on this base? Technologies change quickly and the legal framework isn’t as quick. The US was the only having combat drones back then. They are necessary and ultimately a good thing. But during operation enduring freedom, the CIA (oops spoiler) organized secretive missions which were legally borderline (pre-emptive attack, attack of targets in Pakistan – which we were not at war with). Charlie tries to spy on the spies and let me tell you that she is not good at it. She goes too far, driven by her need to succeed and end up empty-handed (not really but I’m not going to reveal everything here).

When she is patrolling, she is exposed to physical (IED, attacks) and emotional violence (seeing others being hurt or die). She also gets to understand what motivate the locals in helping, tolerating or fighting the troops. She sees what coalition works means when the motivation of our governments is so different (engagement, human and technical resources, how our countries deal with a crisis and so on). She also gets to experience what “putting your life at risk” really means which is very different than when you watch a movie from the safety of your couch (of course I didn’t make a shopping list of all these topics, it’s just a long story).

Inside the base, there is also violence but a different one. Being a woman in an all-male world isn’t easy but in France Charlie only experienced bullying. In the US military 1 in 4 women is a victim of sexual violence at their workplace. Those who talk expose themselves to a broad spectrum of retaliation.  I hint this topic during the entire story and mostly through one character background.

That character is a military cop and he is also dealing with an important case of trafficking involving soldiers (spoiler, Afghanistan is a country of drugs). Many characters play a role in this subplot which ends up in a huge confrontation at the end of the story (it’s far away from a happy ending).

Then there is the forbidden love (not as cheesy as it sounds) in a place where fraternization could cost you your career (by the way, in the French military it’s allowed and it works).

So as you can see, this is the story of that girl. If she hadn’t volunteered to patrol (it’s not her job), she wouldn’t have exposed herself to violence. If she had believed her friends when they tried to warn her about how her attitude (she is french which is considered on a US scale as too friendly), she wouldn’t have been assaulted (or maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything). If she hadn’t tried to spy on a federal agency she wouldn’t have risked her job or her freedom. If she hadn’t volunteered for a deployment she would have stayed home, safe and wouldn’t have come back broken and changed. My story is about mistakes and painful life lessons.

I don’t see how I can say that in 10 sentences. It’s so hard to focus on one plot since they are all connected and crucial to the story.
I’m going to need time to work on that.

About my choice to write in English first (since then I wrote in in french too), I honestly cannot explain why. That’s the way it had to be.  I always knew that I would need the help of a native speaker to correct my writing. 

By the way, I had to google what Pitch War is, that tells you how much of a baby I am in this game.
I won't ever give up on them. Their lives, their stories....they are real to me.

Offline jcwrites

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2019, 09:17:21 AM »
Golly. This sounds like an epic in the vein of classic war novels like Catch 22, Bridge on the RIver Kwai, The Sand Pebbles, Dispatches. These all have a central character and defining theme but no single hero-versus-villain, beginning-middle-end conflict.

How do you pitch something like this (i.e., those "ten sentences")?... You pick  the most compelling and engaging subplot (presumably it would involve your main character) and build your query around that. I've said before, a query letter is not a synopsis; it's sole purpose is to entice an agent into asking for more pages.

Success of this sort of work hinges on the writing itself, whether the narrative style evokes the chosen setting in a compelling and graphic manner, whether the characters' thoughts and actions draw us into their world of conflict and pain and passion.

I urge you to post your opening five pages (there's a forum for this). Query letter aside, this material will be the defining factor in whether an agent wants to move forward.

Offline C.F.K.

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2019, 01:56:32 AM »
The idea that my story could qualify to be in the same sentence as the words epic, "classic war novel" and catch 22 is beyond any expectation. It pleases me too much and I can’t let my self get too excited about it since I'm an unpublished writer on the long and lonely path of humility.

I agree with you that the narrative serves the story (or kill it). And here comes my second problem. How to set the story without dumping information? I wanted rhythm and action but the background matters too much to be cut out. Do I mistrust the reader? Probably and that's bad but once more I do not have enough distance with this story to understand what’s not crucial for understanding….

I’ve edited my first chapters so often to get quicker into the story, to hook the reader but I am positive that there is still room for improvement since no one wants to publish my novel.

I’ll post my opening pages on the other forum. Cannot wait to hear if my issue is a boring narrative (which would be bad) or simply too much info-dumping (which would be fixable).
I won't ever give up on them. Their lives, their stories....they are real to me.

Offline C.F.K.

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Re: All about that genre - In need of your knowledge, honesty and objectivity
« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2019, 04:40:02 AM »
another try :)

Dear Agent,

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD is a 95,000-word military novel about a tenacious female French officer exposed to military life in Jalalabad - one of the most secretive places of Afghanistan- during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Driven by the arrogance of youth, inexperienced Lieutenant Charlie Fournier arrives in the US base of Jalalabad, eager to achieve her mission: prepare for the arrival of a French detachment and find out, without anyone noticing, what the US military plots with its attack drones so close to the Pakistani border. The CIA is involved, the nature of their missions and the targets' identities are surrounded by thick secrecy and lies. Spying on the spies is a serious matter and could become Charlie biggest mistake.

The hostility she had feared as an outsider reveals to be the least of the overwhelming obstacles that lie in her path. Eager to prove her worthiness, Charlie exposes herself to the danger of life beyond the barbed wires. Yet war is not the only threat she faces. Her innocence also jeopardizes her safety inside the base. What is she supposed to do when the people she trusted and who are supposed to protect her are the one going after her?

This story is about that young imperfect woman, her mistakes and how she learned the most important lesson of her life: fight back, no matter how, or die.

I was a soldier myself, and although my book is fiction, parts of it portray my own experiences.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
« Last Edit: September 12, 2019, 04:53:55 AM by C.F.K. »
I won't ever give up on them. Their lives, their stories....they are real to me.