Saturday, January 3, 2009

#88-Revised Twice

Dear Query Shark:

Anne Wells expects nothing from life but to be married to the man she loves and to do what society expects in Regency England. Her easy plan becomes nearly impossible, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars. She is left a helpless, unclaimed woman in a world full of predatory men and is nearly forced by her parents into marriage to the unbearable Sir Thomas.

Why?? Why do her parents want her to marry the unbearable Sir Thomas?

I'm seeing a lot of this lately: events in books (or worse, queries) that are there because the writer needs them for the book NOT because the story needs the event to be cohesive. The story has to make sense. People don't just get married off to evil villains for no reason. It's the REASON that makes the story compelling!!

Her salvation comes in the shape of a “business proposal” from a handsome, near-stranger. named Edward Hill, who proposes a platonic marriage until her soldier returns to make her his again. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse, she accepts his hand.

Why on earth would some guy want a platonic marriage? What's in it for him? Again, the reason anyone would do this is why the story will be interesting.


There are a few aspects of her new endeavor, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier never returns from battle, and what if her marriage of convenience becomes something more? Anne must learn to face the endless complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where reputation is everything, and marriage is viewed as a business transaction.



I sought you as an agent because you were seeking my genre and I feel that we could work well together. My manuscript for Loyalty is 90,000 words and is available upon request.



Thank you for your consideration and your time.

Form rejection.
-----------------------------
Dear Query Shark,

Anne Wells is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life. Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars, and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men. When she is nearly forced into marriage by her parents and the unbearable Sir Thomas (who views her as an object that he must possess) she readily accepts a “business proposal” from a man she hardly knows to remedy her sad situation. This man, Edward Hill, would act as a surrogate husband and would concede to annul the marriage upon her soldier’s return. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse than Mr. Hill, she accepts his hand. There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle and leaves her to endure a platonic marriage? And what if
Edward wants the business proposal to be something more?


What have I been telling you about big ass blocks of text?
All together now: DO NOT DO THIS.

Here's the opening paragraph with the white space you need in an email query:

Anne Wells is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life. Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars, and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men.

When she is nearly forced into marriage by her parents and the unbearable Sir Thomas (who views her as an object that he must possess) she readily accepts a “business proposal” from a man she hardly knows to remedy her sad situation.

This man, Edward Hill, would act as a surrogate husband and would concede to annul the marriage upon her soldier’s return. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse than Mr. Hill, she accepts his hand.

There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle and leaves her to endure a platonic marriage? And what if Edward wants the business proposal to be something more?

In the end, Anne learns the difference between fantasies and real life, and must face the complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where marriage is viewed as a business transaction.

I sought you as an agent because you expressed an interest in romance and historical fiction. My manuscript for Loyalty is 90,000 words and is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration and your time.

Now here's the critiqued version which has more white space cause I interjected my surly comments as well:

Anne Wells is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life.

This is tell not show. Telling not showing is a cardinal sin. What does she DO that would show us she's shy and naive about marriage and life.

Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the Napoleonic Wars, and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men.

If she's a woman in paragraph two, why is she a shy naive teenage girl in paragraph one? Why is she helpless. She's got parents.

When she is nearly forced into marriage by her parents and the unbearable Sir Thomas (who views her as an object that he must possess) she readily accepts a “business proposal” from a man she hardly knows to remedy her sad situation.

So, why do her parents want to force her into marriage with the unbearable Sir Thomas. And if they can force her to do stuff, how exactly is she going to marry this other guy without permission?

And why on god's green earth would she even be tempted to marry anyone at all other than her honey pie? And when honeypie comes home from the wars expecting a shy naive virgin, and sees instead a pregnant woman saying "I had to do something to avoid the unbearable Sir Thomas" he's going to smack from here to next Tuesday.

This man, Edward Hill, would act as a surrogate husband and would concede to annul the marriage upon her soldier’s return. Knowing that she has no other choice but to marry a man far worse than Mr. Hill, she accepts his hand.

No other choice? She hasn't even started to consider choices. The nunnery sounds good for a start.

There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle and leaves her to endure a platonic marriage? And what if Edward wants the business proposal to be something more?

She sounds like a twit, frankly. I'm not sure twits can carry an entire novel without your readers wanting to defenestrate her.

In the end, Anne learns the difference between fantasies and real life, and must face the complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where marriage is viewed as a business transaction.



I sought you as an agent because you expressed an interest in romance and historical fiction. My manuscript for Loyalty is 90,000 words and is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration and your time.


Form rejection.



________________________

Original


Dear Query Shark,

I thought you might be interested in representing my novel, Loyalty, since you expressed an interest in romance and historical fiction. The full manuscript is available upon request.

Put the title of the book and the word count at the end. Start off with with the book is about.

Loyalty is about Anne Wellesley, who is the personification of a naive, teenage girl in early 19th century England with her ideals of marriage and life. Everything changes for her, however, when her sweetheart, George Jenkins, must depart to fight for England in the War of 1812,

the British don't call it the War of 1812; they call it The Napoleonic Wars*
(There's a very good post in the comment section that corrects this)


and she is left a helpless woman in a world full of predatory men. When a man she hardly knows, Edward Hill, offers to marry her to save her from the overzealous marriage plans of a scheming, decrepit knight

knight is a social order in 1812, not a military category; the British army and navy do not have "knight" as a rank*
(and the post in the comments section clarifies and corrects this too; make sure to read it)


and annul the marriage upon her lover’s return, she readily accepts. There are a few aspects of this plan, however, that she does not fully consider. What if her soldier dies in battle? And what if she falls in love with the wrong man?

Why the hell would she do this? You'll need to be much more specific about the danger she faces alone to make us believe she'd consider marrying someone for protection. Where's her family for starters?

In the end, Anne learns the difference between fantasies and real life, and must face the complications that arise while trying to survive and be happy in a world where marriage is viewed as a business transaction.

I have no writing credentials to recommend me except for my passion for reading and writing.

You don't need to mention that. If you have credentials, mention them. If you don't just leave this blank. You don't need credential to write a novel.

Thank you for your consideration and your time.


*I'm sure you know that getting historical details wrong makes me crazy. CRAZY. It's instant rejection cause I know I'll be verifying every last detail through the book and I just do not want to do that. You HAVE to get this stuff right.


Form rejection.

26 comments:

Vodka Mom said...

I am ecstatic to discover this blog! Of course you'll be slamming people, obviously, and crushing dreams and ruining hopes and dreams and all that crap. However, it should be INCREDIBLY helpful!!!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Hey, Vodka! And ditto what she said about being happy to find QS.

BuffySquirrel said...

I'm finding it hard to reconcile Anne's romantic idealism with her willingness to enter into an arrangement such as you describe. Does not compute.

Why does the predatory guy want to marry her? Has she got money? The query leaves me very unclear about her rank/status etc.

Calling her Wellesley suggests some connection with a rather important figure of the Napoleonic Wars--if there isn't a connection, you might want to change the name.

Jim Lamb said...

I agree that historical novels demand ardent research, which can be done before the first draft or during the first re-write.(I prefer a combination of both.) I also feel that voice and word choices that feel anachronistic detract from that genre. I would like to see that period's "feel" captured in the query.

Still, strong female leads in historical novels appeal to me. Living near Toronto (formally York, which the Americans sacked during that war), I find your choice of period intriguing.

However, I don’t understand the forces that drive her. If she has a true love, then why risk that by marrying Edward? And why would she fear falling in love with another? Why not marry and await the hero’s return and have him dispatch the "decrepit knight"? If she fears that her love will not survive the war then have her seek sanctuary with Edward. Where is her family in all this, and why haven’t they come to her aid? We need to see what the scheme entails (property, money, family connections.) I believe you need to revisit the motives, and the resulting actions, of Anne, Edward, and especially, the unnamed tyrant. Love stories always contain choices. It's the forces that drive those choices that keep us reading.

I wish you luck on your project and query re-write.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I'm so glad to see you helping authors with their query letters. They may want to know about "The Frugal Editor."

For that book, I interviewed hundreds of US top agents who gave me their pet peeves and sage advice on query letters. So the chapters on editing queries aren't only about grammar and structure but also about nuances most writers would never think of and most advice never includes. One, of course, is is avoid exclamation points which one agent says makes her think of a "barking chijuajua on speed." So they're entertaining, too!

Best,
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including "The Frugal Editor."
www.howtodoitfrugally.com

Shreela said...

Where did the query imply that knights were in the military?

Her guy has to fight in a war.

Some knight wants to marry her.

Some other guy offers his hand to save her from the knight.

I'm missing where she implied that knights were a military category or rank? Just curious, because you commented on it in two different areas.

BuffySquirrel said...

I can't speak for the Shark, but the use of "knight" struck me as odd, too. It's hard to explain exactly what's wrong about it; had the author used "baronet", I wouldn't have blinked. We might refer to Sir Terry as having been knighted, but I'm not sure we'd call him "a knight". Knights are those guys with the shiny armour :).

JS said...

"Knight" was neither a military nor a social category in 19th-century England. Nor were any hereditary aristocrats in England called "knights" in that era: there were (and still are) a very few hereditary knighthoods in Northern Ireland, but nobody in 1812 would say "Sir John Jones is a knight."

Anyone named "Sir John Jones" would either be a baronet, or someone who had earned a knighthood for service to Crown and country, and would be called (formally) a "Knight Bachelor" or a "Knight of the Order of the Garter" or whatever particular order of honor to which he had been raised. Informally, he might have been referred to as "a gentleman of title," but never "a knight."

So this shows that the writer hasn't done enough research. Which we already knew with the 'War of 1812' part.

Although English people of that era did not think of the conflict between the US and Great Britain as part of the Napoleonic Wars, nor did they call it the "War of 1812"--it was generally referred to as the "North American War" or "The Blockade War" (and in the UK today, it is generally referred to as "The Anglo-American War of 1812" to distinguish it from the Napoleonic War that was still underway during that year).

Janet Reid said...

JS, you said it better and more clearly than I did. Thanks!

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

This is the main reason that I love HF, but write Fantasy. I can make up my own world and no one can dispute me. I'm the expert. :)

noelle said...

Hi there! Fist--I cherish your blog, really pay attention, try to learn...while being very entertained of course. I'm sorry I have an off topic question. I emailed my query to you...it has not been posted. But I recently heavily revised it. May I resend it? Thank you so much!

The Rejection Queen said...

Thank god I revised my query letter

Susan Wilbanks said...

Calling her Wellesley suggests some connection with a rather important figure of the Napoleonic Wars--if there isn't a connection, you might want to change the name.

Yep, especially since that rather important figure's only sister (and IIRC at least one of his nieces) was named Anne.

Shelly said...

I was recommended to this blog through a comment on WDC and have to admit to being impressed. Thank you for sharing your insights on query letters - I find them intensely difficult to write and look forward to learning from your blogs.

talpianna said...

I've come across a variant of this plot before; I believe the Aiken sisters used it more than once. Usually the pretext for such a marriage is that the heroine has either been left destitute (governess turned off without a character) or has been raped by the villain and finds herself pregnant. The spouse either needs a wife himself immediately (i.e., to meet the stipulations of an inheritance) or is a bad guy and wants the inheritance she doesn't know she's due to receive.

JS said: English people of that era did not think of the conflict between the US and Great Britain as part of the Napoleonic Wars.

I don't think I'd agree--after all, one of the reasons the Americans came out ahead was the support of the French fleet.

BuffySquirrel said...

Wasn't one of the triggers for the War of 1812 the impressment of American sailors by the RN? That creates a direct link with the wider conflict, I would think.

Becky Mushko said...

Another picky detail: She wouldn't have been a teenage girl in 1812. She could have been a "teen" a few years later, though.

According to http://www.etymonline.com:
"Teenage: 1921, formed from -teen as a separate word + age; derived noun teenager is from 1941 (the earlier word for this was teener, attested in Anmer.Eng. from 1894). Teen-aged (adj.) is from 1952; shortened form teen is from 1951 (though this had been used as a noun to mean "teen-aged person" in 1818)."

Sorry. I'm a picky English teacher. I can't help myself.

JS said...

Wasn't one of the triggers for the War of 1812 the impressment of American sailors by the RN? That creates a direct link with the wider conflict, I would think.

We think of them as connected today, yes. English people of that era did not think of them as connected in the same way, because during the Napoleonic Wars, English popular sentiment was focused on Napoleon as the antagonist.

And the phrase "the War of 1812" would have been much more likely to have been understood by an English person of that era to refer to Napoleon's invasion of Russia, rather than the conflict in North America.

one of the reasons the Americans came out ahead was the support of the French fleet

I think you're confusing the War of 1812 with the Revolutionary War, perhaps?

France was not a belligerent in the North American War of 1812, nor did the US "come out ahead" in sea battles. Where the US navy scored its significant triumphs was on the inland waterways between the US and then-British North America.

JS said...

The US also didn't really "win" the War of 1812: there was no decisive military victory. The Treaty of Ghent did not advance either side's war goals: there was no agreement on impressment, there was no change to the US/British North America boundaries, and there were no adjustments in trade and tariff regulations.

talpianna said...

JS, whom am I to believe? You or Johnny Horton?

JS said...

JS, whom am I to believe? You or Johnny Horton?

HEE! The US definitely won the Battle of New Orleans, so Johnny Horton was absolutely right on that one.

However, the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war had been officially ended by the Treaty of Ghent, so it didn't actually count.

Now I have that song as an earworm. Darn you, talpianna!

talpianna said...

I know about the battle being fought after the fact.

I think I got confused about the French navy because I used to live at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and there was a Battle of Yorktown about every 20 minutes...

There were those in the British government who thought that the War of 1812 would be a good opportunity to subjugate the colonies again, so ending with the status quo ante--and ending impressment--can be considered a victory of sorts.

Did you know that in the confusion of the evacuation of Washington before the British burned it, somebody stole the Library of Congress?

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you?

Emily Cross said...

QShark: your site is amazing - A great public service. Thank you

JS - Its a pleasure to read your posts. I love HF and i have to say when i read 'knight' i cringed and i have no credentials or undertanding of society in england in 1812 - but even i understood how out of place that terminology was. . .

dmciii said...

OK truth, The shark got me. I had to look up defenstrate. This is my new favorite word. Ive got couple of clients Id like ... well anyway Great Terms thanks

talpianna said...

Now here's the critiqued version which has more white space cause I interjected my surly comments as well.

Surly to bed and surly to rise makes a Shark healthy, wealthy and wise!

WV: ingratio--I am not!