Sunday, July 2, 2017


Question, I'm an African, and this novel is African-themed, do I need to query agents who strictly represents African writers or do I generally query agents who represents books in my genre?

Dear QueryShark,
When Aisha, a young Fulani maid, chooses to stay with her dying foster mother, she has no idea she'd be investing her heart for an emotional whirlwind. 

This isn't a log line (which I think you intended it to be.) You don't need a log line in a query, and if you did, a good log line is less about description (a young Fulani maid) and more about action.

Aisha Batu is not a typical housemaid. She is educated, she wears expensive clothes, and her employers Henry and Teju Cole has have become her informal, foster parents. But her old tranquil life suddenly changes when she is raped. By Henry.

This paragraph is a much more dynamic set up than what you had for a log line. It's specific. It gives us a sense of the characters, and we have an emotional response to what happens. In other words: start with this.

Reeling emotionally from the storm caused by her foster father's betrayal, she Aisha resolves to return to her home village to heal. However, Teju - her foster mum - gets devastating news; she has leukemia and has less than three months left to live. Torn between grief and her sense of duty, Aisha is forced chooses to put her intense fear and hatred for Henry at bay and stay with her dying foster mom.

Aisha isn't forced, she chooses. That's the actual strength of the story.  You don't need to tell us Teju is Aisha's foster mom again since you introduced her in the preceding paragraph.

Reeling emotionally from the storm is just overwrought writing and really out of place here. Don't be afraid to be plain. Aisha was raped by a man she trusted. We don't need to be told she's reeling; WE are reeling with her.

 With the clock ticking out the seconds of Teju's life, and the struggling through hospital visits, endless tests and fainting spells, the extraordinary bond between both women deepens. As Aisha works on piecing her life together, she watches Teju's own fade away. Determined to make Teju's final days as joyful and painless as possible, she keeps Henry's brutal attack to herself. 

 The charade is kept up until she When Aisha discovers she is pregnant, and soon her secret is out. Her reticent friendship with Teju is disrupted, and she faces the risk of losing everything she has ever cared for. She must decide the depth of her loyalty, how far she could go for love, and, in the face of devastating heartbreak, learn how to hope again.

 Reticent is the wrong word here. It's a word that describes a person not a friendship. You might have meant nascent. But, nascent would imply she's just now becoming friends with Teju, and that doesn't feel right. Aishu is choosing to stay with her; surely that means they were friends of long standing.

I also don't understand what any of "risk of losing everything" etc means. She is going to lose Teju. I hope she's kicking Henry to the curb in terms of any kind of filial devotion. What else does she have to lose? Be specific here. Specificity will engage your readers; generalities will not.

WHEN I WAKE, a one sided narrative adult fiction is complete at 95,000 words. I have attached included the first chapter as required and would be happy to send the completed manuscript on request.

I'm not sure what one sided means here.  
Unless instructed otherwise, you'll include the pages in the email NOT attach them as a document of any sort.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

You should query every agent who represents commercial fiction, literary fiction or women's fiction. Do not limit yourself to agents who've expressed interest in African stories. As far as I can see here, there is nothing uniquely African in this story. It's much more of a universal story. That it is set in Africa (I assume) is a bonus.

 I'm not sure if English is your first or second language. If it's your second, get a native speaker to review this with you to pick out problems like "reticent." If it's your first language, get a good copy editor to help you find problems like "reticent."

Revise with an eye to being very specific about what's at stake for Aisha.

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