Sunday, June 26, 2022


Dear Query Shark

The minute Elizabeth stepped off the train in Richmond, VA in 1860, she wanted to leave. After four years in Pennsylvania with Quaker relatives, she despises her new life in slave power high society.


I don't know what slave power high society means.



Her once close but now distant mother doesn’t help, setting her up to marry a buffoon while refusing to acknowledge her family’s abolitionist ways.


I'm VERY confused here. Mum is distant, ok, but she's still in the family, no?

So who are the abolitionists?


And what are abolitionist ways?

Ways means actions.

What is the family doing?

Or do you mean political opinions?



War breaks out after her mother’s sudden passing, 


The grammar here makes it sound like Mum's death caused the war.

I'm fairly certain that's not the case.


leaving Elizabeth to manage the household and farm, while deciding how to both hide and fight for her beliefs.

We don't know what Elizabeth's beliefs are. That should be explicit here.


Why isn't doing nothing an option?


Elizabeth first visits Union prisoners, baking them goods and bribing the guards for medicine. But when she houses a Confederate captain to save her image, 


Her image? It makes it sound as though this is some sort of flitter gibbet thing.

My guess is that social pressure is pretty intense in the capitol of the Confederacy.


she learns the weaknesses of the prison system, and plans escape routes, hiding Union soldiers in her secret attic and sending them back to the North through safe houses.



Her network grows as the War worsens. She plants a spy in the Confederate White House, sends daily intelligence to generals hidden in empty eggshells or encrypted with secret codes, and sends her brother to a safe house to avoid conscription. But her neighbors suspect her sympathizing ways and send ruthless detectives, the same detective who hanged and imprisoned other members of her network. Can she survive the war and bring the Union to victory?



Well, she's not going to bring the Union to victory. The Union Army backed by the industrial strength of the northern states is going to do that.

Your sentence structure is again saying something I'm pretty certain you don't intend.

This is a huge red flag in a  query. No matter how interested I am in the topic, this is the kind of thing that earns a pass.



 Miss Van Lew, my 170,000 word historical fiction novel,

170K is almost certainly an instant pass from most agents.

Historical fiction does run long, but not this long.



fictionalizes the true story of Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew, giving voice to an unknown heroine. 

She's hardly unknown.

There are quite a few books about her. One thing your query will need to do, even though you're querying a novel, is tell the reader what you're bringing to the table that is fresh and new.



Thank you for your time and consideration.


What you have is a series of events.

That's not plot.

Plot is choices and stakes.


Elizabeth Van Lew comes home to Richmond in 1860.

What problem does that create for her?

What are her choices to solve it?


If she's an abolitionist, what are her choices?

What's at stake with those choices?



But the word count means you're DOA no matter what.

That's the first thing to revise.