AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

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dgaughran
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AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by dgaughran » September 29th, 2010, 7:05 am

REVISED QUERY ON PAGE 2

Hi all,

I've read Nathan's guidelines above. I'm new to this forum (but have been reading the blog for some time). I haven't critiqued anybody's queries so far, but have begun answering some questions in the other parts of the forum, and if anyone needs any advice on submitting to UK agents, they can send me a message. Some background: I first began submitting this to agents in the UK a year ago, and got poor responses (only 1 partial request). One draft later, and with a tighter query, the responses were much better (10 partials, 4 fulls - all passed). So the query was working, but the manuscript was not. I have spent the last six months rewriting large chunks of the novel, and generally tightening the whole thing (cutting 60 pages in total) and I am nearly ready to begin submitting again, I just need to get the other parts of the submission package sorted out. I don't want to use my old query because I got feedback from a couple of agents who suggested it was leading them to expect a very different kind of book. Hopefully the version below more accurately represents the manuscript and the story.

Thank you in advance to anyone who takes the time to read and/or comment on this. Please tell me what you think, even if you hate it, I have a thick skin!

Regards

Dave

*****


Dear [Agent],

I’m seeking representation for AMÉRICA! a 99,000-word historical novel, the story of seven people whose lives intertwine when their quests for freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent.

After twelve years of brutal war, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. The two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. They speak alone, and no historical record is made of their meeting, where San Martín resigns to become an anonymous farmer.

Twelve years earlier, San Martín deserts from the Spanish Army, absconding to Buenos Aires. Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. He forms a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts: Diego and Jorge, brothers who run away from home after a tragic accident; Catalina, the refugee who tears them apart; Zé, a slave who kills his master; Pacha, an Indian freed from the death-mines of Potosí; and Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, who flees England after being framed. Together they scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to conquer South America.

After meeting Bolívar, San Martín steps aside, leaving Bolívar the glory of finishing the Spanish. For two hundred years his motives have remained a mystery. Until now.

This is my first novel, researched and written in Peru and Argentina, and my stories have appeared in The Delinquent (UK). Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[ME]
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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by thewhipslip » September 29th, 2010, 9:31 am

Hi David,

It might help if you posted the query you were using before, just as a reference. From this query, I found the time-jumps confusing. Is this about Simone's entire life or a smaller chunk of time? Is the whole novel about why he surrendered? If that's the case, then the query should be focused more on that.


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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by Quill » September 29th, 2010, 9:55 am

dgaughran wrote:I’m seeking representation for AMÉRICA! a 99,000-word historical novel, the story of seven people whose lives intertwine when their quests for freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent.
Usually I don't care for upfront "housekeeping" info or mini-summaries, but this seems to work, given the sprawling nature of the story.

I'm concerned with the weak verbage "become tied", though. Seems awkward, "quests for freedom become." and "tied to the liberation".
After twelve years of brutal war, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. The two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict.
I'd give the year in here somewhere, for context.

A bit odd switching subject from "Spain" in the first sentence to "South American generals" in the second. Any way to stick with one side or the other through both sentences? How about "In 1822, after twelve years of war, the rebel armies of South America are on the verge of winning their independence from Spain" or some such?
They speak alone, and no historical record is made of their meeting, where San Martín resigns to become an anonymous farmer.
I'd break this up: They speak alone. No record is made of their meeting, in which San Martín resigns to become an anonymous farmer.
Twelve years earlier, San Martín deserts from the Spanish Army
Problematic, starting two paragraphs with "twelve years". And also the flashback. It doesn't read smoothly.
, absconding to Buenos Aires.
This can probably be omitted. Doesn't seem like vital info, doesn't help the flow, and the usage of "absconding" seems unusual (at least so far as American literature).
Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. He forms a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts
This seems worthwhile info, if it can be stated more smoothly.

How about "What a long way San Martin had come, after quitting the Spanish Army twelve years earlier, desperate to free his homeland, first struggling to free himself of his opium addiction, then forming a rag-tag army..." or some such? Do you see how this built around the meeting, instead of throwing the reader back to the actual earlier time?
: Diego and Jorge, brothers who run away from home after a tragic accident; Catalina, the refugee who tears them apart; Zé, a slave who kills his master; Pacha, an Indian freed from the death-mines of Potosí; and Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, who flees England after being framed. Together they scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to conquer South America.
Sorry, these few people, brave as they may be, do not constitute an army. Good info, but needs to be presented differently. Maybe say "Among the brave soldiers of the army were...(these characters)" or some such. A transition needs to be made from army to individuals, if those people are who you wish us to focus upon.

Also, are you saying Napoleon is Spanish? If not, not sure you should mention him in a query about a war between Spain and South America. Could be confusing.
After meeting Bolívar, San Martín steps aside, leaving Bolívar the glory of finishing the Spanish. For two hundred years his motives have remained a mystery. Until now.
I understand how you are trying to bring the query back to the meeting and its aftermath here, but this must be done with a bit more craft. Here you repeat some info (the stepping aside), give some seemingly inaccurate info (technically he would have stepped aside during the meeting, not after it, no?), and provided us with a teaser that doesn't quite pack a punch. His motives is a good crux and hook, but would be stronger if a) you gave us a tiny bit more about the man so we know him better and thus care about him more, and b) let us know if your research (as mentioned below) has actually turned up some historical evidence (which would be great!) or if you are simply spinning a tale (in which case it's even more important that we care about the character). You have framed your story around historical events. We need to know or at least feel whether or not you're basing your conclusion upon anything but your own imagination. That will tell us ultimately what kind of book this is.

Good luck.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by Preacher » September 29th, 2010, 11:05 am

Hi there, i always lik to read historical fiction, though i could never write it. Please, take any comments or observations i make with a few million grains of salt. I am new to the query process and will try and point out things i have learned.

First, as others have pointed out, don't start with those kinds of things. You have limited space and need to get the agent to want more. Those facts don't do that. Put those things at the end. Start the query where the story starts, hook em, and hook em hard.

I would use the year as suggested and say something like, "in 1822, after twleve years of brutal combat, South American generals Bolivar and San Martin meet to discuss the situation," or something like that.

Also, as previously suggested, some of the time changes can be confusing, especially using "twelve years," twice in the same query. Agents can't be confused or have to try to understand things while reading the letter. They need to be hooked all the way to the end and not be distracted from learning what the story is about and why they should want to read more of it.

Try and make the language more concise and, thereby, less confusing. Show us what this story is about, don't just tell us. Give us a feel for the characters and what they want. Tell us the opposition andnwhat they want. What will happen if the heroes fail?

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by dgaughran » September 29th, 2010, 2:15 pm

Hi,

Thanks for commenting, I'll need some time to go through your thoughts, there's a lot to consider there. Here's the version of the query without the time-jumps (and for the poster who asked, the original query was basically just the 3rd para - San Martin meeting Bolivar - and the two agents complained that the story is actually about 7 characters, not just San Martin):

****


Dear [Agent],

I’m seeking representation for AMÉRICA! a 99,000 word historical novel, the story of seven intertwining lives whose quests for freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent.

San Martín deserts from the Spanish Army, absconding to Buenos Aires. Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. He forms a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts: Diego and Jorge, brothers who run away from home after a tragic accident; Catalina, the refugee who tears them apart; Zé, a slave who kills his master and escapes; Pacha, an Indian freed from the death-mines of Potosí; and Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, framed in a stock exchange fraud and forced to flee to Chile. They scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to escape St. Helena and conquer South America.

By 1822, after twelve years of brutal war, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. The two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. They speak alone, and no historical record is made of their meeting, where San Martín resigns to become an anonymous farmer in France, leaving Bolívar the glory of finishing the Spanish. For two hundred years, San Martín's motives for stepping aside have remained a mystery. Until now.

This is my first novel, researched and written in Peru and Argentina, and my stories have appeared in The Delinquent (UK). Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[ME]
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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by trirae » September 29th, 2010, 3:09 pm

Hi there,

I'm completely new too. I would suggest from my initial reads of the two versions that the second one is off to a better start. It gets into the characters rather than the history. Both are important, but I think it brings out the action faster.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 30th, 2010, 8:42 pm

A striking query, David. I found it easy to follow, but I agree with Trirae that the second, more chronological, version works better.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by dgaughran » October 1st, 2010, 6:49 am

Thank you for the comments, I think the second version is better myself.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by glj » October 2nd, 2010, 8:08 pm

I found the story intriguing. But like other commenters, I found the timeshifts in the first version to be confusing.

I think Quill gave you some excellent advice.

The second version is much better in that it doesn't jump around in time. However, I found it to be to brief and assumes that the reader knows too much. For example, is "San Martin" his full name? I had to stop and think as to how he would be in the Spanish army (my thoughts were that he was Spanish) in Buenos Aires. I felt that I had no basis for understanding the setting and situation of the story. Can you add a little bit as to who he was and how he came to be in the Spanish army? And then explain WHY he deserts? This could give the reader a sense of empathy if you explain why he deserted.

The opium addiction didn't seem necessary, OR related to the rest of the story.

I agree with the previous comment that Diego, Jorge, Catalina, Ze, Pacha, and Lord Cochrane do not constitute an army. Maybe "He forms a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts, including ..." Oh, and this may be personal prejudice, but fiction seems like the wrong place for colons and semi-colons.

You could leave the names out, and just list "runaway . . refugee . . . slave . . . Indian . . ." I wouldn't give so many names in the query.

For me, it would be more interesting if, instead of describing a few of the rag-tag soldiers, you describe the forces that set things in motion. Show the conflicts that they will face and show the obstacles, so the reader wants to read on.



San Martín deserts from the Spanish Army, some set-up needed absconding to Buenos Aires. Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. He forms a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts: Diego and Jorge, brothers who run away from home after a tragic accident; Catalina, the refugee who tears them apart; Zé, a slave who kills his master and escapes; Pacha, an Indian freed from the death-mines of Potosí; and Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, framed in a stock exchange fraud and forced to flee to Chile. They scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, here it sounds as if they rebels have won frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan as someone already noted, bringing Napoleon in here in the query may cause more confusion than tension to escape St. Helena and conquer South America.

By 1822, after twelve years of brutal war, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. How does this tie in? The two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. here it sounds as if the rebels have NOT won, contradicting the previous paragraph. Further, this is the first indication that San Martin has even become a general, let alone one of the two greatest They speak alone, and no historical record is made of their meeting, why bring this up in the query? where San Martín resigns to become an anonymous farmer in France, leaving Bolívar the glory of finishing the Spanish. For two hundred years, San Martín's motives for stepping aside have remained a mystery. Until now. The 'Until now' doesn't work for me. I know you are trying to be mysterious, but it hits me wrong, somehow.

Suggestion:
On the verge of defeating the Spanish Army in Argentina, Bolivar and San Martin, the two greatest South American generals, meet alone to discuss the conclusion of the war. They speak alone, and history does not record their conversation. But San Marti resigns, leaving Bolivar the glory of finishing off the Spanish and becoming a hero. San Martin leaves to become an anonymous farmer in France--and an enigma. AMERICA explores the course of this history and why San Martin gave up his share of glory and _ in order to __.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by androidblues » October 2nd, 2010, 8:19 pm

glj gives you some excellent advice. May I add that Nathan says he really likes Historical Fiction, unless you've already queried him.
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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by dgaughran » October 5th, 2010, 7:22 pm

Thanks for all the advice - very helpful - a lot to consider!

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by pavloviandoggy » October 6th, 2010, 4:29 pm

This probably won't make much of a difference, but I recall Bransford saying he doesn't want to know how you researched the novel.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by dgaughran » October 7th, 2010, 5:13 am

pavloviandoggy wrote:This probably won't make much of a difference, but I recall Bransford saying he doesn't want to know how you researched the novel.
Yeah, I am in two minds about that bit, but I agree, don't think it makes too much difference. I am querying both UK and US agents, UK agents definitely want that kind of thing in, US agents, it varies. I think it's no harm to show that I moved to South America just to write this book. Maybe it shows a level of dedication (obsession?) that could help in some small way.

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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by dgaughran » October 7th, 2010, 5:20 am

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far - very helpful. The latest version is below. I have moved away from the chronological version again (trying this one more time!), and tried to put the dramatic 'non-fiction' hook at the beginning of the query, that some people seem to respond to. I have tried to incorporate many of your comments (the ones I have not may involve pulling apart the whole query, which I am not prepared to do...yet...we'll see how this one goes).

I have also put the first paragraph in past tense after seeing something similar on a book cover, and just want to see if it works, if it makes it a little more dramatic and helps with the time-jumps.

As always, all comments and suggestions are appreciated.

Dave

*****


Dear [AGENT]:

On July 26, 1822, after twelve years of brutal war, the two greatest figures in South American history, Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín met for the first time, to discuss the conclusion of the independence struggle. They spoke alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting, where San Martín resigned to become an anonymous farmer, leaving Bolívar the glory of finishing the Spanish. For two hundred years, San Martín's motives for stepping aside have remained a mystery. Until now.

AMÉRICA! is the story of seven people whose lives intertwine when their quests for freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent. San Martín deserts the Spanish Army, absconding to Buenos Aires. Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. He forms a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts, including: Diego and Jorge, brothers who run away from home after a tragic accident; Catalina, the refugee who tears them apart; Zé, a slave who kills his master and escapes; Pacha, an Indian freed from the death-mines of Potosí; and Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, framed in a stock exchange fraud and forced to flee to Chile. They scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to conquer South America, before San Martín must make a sacrifice which will save them all.

I am an Irish writer, living in Sweden, and my work has appeared in The Delinquent (UK), Short Story America, and will be published as part of a collection in 2011. AMÉRICA! is my first novel, complete at 97,000 words, researched and written in Peru and Argentina. Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[ME]
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Re: AMÉRICA! - Query - Historical Fiction

Post by Quill » October 7th, 2010, 10:28 am

That's pretty good! Much better than previous versions.

I think you can drop "anonymous" since as a farmer I'm sure he retained his name. Maybe just "farmer"? Or another adjective like "humble"?

The main sticking point for me is the idea that you will tell us what happened at the meeting. I want some indication as to whether this is pure speculation (a total fiction) or if your research actually turned up info that could shed light on this historical matter. I want to know if your hook is merely selling a tale you are spinning, or if I might learn something about history.

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