Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Query letter #6: fiction

I am seeking representation for A Woman Transported, a historical [historical what? novel?] set between London and Australia in the early 1800s. The story is complete at 100,000 words.

A Woman Transported is a tale of pain, struggle, deceit, and ultimately love — and one woman’s fight to find her mother transported across the oceans to Botany Bay — a hell on earth where even the kookaburras mock the convicts with laughter. [This last bit may appeal to overseas readers but would strike a false note with Australians, because we know that kookaburras only laugh at impending rain and the small warm-blooded animals they're about to tear apart.]

London, 1814 – Isabel [who is Isabel? How old is she? Is she a convict?] imagines the land the floating convict prison hulks are destined for, the prison on the other side of the world, but all she can vision is a grey, damp, wet, overcrowded land full of decrepit buildings — a land of evil, depraved people, and the horror her convict mother must be living in Australia. [This para is a bit heavy - try reworking it.]

Isabel, the daughter of a candle and soap maker, [Ah, so this is who she is - why couldn't you tell us in the para above?] dreams of seeing her mother again and escaping the rabbit warrens where even the light seems oppressive. Using a determination known by those who have suffered deeply she overcomes poverty, evades brutal men and fights against an unjust system of justice. She makes her way to Australia, finds her mother near death in the sunburnt land and much more than she expects or is prepared for.

I’m an Australian woman and Isabel’s story comes from my life-long fascination with not only the fragility of human nature, but also the period when around 162,000 men and women were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868. [Fair enough, but as it's historical you should mention any research you've done. Also, be aware that your competitor title in this vein is the legendary Sara Dane so you need to be able to match that story's appeal and sweep.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Overall: this letter, while containing a lot of the right information, feels a bit tentative and stiff. You should write it as if you're telling it to someone and let the spoken tone guide you. Agents and publishers see hundreds of query letters a year and anything that seems too formal is going to just seem like the other letters, so you need to stand out - don't be afraid to start pitching straightaway and convey how much you love your story, or have loved writing it. Passion goes a long way in impressing others.


Gregory House said...

while I think that the story could fit in with the convict colonial genre, however two points irritated me (apart from the kookaburras). First prison hulks held convicts as temporary prisons and were incapable of sailing. Second women in early colonial NSW had more rights in law and status than their sisters back home. So my impression is either slightly poor research or a need for rephrasing.

Anonymous said...

"...because we know that kookaburras only laugh at impending rain and the small warm-blooded animals they're about to tear apart."

I never knew that. We wake to the sound of kookaburras "laughing" every morning. No impending rain and I doubt they're all tearing apart breakfast. I think it's more about territory marking, but I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Back again. I just found this:

"Kookaburras make a laughing call, most often in the early morning and just before dark. The calls let other kookaburras know where each one lives. An Aboriginal legend says that the kookaburra's laugh is a signal to the sky spirits to light the great fire, the sun, in the morning and to put it out at night."

Anonymous said...

To me the line about the mocking kookaburras, read as as metaphor, although possibly misplaced. Also many prison hulks sailed from England and elswhere, many stopping on the Thames and other locations for months at a time.
Anyone knowing anything about Australian history will know the laws in relation to women in the country were different than England, but not sure how a reader knowing that, means a lack of research from the query writer.

Sharon Robards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I wrote the query. Mr House is correct, in the sense the query could benifit rewording in regards to the hulks.