Friday, May 27, 2022

This is the reason there's a word count limit in queries.



My WIP is historical fiction.  It covers a year-long period during the American Revolution featuring real players and rare biographical insights I have uncovered from my extensive research, as well as narrative non-fiction-like accounts of specific battles.  The "fiction" part comes from the main POV character, whose fictional story (a composite of accounts) is interwoven among these real events, connecting everything together.  I would say the balance is 50% accurate history/50% historical dramatization.  My main goal is to introduce readers to some great unsung heroes from both sides and educate about this lesser-known saga.


I know query space is ideally limited to plot/stakes/first act, but since most agents will not be familiar with the events or people I am covering, I feel the need to explain the real history and why it's worthy of being written about.  I am afraid if I just present it as a standard fiction query, the true history I am trying to bring to light will get lost.  


For example, I would like to include something like this to introduce the agent to the real history behind the story:


Lt.-Col. The Honourable John Maitland, the son of the 6th Earl of Lauderdale, has been dubbed by military historians as the "Savior of Savannah" for his ingenuity in leading 800 troops from Beaufort under impossible odds, reaching Savannah ahead of the French blockade just in time to defend the town--despite having already lost one arm in battle and while suffering from malaria.  Even the USMC museum on Parris Island has a display memorializing this feat, despite the fact that Maitland was an "opponent." 


(1) Is it okay that I include a brief paragraph like this explaining the real history behind the story?

(2) If I do this, can I be forgiven for going over the standard query word count, or would I have to sacrifice precious plot/stakes space? 

(3) Or is this unnecessary altogether and I am overthinking it?


(1) No

(2) NO

(3) Sorta but not really


This is a textbook example of the value of an author website even if you've never published anything.


These kinds of explanations/elaborations/info dumps belong on your website, not in the query.


You need to engage the agent in your story first, not the history behind it.


If I'm interested in the story, I'll probably swim by your website BEFORE I request pages.


One reason I do that is to find out if you've self published this and "forgot" to tell me.


You can make sure I know to swim by if you include something like:


"My main goal is  I want to introduce readers to some great unsung heroes from both sides


Your main goal is to tell a good story.

Please don't hint that it's anything else.


and educate about this lesser-known saga.  There's more information about them on my website (listed below.)"

Under NO, ZERO, ZIPPO circumstances will you use the word educate in a query for a novel.  People do not buy novels to learn about things. They buy novels for the story. That they learn stuff is a bonus.


Any questions?




nightsmusic said...

I'd like to have seen a query by Erik Larson. Isaac's Storm is one of my favorites. Devil in the White City is another. I think his books are similar to the OPs though maybe not with so much of a fictional bent to them. But that's what this reminded me of. That said, I still think the two best query tools out there is Query Shark and an informative, interesting website. The query should entice the agent and the website should answer most of the rest of the agent's questions. For the moment anyway. But that's me.

CynthiaMc said...

This sounds like the author really wants to write nonfiction. I'm a history buff (thanks to my mother dragging me to every battlefield in the world). I would absolutely read this in nonfiction form. But fiction is for fun.

Julie Weathers said...

The Rain Crow, my Civil War novel is loosely based on Hetty Cary and John Pegram. I ran across their story while doing research for a game company and Hetty kept walking around in my head. The company's CEO told me that meant Hetty wanted me to tell her story. We agreed it needed to be told as a novel and just use elements of her life, but Travis (CEO) also warned me CW stitch counters would come after me with tar and feathers if my facts weren't on point.

For instance, don't put Col. JEB Stuart in Georgia when he was in Virginia. While it was my duty to use history as a basis for my story, at the end of the day it was still historical fiction and not a history book.

I had a long discussion about writing historical fiction with Jack Whyte at a party once. We holed up in a corner, drank and talked and meandered through history from ancient Rome to female Celtic warriors to Sarmatians and Roman campaigns to military medicine throughout time, to how to write a historical timeline and insert your story and characters in it to create your story. I know, holy run on sentence Batman.

In a blue pencil session with CC Humphreys, we discussed inserting historical characters and events into a story such as vivandiers, and how to explain them in context without looking like we were "educating" the reader.

And therein lies the rub in both the story and the query. We're not here to educate the reader. We're here to write such a cracking good story readers get lost in it. If a person's interest is piqued and they go research something and find it, it's a "Huh, I never realized that. Interesting."

I wish you luck with your story. Let us know when it comes out.

Damyanti Biswas said...

All the best for your story! :)