Ask Daphne! About My Query XIV

July 13th, 2009 • Kate

smart-shoesGoing to try something a little different today. Instead of my telling you first what I think about this query, I’m going to let YOU tell me first what you think. I’ll come back later today and add my thoughts. Why? Because I want to avoid the “I agree with Kate/Daphne” situation we sometimes get into, and because you guys are SAMRT and can do this. Ready, set, go!

Dear Daphne:

As William the Conqueror’s sons battle for his throne, Vesper must prove her honor to others and her worthiness to herself. Interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters, Honor Bound (about 130,000 words) is a historical fiction that blends political intrigue, feudal honor, and romance, set in a world where treacherous plots abound and misplaced trust is fatal.

The year is 1088 and England is torn asunder by rebellion. To keep her estate Havre de Grace—the most important thing in the world to her—Vesper Fitzhawke gives her oath of fealty to the new king. Once she is honor bound to obey him, the wily ruler commands her to wed against her will and sends her on a dangerous, clandestine mission in his fight to save his throne from his brother’s efforts to supplant him.

Grim Eryvine, the exciting, but infuriating Scottish warrior she is forced to marry, is a wanderer and a loner. He scorns the role of estate holder and adamantly opposes being bound to one person or one place. For those reasons—and because Grim believes that women do not have the necessary sense of honor to hold true to a sworn oath—he clashes with Vesper and sparks fly. Even so, Grim is irresistibly drawn to the beautiful and strong-willed demoiselle he is forced to marry. As he plunges deeper into a web of desire and longing for her, he grows to fear that she loves Havre de Grace more than she could love any man and would even commit treason to possess it.

Vesper and Grim immediately find themselves entangled in the Machiavellian schemes of Odo, the malevolent Bishop of Bayeux. The devious bishop secretly leads the rebellion against the untried English ruler and seeks to suborn Vesper into treason with a tantalizing promise. In exchange for her help, the would-be usurper will grant her control of her land unencumbered by an unwanted husband. Vesper now confronts the draconian choice of fulfilling her oath to the king and performing the difficult tasks given to her, or committing treason in exchange for a most enticing reward.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

M.I.

Remember, be nice, and be helpful! I look forward to reading your comments!

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17 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XIV”

  1. Peggy Says:

    You don't represent historical fiction, so I'm uncertain why this would have been submitted to you.

  2. Trish Says:

    I'm going to say that this sounds like something I might enjoy, but I'm not sure. Is the focus the romance between Vesper and Grim, or the Machiavellian schemes? Is it romance or historical intrigue? There's a lot going on in the query, but apparently not enough to make it clear–at least to me.

    Also, the use of the word "exciting" in reference to Grim is an odd choice. What is exciting about him?

  3. Scott Says:

    First impression – romance novel! Fabio on the cover.

    The query seems more about describing the various characters rather than describing the heart of the story.

    What I know –

    Vesper is 'the beautiful and strong-willed demoiselle',

    Grim is 'the exciting, but infuriating Scottish warrior she is forced to marry, is a wanderer and a loner'.

    Odo is 'The devious bishop'.

    The King is 'the wily ruler'.

    The romance connection = 'irresistibly drawn', 'web of desire and longing', 'the Machiavellian schemes', 'tantalizing promise', etc.

    So, give me the heart of the story, the conflict, a bit about the clandestine mission, the bishop's schemes, and what drives the story and less about the romance unless this is an actual romance novel. : )

    S

  4. Holly Bodger Says:

    This book sounds like it could be interesting, but we need the query to focus on one character. It's okay to mention other significant characters (although, not all by name) but only as they relate to the main character and her goal. It seems like this character's goal is to keep her estate but I am not clear if the point of the book is that or the romance.

    Also, I feel like I haven't been given the purpose of her story. What does she learn? Why does this matter?

  5. Joyce Lansky Says:

    It looks really interesting but not what you typically represent. Maybe you can be nice and pass it on to a coworker who might really enjoy it. I wish agents could legally say, this isn't for me but _______________ would love it!

  6. Lorelie Says:

    Peggy – the About My Query feature is open to any genre, whether Dafne reps it or not.

    Scott – You wouldn't be knockin' on one of the highest grossing genres, now would you? And btw, Fabio hasn't done a cover in a decade (thank god!)

    Query – First paragraph is full of telling, particularly "[i]nterweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters." Isn't that practically the definition of historical fiction? Also, that word count looks about 30k too high for me, though admittedly I'm more familiar with historical romance than fiction.

    Beyond that, I'd second those who've said the query is muddles, and add that it introduces too many characters.

    Also not sure that I see the conflict if this *is* more historical romance – if her major goal is to retain control of her castle, wouldn't a man who refuses to be stuck in one place be optimum? Give him a nice wave, tell him to have fun on his wanderings, go back to life as if he'd never existed. Problem solved.

  7. Melanie Says:

    This says that Grim and Vesper were both "forced" into marriage. That usually only happens when the person doing the forcing is the girl's father and there's a shotgun involved, no?

    Beyond that, perhaps the writer might have done better to focus on the fealty factor: oaths, obeisance, and honor. In the context of Vesper's honor it might have been easier to sort out the three plotlines: the king and his politics, the reluctant romance, and the malevolent Bishop's mysterious promise. It does seem that Vesper is the constant in all three plotlines, so it would also make more sense for her to be the focus of the query.

  8. Edi Says:

    I'm no expert, but I do agree that this sounds a lot like a romance novel masquerading as serious ("Interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters…") historical fiction. That's not entirely a bad thing; romance novelists love historical settings for a good reason, and I certainly don't mind a little romance in my historical fiction. But I think this plot is a bit of a muddle and would be a better story if the author chose one focus and reduced the other to a setting or subplot.

    Also… was it here that we recently had a discussion about "artistic" character names? I realize that the 11th century was a very different time, often with very different names from the ones that are common now, but both Vesper and Grim seem a little contrived to me.

    Overall, not bad at all. I'd say some careful revising could shape it into something really nice.

  9. Karen Says:

    I smiled when I saw that Vesper’s land was called Havre De Grace as I don’t live too far from Havre De Grace, MD…but on to the point. As others have said I think the query has a bit too much info in it. Most, if not all of the first paragraph can go. This is reading more like a summary and not a brief snippet to intrigue the agent/reader.

    The second paragraph can stay pretty much like it is, but I’d only keep the first, maybe the second sentence of the third paragraph. If Grim is an essential part of the plot then yeah, bring him in, but we don’t need to know how he feels about women, or even that they are starting to feel some passion…unless this is a romance.

    It’s enough to know that Grim’s a loner and scorns the roll as estate holder. Also, the fact that Vesper is forced to marry him already adds conflict that doesn’t need to be further explained here. Then, you can go right into the fourth paragraph where they find themselves in Machiavellian schemes. With this said, I still don’t really know who the main antagonist is…the wily ruler or the malevolent Bishop of Bayeux. Like others have said, in the query we need one central plot, one or two main characters so we can follow. It doesn’t matter if you have 6 subplots, we don’t need to know about them in the query. From what I think is going on in the story it sounds interesting, just needs to be fleshed out of the query better. Hope that helps.

  10. Kelly Allen Says:

    I feel like I read a synopsis, not a query letter. I like the story, but I'd like to know a bit less of the detail of the story and more about the author. Why are they targeting this particular agent? Why is this book right for a particular audience? Any other writing credits? I'd like to see more of the writer and their personality in this.

  11. Jill Says:

    I love historical fiction, and I love this particular era. But I'm not sure that the way this query is written gives me a good enough sense of what the book is about. I'm certainly no expert, but 130,000 words feels a little long. There is too much information included, and it isn't as tight as it could be. Also, I feel as though there is a bit of overwriting with respect to adjectives and bigger words that take my focus off of the story being told (e.g. asunder, draconian, clandestine…). I get a good sense of the characters and setting, but unfortunately not so much of ths story, or of the storyteller. I feel as though the plot could be described in one or two shorter paragraphs. But it does sound like a very interesting story 🙂

  12. Jamie Says:

    Okay, I think the story sounds interesting… but for me there is way too much going on in this query. I would combine paragraphs 2-4 into one quick snappy paragraph.

    Also- 130,000 words… that is a LOT of words… especially for a Fabiolicious romance. I would think you could almost cut that in half… or maybe turn it into two books?

    I also don't really get the hook in paragraph one… I want you to GRAB me and MAKE me read in the first couple of sentences.

    I think you story sounds cool though!

  13. Krista G. Says:

    I agree that the first paragraph serves little purpose. If I were you, I'd scrap the whole thing and transplant the book's title and word count to the first paragraph after the summary (i.e., "HONOR BOUND is complete at 130,000 words and available for your perusal," or something like that). Also, 130,000 words is pretty long; can you trim it down by 20,000 or 30,000 words?

    Next, like several other commenters have mentioned, you need to decide whether this is more historical romance or historical fiction. If romance, then the fourth paragraph is almost all unnecessary. If historical fiction, then the third paragraph is extraneous information. Also, particularly if you go for the historical fiction angle, we don't need to know much about Grim's thoughts or opinions, since Vesper's the main character.

    Finally, there is one major logical inconsistency that other commenters have pointed out. Why is the king forcing her to marry? Unless the king is her father (or maybe, by some stretch, her uncle), there isn't an obvious reason why he would make her do that.

  14. Wendy Says:

    I think that the first paragraph needs to be personalized to the agent, needs more information on the actual status of the MS other than word count and genre (is it complete?) and not contain anything about the plot of the book. Is 130K words usual for historical fiction? I'm not familiar with the genre, I write YA where we aim around the 60k mark so it seems like a lot to me.

    There is also no paragraph at the end introducing the author and any relevant experience/publishing credits he/she might have. I don't even know if this is a he or a she.

    I also think the description of the novel is more like a synopsis than back cover copy. It's too long, goes too much into various characters and doesn't tell me very clearly what the hook of the story is, what the main point is. I think it could be condensed into two paragraphs quite easily and be much more effective. I think it should also stick with Vesper if she's the main character because for awhile there it drifts into Grim.

    That's just my feelings on it. It sounded like it could be a story with potential, I was just unsure about what the story really was. Heck, I've not even sent out my first query myself yet, so I'm not one to judge, it's just my thoughts on what could be improved.

  15. Kate Says:

    Fantastic comments on the query! My readers are geniuses!

    As Lorelie said, the About My Query posts are open to all genres, even ones I don't represent.

    In this case, while I feel like the author is focusing on the mainstream historical fiction aspect of the story (a la Phillipa Gregory), it does feel more like a historical romance to me, and that is partly due, I think, to the overuse of adjectives and overwriting. Vesper isn't just beautiful, she's a "beautiful and strong-willed demoiselle." Grim isn't just a wanderer and a loner, he's an "exciting, but infuriating Scottish warrior." You get the point.

    The most interesting thing to me in the entire query is Grim's fear that Vesper "loves Havre de Grace more than she could love any man and would even commit treason to possess it." THAT intrigues me. The rest? Not so much.

    I think the author would do well to listen to some of your helpful comments and condense the query, playing up the parts that make it seem more mainstream, less romance-y.

    Feel free to make additional comments below!

  16. beth Says:

    Hi MI! I have read any of the comments above, so I hope they aren't too repetative. I'm a line by line kind of girl, so I thought I'd copy and paste below:

    Dear Daphne:

    As William the Conqueror’s sons battle for his throne,

    GOOD WAY TO INTRODUCE THE TIME FRAME.

    Vesper must prove her honor to others and her worthiness to herself. Interweaving fiction with actual events and historical characters, Honor Bound (about 130,000 words) is a historical fiction that blends political intrigue, feudal honor, and romance, set in a world where treacherous plots abound and misplaced trust is fatal.

    I FOUND A LOT IN THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH VAGUE (I.E. EVERYTHING AFTER "THAT BLENDS.") PERHAPS IT WOULD BE BETTER TO START WITH THE ACTUAL, SPECIFIC PREMISE?

    The year is 1088 and England is torn asunder by rebellion. To keep her estate Havre de Grace—the most important thing in the world to her—Vesper Fitzhawke gives her oath of fealty to the new king. Once she is honor bound to obey him, the wily ruler commands her to wed against her will and sends her on a dangerous, clandestine mission in his fight to save his throne from his brother’s efforts to supplant him.

    IS IT COMMON FOR A WOMAN TO GIVE AN OATH OF FEALTY? I DON'T THINK SO–BUT NOT SURE. PERHAPS A SENTENCE OR SO TO SETUP HOW THIS UNUSUAL EVENT HAPPENED AND SE GOT IN THIS POSITION? AND WHY WOULD SHE HAVE TO SWEAT FEALTY FOR THE KING TO MARRY HER OFF? COULDN'T THE KINGS DO THAT WITHOUT FEALTY–WASN'T ANY WOMAN NOT "OWNED" BY HER HUSBAND/FATHER OWNED BY THE KING?

    Grim Eryvine, the exciting, but infuriating Scottish warrior she is forced to marry, is a wanderer and a loner. He scorns the role of estate holder and adamantly opposes being bound to one person or one place. For those reasons—and because Grim believes that women do not have the necessary sense of honor to hold true to a sworn oath—he clashes with Vesper and sparks fly. Even so, Grim is irresistibly drawn to the beautiful and strong-willed demoiselle he is forced to marry. As he plunges deeper into a web of desire and longing for her, he grows to fear that she loves Havre de Grace more than she could love any man and would even commit treason to possess it.

    LIKE THE TREASON HINT AT THE END–GIVES A SENSE OF THE RISING CONFLICT. I'M ASSUMING THAT GRIM IS ADAMANTLY FOR THE KING? (ISN'T THAT UNUSUAL FOR A SCOTSMAN AT THIS TIME?)

    Vesper and Grim immediately find themselves entangled in the Machiavellian schemes of Odo, the malevolent Bishop of Bayeux. The devious bishop secretly leads the rebellion against the untried English ruler and seeks to suborn Vesper into treason with a tantalizing promise. In exchange for her help, the would-be usurper will grant her control of her land unencumbered by an unwanted husband. Vesper now confronts the draconian choice of fulfilling her oath to the king and performing the difficult tasks given to her, or committing treason in exchange for a most enticing reward.

    DON'T KNOW IF YOU NEED THIS PARAGRAPH–THE HINT OF TREASON PREVIOUSLY WAS ENOGUH FOR ME.

    PERSONALLY, I'D PUT SOME OF THAT EXTRA INFO FROM THE FIRST PARAGRAPH HERE, AND PERHAPS A FEW AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS.

    Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Very truly yours,

    M.I.

  17. Kathy Says:

    To me, the heroine sounds too modern. My understanding about societal norms during the middle ages was that women were considered property and had practically no say in their lives.

    And I hate bringing modern sensibilities into historical fiction (either print or movies). That also includes the current diversity casting some people insist on, even if the various peoples weren't in the same place at the same time in reality.