About My Query: HIDDEN PLACES

March 28th, 2014 • Kate

0009HidingI’m in the air most of today, winging my way back from a hopefully successful trip to the Bologna Book Fair, but I didn’t want to miss another scheduled About My Query post! Without further ado, here’s V.L.A.’s query:

Dear Daphne:

Please allow me to introduce you to my novel, “Hidden Places.”

At the backdrop of Nazi occupied Poland, spanning from 1942 to 1943, the story is told through the eyes of Hanna, a young and imaginative girl who dreams of going to Hollywood to become a famous actress. Her world is turned upside down when her father decides to hide Jews. In the beginning, she is appalled and prejudiced but after she gets to know them, Hanna grows to love them. When her parents choose to no longer hide her Jewish friends, she takes it upon herself to set up a new hiding place and protects them.

Truth and honesty are woven into the fabric of the story using finely delicate threads. My heroine is not perfect; she is the product of an era steeped in anti-Semitism. Hanna thinks Jews are different… until she meets one. She must come to terms with the fact that everything she was ever taught was wrong. It is a bildungsroman story, where a selfish young girl transforms into a selfless young woman.

My novel is a historical, written in the first person as an epistolary narrative and is approximately 70,000 words. The target audience is for young adults and hopefully is reminiscent of the actual diaries that youths had written during that turbulent time in history. If “Hidden Places” meets with success, I would like for Hanna’s story to be the first in a series outlining her life during WWII.

Those who liked Ruta Sepetys’ “Between Shades of Grey,” which is a novel of a young girl living in a Soviet gulag, may also enjoy my novel.

I am a regular contributor to [website]’s online magazine “[title]” and will soon have my second non-fiction story published. I am seeking representation from an agent and would be honored if you would consider me.

Thank you and God Bless.

Sincerely,
V.L.A.

First of all, I think you have to mention The Diary of Anne Frank. Everyone who reads this will immediately think of it, and pretending it doesn’t exist is like blindly ignoring an important fact, like evolution. Beyond that, however, I think to sell this, you have to get personal. “Her world is turned upside down when her father decides to hide Jews.” How? Why? Who are they? Friends? Business acquaintances? Family? Strangers? How does their being hidden by her family change Hanna’s life? How does she get to know them? How do they change her prejudices? What’s the process behind her parents’ decision “to no longer hide her Jewish friends”? Were they nearly caught? Threatened?

I would also cut the entire second paragraph of your query. You’re retelling what you already describe in the first paragraph of description, and I would rather SEE the truth and honesty in the story than be told they’re there.

Bringing in the fact that it’s an epistolary novel in the third paragraph, I now need to know who she’s writing to. Who could she be writing letters to about this, if her entire family would likely be sent away to a concentration camp if they were found out? (If it’s a diary, then again I reiterate that you need to mention Anne Frank.) I’d also always cut any mention of future books in a series in the query letter — save that for once you actually have an agent interested in the story.

And finally, I would keep your closing professional, and cut “God Bless.” Unless you’re submitting to an agent who specializes in religious fiction or the Christian market, it’s too personal.

Readers, any further thoughts?

Photo above by Flickr user Jason Farrar, used under a Creative Commons license.
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3 Responses to “About My Query: HIDDEN PLACES”

  1. Jess Says:

    I agree with Daphne – I think it's really important that you tell us WHO, exactly, the Jewish people she befriends are. If Hanna's arc is learning that Jews are people, you need to SHOW us that they're people. Otherwise it comes off a little preachy, like it's a story about learning a lesson rather than about friendship.

  2. Veronica Leigh Says:

    Hi There,
    Thank you so much for looking at my query and posting your critique of it. I am glad that I postponed the process of sending out this version of the query to anyone so that I might work on it some more.
    Obviously Anne Frank has been on my mind throughout writing this story and she was an inspiration too. The only reason I didn't mention her in the query was because I didn't want to "use" her to promote my novel.
    Anyway, thank you again. I appreciate this and am eager to hear what others think too.

  3. C.Allen Says:

    I think it's important for the reader to connect with your MC immediately, since we need to feel invested in her journey. It's good to start by giving us a time and place but then really hook us with Hanna's character. The first thing we know is that she's young and imaginative (terms that are fine to use with prospective agents but not your intended readership!) and wants to go to Hollywood to be an actress (this illustrates that she is indeed young and imaginative). Then we find out that she balks at her parents' plan to hide Jews in their house. First, I was surprised that people who would hide their neighbors would raise a child who was religiously prejudiced. But also, I felt like our first impression of Hanna is a negative one. Either make us love Hanna before you reveal this prejudice or justify it. Is she bullied by Jewish boys at school? Does she not want to share her bathroom with strangers? The modern day readership (even kids) know that prejudice is wrong, so you're going to have to really sell a character with this flaw. Doesn't mean we have to find her cute and loveable, but give us something that makes us sympathetic
    Good luck!