Query Hack: Critique #21 – Adult Historical Fiction

Dear Query Hack,

The world of historical fiction is filled with vibrant stories of female empowerment. However, there is a huge omission in this world: the rich, uplifting stories of Black women as a powerful force of change. The Booker T Washington Wives Club, will add to this world. My story features a powerful triad of Black daughters of the South and their marriage to one important man: Booker T. Washington.

  • In general, I caution writers against opening their queries with themes (or including themes at all in queries)—in this instance it’s female empowerment. However, because I think it’s so important to bring more diversity into writing (and I like how you’re working it), I think it works great here! I would tweak some of the wording though:

Historical fiction is filled with vibrant stories of female empowerment. However, this genre lacks the rich, uplifting stories of Black women as a powerful force of change. THE BOOKER T WASHINGTON WIVES CLUB features a triad of Black daughters from the South and their marriage to one important man: Booker T. Washington.

  • Queries are usually tight on space, so I took out a few words and sections that I didn’t think were necessary.
  • Remember to write your manuscript title in ALL CAPS.
  • Also, consider starting your query with personalization. Is this agent seeking historical fiction? Did they express a desire for diverse writing? Highlight that right at the beginning!

Washington married three women within the span of a little more than ten years. Fannie, his first wife and childhood sweetheart, died under mysterious circumstances; Wife number two, Olivia, literally worked herself to death for his dream.

  • My first thought after reading this section is: who’s the protagonist? Usually, plot summaries are told from the protagonist’s perspective. Right now, it feels like a listing of events/background info. For example, if the story is from Maggie’s perspective, you might start the plot summary with her story: when she meets (and marries?) Washington. I’m guessing that’s the inciting incident? You could then show her being wary of the marriage or feeling like she has to go through it despite the above history you have here.

Three months after Olivia’s death, Maggie Murray comes to Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers. With so much death occurring within a few short years, Tuskegee is floundering but Maggie determines to put the school back on the right path. Not everyone is glad for her arrival, but she is compelled to help Booker with his grief and find out what happened to Fannie and Olivia. As she finds out about the other wives, Maggie finds herself falling in love with him. How she becomes part of The Booker T. Washington Wives Club is a fascinating, and true, story.

  • In this section, it felt unclear if Maggie was attending the school or teaching at it. Also, I’d like to see more voice from Maggie. What does she want? What brings her to this town? Why does she feel called to put the school on the right path? (Also, try to be more specific of what you mean by “right path.”)
  • If you can, show how Maggie and Booker meet for the first time. What is Maggie’s intention for Booker? Does he express his intentions toward her? Why does she want to help him with his grief? What does this have to do with the school?
  • In general, you want to show (vs. tell) and provide specific (vs. vague) conflict in a query. So, how is Maggie falling in love with him? Does he rescue her during some conflict? Is he supportive of her wanting to work at the school and helping her to achieve her dreams (at his own expense)? In as few words as you can, try to provide more specific examples in your query.
  • What is The Booker T. Washington Wives Club? I think that needs to be clearer in the plot summary, especially if it’s the title and has historical meaning.
  • In addition, usually plot summaries are ended with the ultimate stakes. What’s at stake for Maggie and her world? End with her needing to make a decision or take action: what happens if Maggie succeeds? What happens if she fails? 

There have been scholarly non-fiction attempts to tell the stories of these three women, but there have not been an #ownvoices author to tell this story from a fictitious point of view. Booker T. Washington spent as much as six months of the year on the road to raise funds for the school. His powerful wives were the ones who held the school in check while he was away and gave their all to building a lasting educational legacy.

  • Love this background information! I might rework the first sentence to something like:

Unlike the scholarly, non-fiction recounting of the lives of [name], [name], and [name], THE BOOKER T WASHINGTON WIVES CLUB is the first fictitious retelling of this powerful story of three Black wives who upheld a school…

I’m a professor of United States literature at Spelman College and a two-time Golden Heart Finalist in historical and inspirational romance. I’m also a finalist this year in the GRW Maggie Awards. If you are interested in reading more of this real-life women’s historical fiction I can send the complete story which is 100,00 words long. Thank you for your attention to my work.

  • What a great bio!
  • I might include your metadata in the first paragraph or the paragraph before this. Remember, queries are usually structured in one of the two following ways:

QUERY FORMAT #1

Dear [name of agent],
Paragraph 1: Plot summary
Paragraph 2: Plot summary
Paragraph 3: Plot summary
Paragraph 4: Metadata, title, personalization
Paragraph 5: Bio

QUERY FORMAT #2

Dear [name of agent],
Paragraph 1: Metadata, title, personalization
Paragraph 2: Plot summary
Paragraph 3: Plot summary
Paragraph 4: Plot summary
Paragraph 5: Bio

  • Usually metadata is written like: THE BOOKER T WASHINGTON WIVES CLUB is an adult historical fiction, complete at 100,000 words, and told from an #ownvoices perspective. 

 

 


 

 

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