Monday, June 6, 2011

Help me sell my novel...

Update 7/19/2011: I decided I didn't love this query and have tried again. Please take a look at my updated query instead of this one.

As many of you know, I recently finished a strong draft of a 263-page book, meaning that I'm ready to start trying to sell it to someone.

The first step in selling a novel is to find an agent who might like your work. The most common advice I've seen for finding an agent is to find books that are like--but not TOO much like--yours and then send a short letter describing your book to the agents that sold those books.

Problem: I'm struggling to think of books that are good matches.

After reading the query letter below, are you interested in reading my book? If so, would you mind telling me in the comments what other books you like?

Query Letter, last modified 6/6 at 10:15 pm:

Dear [insert agent name here],

You’ve heard the story before. At the edge of an empire, an occupied people seeks answers in their faith. Some search for purity in strict ritual observance, others by separating themselves from the symbols of a brutally civilized world. Some emphasize peace and love to transcend (and undermine) bitter political realities, while others insist that God will bring miraculous victory only if they first fight violence with violence.

You’ve heard of this world before: but does it produce Osama Bin Laden or Jesus?

My 75,000 word novel In Search of Vanished Blood tells the story of Jesus from the perspectives of those around him at a time when unsettling cultural imperialism has produced religious turmoil. The pressures of the time shape the way the story is told: because speech can be deadly, Jesus uses parables to at once conceal and reveal unorthodox ideas; his followers repurpose sacred stories into veiled outcries. Religious audiences will feel closer to familiar Biblical figures who navigate unexpected tensions in my book. Literary audiences will be drawn to the prose style, which mixes the meditative folklore tone of Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire with the charged imagery of classical Urdu poetry. Academic audiences will explore the subtle, intricate shaping of the narrative around Old Testament structures.

My telling of Jesus’ story is unique partly because of my background: not many part-Sikh, part-Jewish writers also hold MFAs from Brigham Young University. I understand contexts of repression: I’m related to the murdered activist poet Avtar Singh Pash and studied South Asian political writing with Indian screenwriter Abhijat Joshi. I honor my Jewish roots and have had work published in Shofar and Drash. I know about how religions emerge and spread: I spent two years as a missionary and later worked for the scholarly Joseph Smith Papers Project.

And how many writers’ looks have made passing strangers call them both “Osama” and “Jesus”?


James Goldberg
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