Sunday, July 30, 2023



I've been querying agents for the last 6-months and have over 50 rejections. I'm not sure if my novel isn't very interesting/sellable or if my query letter is the problem. After reading the archives on your site, I did a total rework and would appreciate any feedback!



Dear QueryShark,


There are stories that never get told, but need to be. TITLE, a 92.000 upmarket women’s historical fiction tells the remarkably true stories of three generations of Italian women as they face World War II, the Fascist Movement, immigration, unexpected pregnancies, and a global pandemic. Challenging societal expectations, they experience the love, loss, and yearning for better that binds us all across generations.


Are you thinking this is a hook?

(it's not)

It's more like the start of a book review.


An effective hook gives us a sense of the problem that drives the book.


Here's the hook for All Roads Lead Me Back to You by Kennedy Foster


Hard-working, no frills Alice Andison barely scrapes by after her father's death when Domingo Rolodan, an undocumented Mexican horse and cattle man, knight in shining saddle, arrives to not only save her father's legacy but win Alice's heart if he can just steer clear of the oppressive clutches of the increasingly gestapo-like modern INS.

See the difference?

The characters have an emotional component and we see what problem they face.


Vittoria was born in a small town in Northern Italy in 1914. Growing up in the absolute poverty of a war torn country, she longs for better and isn’t afraid to take on anyone, even Mussolini himself to find it. But challenging societal norms takes unexpected turns and soon she finds herself with the broken promise of a soldier, a growing belly, and no ring.


Anna was born an illegitimate child amidst the height of World War II. Distrustful of men, yet always seeking their attention, she solicits the attention of the boy next door– the one with big dreams, who soon leaves for Canada, asking Anna to join him. She sees a chance for a new land, a new start, a new life. Who needs love when you have an opportunity?


Grace was born the child of immigrants. Trying to make something of herself, she is tired of trying and quitting a million things – including relationships. No sooner does she commit to completing her master’s degree, then she meets Jax, and everything comes together and falls apart. Suddenly, there are too many choices and one big question: How does one define “better”?


You've introduced three characters here, but there's no plot.

Plot isn't what happens. It's not the events of the book.

Plot is choices the characters face and what's at stake with those choices.

 You must have plot in a query, even if you're querying a character-driven book.


You also don't tell us how these women are connected. (Are they?)

Three generations makes me think they're related to each other, but that's not obvious from the query.


Also, by introducing all three characters equally, you can't focus on the start of the story.


If the story begins with Vittoria, let's give her more page time. If the story starts with one of the other two, lead with her, give her more page time.


You have a limited amount of space here to engage your reader. Focus on how the story starts.


 Vittoria (or whomever) wants to (what?)

BUT, (problem) prevents her.

Now she must (choose a path.)

Get that on the page first.

Then show how the characters are linked.

You do NOT need the details of  Anna and Grace, unless one of them is the main character, not Vittoria.


TITLE would be the love child of

Resist the urge to be clever with comps.

Just say your book will appeal to readers who liked:


Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson,


Untamed by Glennon Doyle,

This is a memoir. Don't use NF as a comp for a novel, even historical fiction.



What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang,

also a memoir



and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

This was pubbed in 2017 so it's too old to be an effective comp.


If you take a look at the Amazon description of Sisters in Arms by Kaia Alderson, you'll see there is conflict and tension (which is what you need in the query)


Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may be from completely different backgrounds, but when it comes to the army, specifically the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they are both starting from the same level. Not only will they be among the first class of female officers the army has even seen, they are also the first Black women allowed to serve.


As these courageous women help to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, they are dealing with more than just army bureaucracy—everyone is determined to see this experiment fail. For two northern women, learning to navigate their way through the segregated army may be tougher than boot camp. Grace and Eliza know that there is no room for error; they must be more perfect than everyone else.


When they finally make it overseas, to England and then France, Grace and Eliza will at last be able to do their parts for the country they love, whatever the risk to themselves.




A melding of immigration, identity,


I have my master’s in English with an emphasis in Technical Writing, and currently work as a content creator and SEO specialist. When I’m not working or writing you can find me reading a million children’s books to my one and two year old sons (or removing whatever object they’ve found to turn into a sword). I’m passionate about telling untold stories in literature, the stories that make us feel like we aren’t alone.



I am querying you because (whatever).


 Thank you for your time and consideration of my submission.


Best regards,

You only need one closing.





Sunday, June 11, 2023


This query is a completely revised one from the one I started with as that one got me a couple of partial requests, but nothing serious. Now, since I've started using this query, I haven't even gotten a nibble. 

In the first  53 words you have two problems that could lead to an immediate pass.

While agents aren't actively looking for reasons to pass if you give them two in short order, that's what's going to happen.


My first query was succinct but a bit commercial in my opinion. So I tried to offer a quirkier approach with this one.



 A bit commercial isn't a bad thing. Agents are looking for things they can sell (ie commercial).

 I did beef up my bio after reading your archives. 

141 words is about 100 too many. See notes below. An extensive bio doesn't make up for problems in the query so lets focus on that.

You also stated in the archives that queries should have at least 2 comps. Is it okay to comp an author instead like I did?  

 No, see notes below



Dear Query Shark:

People are creatures of habit. They take the same route to school every day, they buy the same brand of soap they always do, and they listen to the same radio station, day in and day out. And they also sit at the same school desk every morning in first period English class.


When I read this, I have no idea if you're querying for fiction or non-fiction.

That's a big problem when agents are getting dozens of queries a week.

Big problem = pass.

It's more effective to start with the character's name and what problem she faces


At least, that’s what Lily Carter used to do.


Consider instead:

People are creatures of habit.

Lily Carter is a creature of habit.


They take the same route to school every day, they buy the same brand of soap they always do, and they listen to the same radio station, day in and day out.


She takes the same route to school every day, buys the same brand of soap, listens to the same radio station, day in and day you.



 And they also sit at the same school desk every morning in first period English class.

And sit at the same desk every morning in first period English.



But when you revise like this the real problem becomes very clear.

You're describing someone who doesn't sound very interesting. In fact, she sounds dull as dishwater.

That's DEATH in a query, particularly in YA.

Death = pass.


Now, if there's a reason Lily is so methodical in her daily life, that would give her some depth.

Is this how she feels safe?

Did she read Gustave Flaubert and take his advice to heart: "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

Let's give Lily some context here.



 Until Jack Sutton just waltzed in and stole it right out from under her. The gentlemanly thing to do would have been to give it back. Instead, he refused to acknowledge her rightful claim of dibs and in the process managed to ruffle her feathers, push her buttons, flip her lid, and get her goat. If you know what I mean.


Because he sat in her chair?

Does this seem like a very intense reaction to something that's essentially not important?  It's not like he said her mum wears army boots.


So, Jack is the last person on earth that Lily wants witnessing her humiliating attempt at singing.


There's no connection here between Jack stealing her seat in English class and witnessing her humiliating attempt at singing.


How is it that Jack is in her life at all?



Lily has been very careful to keep her voice under wraps after receiving rejection at the hands of a close friend.

What was Lily trying to do that a close friend rejected her?

Specifics are much more compelling than generalities.

You don't want to be awash in too much detail, but you need more than you have here.


Surprisingly though, Jack challenges her belief of mediocrity. 

What he actually does is challenge her belief that her singing is mediocre.

You need razor sharp, precise sentences in a query.


He actually begins to make her question a lot of things. Like the idea that the talent show is out of her league. Maybe, it's not. Maybe, she could even win it.


Although there is the small matter of that pesky stage fright thing…

So far, there's nothing interesting about Lily, and she sounds rather like a basket case. This is a HUGE problem in YA that is character driven.


As Lily gets closer to Jack and his spirited sister Cat, a self-consciousness Lily didn't even realize she had developed begins to mend. Thanks to a little prodding from her new friends, Lily signs up for the talent show. 

 What does Jack see in Lily that he's investing time and emotional support in her?

But someone from Lily's past is determined to see her fail. 

This is absolutely out of left field. With no context it's like a big ink blot on the page.

Let's give the antagonist some more page time.


Lily must rely on her friends, her family, and her new-found confidence in order to overcome the obstacles in her way. 

What obstacles? I thought there was an antagonist trying to thwart her.



Take a Deep Breath is a young adult novel complete at 60,000 words that portrays the sarcastic, yet vulnerable Lily along with her lovable family and kindhearted friends. A story of personal growth with a touch of romance, this novel will appeal to fans of Kasie West.

You need to use titles, not authors. Those titles need to be recent, no earlier than 2019.


Your bio is 141 words. Given a query should be 250-300 you've spent a larger percentage of your word count on your bio and not your book.


I am a small town Minnesota gal, where a person can go from wearing a sweatshirt and wool socks one day to a t-shirt and sandals the next. With a penchant for staying in every night with my two cats and a DVD collection to rival a Blockbuster store (are there any of those in existence anymore?) one might be tempted to call me an introvert. If it weren't for my extroverted husband, I just might be. Kudos to him for getting me out of my comfort zone and making friends with the outside world. Who knew I would enjoy things like pickleball and Korean BBQ? (not at the same time, for heaven's sake). This is my first novel and



 I'm looking to team up with an agent who can help an eager, wide-eyed newcomer navigate the ropes of the literary world.


This kind of statement is counter-productive.

Agents see this as code for needy and naive.  Even if you are these things, they're not something you'd put in your bio.  Remember a query is also about the agent assessing if you're someone they want to work with. Someone who clearly will need a lot of hand holding is less likely to get a nod. Just leave this kind of statement out.


Thank you for your time and consideration.




This does not have enough edge to be YA.

It sounds middle grade to me.


There's no sense of Lily coming to terms with the larger world, or figuring out her place in it.

It's all character development and very light on plot.


There's not enough story on the page.






Sunday, March 26, 2023




Regarding the acceptable word count of a query letter, the body of this letter is 250. I had other short versions (<200 words) but continued receiving form rejections from agents. I added more content to this letter to provide better story detail. Still, my concern is that the letter needs to be shorter, more enjoyable, or both. I don't know which.


Word count is a flexible target. You can go over the 250 target without worrying about some sort of auto-pass. Some queries need more words.  If you're over 400, that's when to sharpen your scissors. Anything under 250 runs the risk of not getting enough story on the page. 


BUT, word count isn't the issue with your query.

The issue is you don't have the story on the page.


Getting the story on the page means that after reading the query I should be able to tell you:

1. Who the main character is

2. What they want

3. What's getting in the way of getting what they want.

4. What's at stake if they don't get it. 

And I should be able to do this without needing to take notes. Remember, agents are NOT reading your query as though it's a text book. They're reading to get an idea of the story and your writing style.

A lot of detail, or too much abstraction stymies them.

Avoid that.


Dear Query Shark,


Meet Dr. Niklos Krylov, inventor of the Save-Transmit Machine (STM). With it, the world is forever changed... for the worse.


The excitement of the STM's debut 

What was STM designed to do? If there's excitement, your reader is led to believe it was something good.


quickly turns to horror when the machine unleashes identical hydrogen bombs in cities across the Earth. The event, known as the Trinity Attack, drives the world to anarchy. Nik, overcome with guilt and shame, retreats into hiding.


My hope is that Nik did not invent the STM machine in order to unleash hydrogen bombs.

What did he invent it for?


In other words, what did Nik want to do that was thwarted by the godawful results of his experiment?


But his concealment is short-lived. A slave-mining operation captures Nik and forces him to dig for the radioactive fuel that powers the STM.


Slave mining implies that the operation is mining for slaves.

I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean here.


What you mean is a mining operation that uses slaves to dig.  Revise this for clarity.



When a fellow prisoner's life is at risk, Nik's expertise as the STM's inventor is exposed. His captors issue a brutal ultimatum: reveal his identity or die in silence.


Ok, but why? What do the captors want that revealing his identity will get for them?




Nik surrenders to their whips, but a group of freedom fighters rescues him before he becomes another pawn in the STM-powered apocalypse.


What STM-powered apocalypse? You've told us that the world dissolved into anarchy when the STM unleashed hydrogen bombs. Is the machine still functioning? What is it doing? Who's got their foot on the metaphorical gas pedal?



With their help, Nik sets out on a journey of survival through the ruins of civilization and into the reaches of space. When he uncovers the origin of the Trinity Attack, Nik is shocked to learn a horrible secret. The STM was used to alter the human condition. 


Alter the human condition? That's too abstract to be useful. Specifics are very useful in a query.


Faced with moral and ethical dilemmas, Nik tries to right the wrongs of his past and end the destruction caused by the STM.


He can't end the destruction if it's already happened. He can either fix the destruction, or stop the destruction from continuing. 


So, who's the antagonist here?

Is it the STM machine, or the person who's operating it?



Comps go here

You should include 2-3 books that your intended readers will have read and liked. Comps need to be recent (pubbed no earlier than 2019); on your shelf (in this case SF); and pubbed by a trade house large or small (but not self-pubbed.) 

Bio goes here

It's useful to include a couple lines about you. It warms up the query. If you don't have any pub credits don't worry. Your bio is about you, not your work. Where you live; dogs/cats/dragons and other pets. That kind of thing.


Eschaton, an 87,000-word science-fiction thriller, explores the consequences of technological advancements gone wrong. It would be my debut novel,


One of the main requirements of a thriller is a ticking clock. That's not evident in your query. If it's NOT in the book, this isn't a thriller. That's ok. Just don't call it one if it isn't. 

and I would be grateful for the opportunity to bring this work to publication with you. 


 You are not a supplicant even if it feels that way sometimes.

You are providing an agent with the opportunity to sell your work and make some money. Be grateful when she does that. Right now just thank her for her time and consideration as you do next.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


It sounds like your story is: A machine goes haywire. Chaos ensues.

That's the concept for a gazillion movies, most of them based on books.

In other words, something that we've all seen a lot of.

Agents are looking for fresh and new.

That does NOT mean you can't have a machine going haywire and chaos ensues.

What it means is that you need your fresh take on this. You need distinctive characters that we're engaged with and care about. You want to tell us a story in a way that makes us see things in a new light. You have to elevate the category, not just add to it.


In other words, you gotta tell me what makes your book better and different.

And that's not by saying "my book is better and different."

You have to show it in the story you're enticing me to read.

So your revision is twofold: get the story on the page, and frame it in such a way that it feels fresh and new.

This is NOT an easy task. It's not a matter of changing up a few words here and there.

Good revising requires deep thinking.


Sunday, November 13, 2022

#344 Revised 8/1/23


Dear Query Shark,


I am writing to you seeking representation for my 122,000-word adult fantasy novel THE CROSSOVER.

This is better than the 137K you had the first time, but paring down to under 120K is a good idea.


The last thing you want is an agent seeing the word count and swiping left without reading another word.



don't cap character names.


 inadvertently stumble across a portal to another world.

 Elenore just wants to gather evidence of their strange discovery to prove it to her university colleagues.


None of this matters, not really.

The story starts when they arrive in Swordlandia.


Let's refocus to make that clear.


Driven by her curiosity, she



Eleanora and Ben find a portal and of course, they want to see where it leads.


She leads Ben, her horse, and her dog through the portal.

Not to pick nits but did you notice the dog is never mentioned again?

Having your dog with you in a strange land would be comforting, no?

And does the dog get superpowers too?



They pop popping out in an entirely different universe.


This is a big moment in the query. Making it a separate short sentence gives it power and drama.


You want to stay in Elenore's point of view here, so let's revise this:


Two sword-bearing forces arrive with one obvious goal:

They're met by two, separate sword-bearing forces.


Let's add separate here so the reader doesn't think these are two platoons of the same company.



capture the strangers from another world.

We don't really need to know what the SBFs want. They're not the important antagonist.


 Elenore is captured by the king's brigade, and Ben is captured by the resistance movement. against the king.

Let your reader do some of the work here. If you say resistance movement, the reader will fill in that they're resisting the King. 



From their captors inform them that they learn that when they entered the portal, they passed through “the pathways” and  coming through the portal developed gave them abilities  that allow them to wield energy from the space between worlds.


Out of desperation to

Desperate to reunite and return home, Elenore and Ben accept separate, yet similar deals.


So, you learn you have superpowers. What's the first thing you want to do?

Give them up and go home?



Cause if you told me I had superpowers, I'd want to know what they were, and how I could use them to do fun stuff, like fly (Sharknado!), or eat ice cream without sacrificing my svelte sharkly silhouette, or get the world to quit using the phrase safety deposit box (it's safe deposit box, and yes this is a hill I will die on.)



But here you have her using her abilities (still unspecified) to do something that she doesn't have a stake in. Why would she do it?


When we're puzzled by why a character acts in what seems to be an illogical or unrealistic way, we're NOT engaged.  You want your readers to engage, to care what happens to Elenore (and the dog!!!)


Elenore agrees to use her new abilities to help the king recapture the same city where Ben is held, and Ben agrees to use his powers to aid in the movement  resistance and to dethrone the king who captured Elenore.


These two characters don't seem to have much depth or personality.

It's ESSENTIAL that your characters be interesting and right now they seem lacking in imagination or sense of adventure.


 As part of the deal, Elenore gains a vast understanding of the nature of time, reality, and mortality from the space between worlds.


Well, that's nice but what can she DO?


 Despite that knowledge, she doesn’t realize the danger they are in.

Of course not. What's the fun of that.




VICTORIA, Elenore’s mentor,


wait, what?
Who the heck is Victoria?

And WHERE is she? As in which side of the portal.


Introducing a main character this late in the game is confusing.





has no idea that she is fated to inadvertently catalyze the end of the universe, causing it to be wiped from existence layer by layer. 


Ho hum.

If a character is fated for something they don't have any choice in the matter.

The essence of a good story is what choices the characters face and what path they choose.




Ben’s captor, the leader of the resistance movement against the king, might be the only one with information on how to prevent the destruction of the universe and has no intentions of sharing it. Unaware of their larger role, Elenore and Ben are sure their hardships will come to an end if they can manage to avoid manipulation and survive long enough to see the deal through, but it is only a matter of time before Victoria finds a way to seize power from the king, setting the unraveling of the universe into motion.


Ok, who's the antagonist here?


You've got (as you did in the first version) too much going on.

You don't need as much world building as you think.


You need to focus on Elenore. She seems to be the main character.

What does she want?

Make sure what she wants makes sense to us the reader.

You're in an alien world with superpowers! What would you want to do?


Then give us a sense of the dilemma she faces

There must be some sort of conflict or there's no plot.



You do need more three-dimensional characters and we must have a better sense of choices and stakes.




The style, tone, and characters of THE CROSSOVER will appeal to readers of are most comparable to A.K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name meets and Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library.



Here's the description of The Unspoken Name

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does—she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard's loyal sword. Topple an empire and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn—gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.


Notice there is almost NO world building.

There's one sentence of set up.

The choices the main character faces are clear, as are the stakes.

All in fewer than 100 words.

This is your goal.


You have 380 in the query.


It is intended to be the first installment of a series that I hope will span 3-5 books.

It can stand alone but I envision it as the start of a series


new paragraph for personalization

(Insert personalization here).

I am querying you because you like kale and I like rabbits (or whatever.)



Thank you for your consideration,




Pare down the events and increase character development.


There are a million portal stories in my inbox.

Show me (don't tell me) how yours is better, faster, more enticing.


I'd start with the dog.

That's interesting.


Dogs? DOGS??






Initial query


I have been submitting queries to agents since May of 2022 and have only received kind rejections so far. I have decided to blame this on my query letter for now, and so I come to you with my struggle after reading the archives. I have a complex first installment of a fantasy series in progress, and it seems impossible to include the necessary information in a concise manner. I have left many important characters unmentioned, and I have failed to include the aspect of my plot that involves the protagonist's impending trek through the infinite layers of an infinite universe in a war of fate and freewill. In addition to that, I feel that some of the appealing aspects of my book, like the presence of ghosts and alternate timelines, alternating chapter perspectives, intricate arcs, and relatable societal problems can't be included without getting to a 1200 word query letter.

Dear Query Shark,


 I am writing to seek representation for THE CROSSOVER, which is a 137,000-word new adult, fantasy fiction novel.


For starters, your word count is high. 137K is an auto-pass for many agents.

Your category, new adult, is one that you might see referenced on Goodreads etc., but isn't all that useful for queries. New Adult started as a way to categorize books for readers above the YA age range (that tops out at 18.)


All too quickly it morphed into porn light. Think 50 Shades of Grey.


Now it's trying to make a comeback but in a query you want to use the most solid description you can. Your book is fantasy. You don't need to say fiction, cause fantasy is not non-fiction. (Current events not withstanding.)


And fiction novel is an instant pass for a lot of us.


So: The Crossover (137,000 words) is fantasy.


Except when you start with this, it just gives agents permission to pass without reading another word.  That's why I suggest you put this at the close of the query, NO MATTER WHAT.



(Personalize for agent here).

Personalization goes below as well. So many writers botch this up that it's just safer not to lead with it.


Comps go at the end too.

And you can NOT use Stephen King as a comp. He is in a category by himself. People read his books just cause he wrote them.  You don't have that advantage yet.



THE CROSSOVER is most comparable to Stephen King’s newest novel Fairy Tale mixed with Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone.


Shadow and Bone was first pubbed in 2013. It's too old to be an effective comp.



ELENORE (23), a curiosity-driven student of science,

This is not a police blotter, or a newspaper article. Don't put the ages in parenthesis.


and BENAIAH (Ben, 22), her grumbly companion with a heart of gold,


heart of gold is a cliche.

Agents are looking for things that are fresh and new.



inadvertently stumble across a portal to another world on their rental property in Indiana.


Elenore’s desire to prove their discovery compels them to enter the undulating void despite a vague, menacing message found graffitied on their wall promising death to Ben should they go.



What does prove their discovery mean?

Also, try this without all the modifiers.


Elenore’s desire to prove their discovery compels them to enter the undulating void despite a vague, menacing message found graffitied on their wall promising death to Ben should they go.


A lot easier to understand without all the descriptors.


Over-modifying is a common flaw in early work.

Watch for it, and pluck out everything you don't need.

And you don't need anywhere near as much filigree as you think.



After entering the portal and becoming separated by the sword-bearing forces in the Kingdom of Corva, Elenore and Ben are informed that when they entered the portal, they passed through “the pathways” and developed abilities.


This sentence is 35 words long.

That means you've got too much information for your reader to readily absorb.

Short form work like a query usually means you want short sentences.



Other people have some abilities, but allegedly, none can wield the pathways like those that walk through time.


The construction of this sentence seems to convey that pathways walk through time.

My guess is that's not what you mean.

An easy fix is just to change out that for who.

Other people have some abilities, but allegedly, none can wield the pathways like those who walk through time.

According to the warring rulers, Elenore and Ben are potentially the most powerful in the kingdom. Out of desperation, Elenore and Ben accept similar deals by agreeing to help in the conflict that envelopes the kingdom in exchange for help returning home.


At this point I'm utterly befuddled.


Unbeknownst to Elenore, Victoria, her mentor and advisor to the misguided King Gael, has a vicious ambition to seize power. Despite the knowledge Elenore gains on her journey, she doesn’t realize the danger they are in. Opal, the scheming, untrustworthy leader of the resistance movement that captured Ben, is the only one who understands the extent of the danger they are in, and she intends to use the knowledge to bargain for her life when Elenore and the king invade the city she holds. Meanwhile, Victoria  has no idea her antagonistic actions will eventually lead to the collapse of the infinite layers in their cyclical universe. Even worse, Elenore, Ben, a dog, and several other friends are the only ones that stand a chance of altering fate enough to prevent it. They must decide between risking their lives for a foreign universe or living with the guilt of doing nothing to prevent its demise.


There's so much information here it's impossible to follow.


In a query you don't need anywhere near this much detail.

 What you need is:

What does the main character want?

What's blocking them from getting it?

What choices do they face?

What's at stake with those choices?


That's all you need.



I have been writing for as long as I can remember.

This may be true. It's not useful to say so in a query.


The ideas that shaped this novel often surfaced in the night, causing me to leap out of bed and take notes on a post-it stuck to a book next to my bed.

Also not useful in the query.


Now, as a 25-year-old high school English teacher with a Bachelor of Arts in English Education, I finally had the tools to sit down and finish it.

Also not useful


The manuscript is complete and ready for review.

I hope so, cause if you're querying an unfinished book, its an automatic pass.

In other words, no need to  state the obvious.


And review means something else. You're submitting your ms for consideration. But you still don't need to say so.

Agents do not generally care about how long you've loved to write or your process.


 I truly appreciate you taking the time to read my query,

Don't sound like I'm doing you a favor here.

I'm not.

I'm reading your query with the idea of becoming extremely wealthy by the sweat of your brow.



and I look forward to the possibility of hearing from you. 

Yea, my colleagues are notorious for no response means no which I find highly objectionable.

But let's not give them leave to do that by acknowledging it. Let them sauté in their own shame.


Thank you for your consideration, 


Unfortunately you've got a novel that has all the aspects of every other portal fantasy, and nothing that makes it distinctly your own.


That's the challenge to all writers. Fresh and new doesn't mean stories we've never seen. It means a different take or a different approach.


First Blood is essentially a fresh look at Beowulf.

Clueless is a new way to tell the story in Emma.


Every Jack Reacher novel is a Western, really: A stranger comes to town, shakes things up, then leaves.

A Western with no horses, no six-guns, no cattle rustlers. In other words, a fresh take.


So the problem here isn't the query. It's the novel.

Time to think about what you can change to put your own distinct spin on a portal fantasy.

 Think about what prompted you to write this. What do you want to say that hasn't been said before. 

As for your question: The problem is not lack of detail. It's too much detail. Agents don't expect to know everything about the book from the query. The query is the introduction, a brief taste of the meal that is the book.

You need to pare down here, but also figure out what makes your book distinctive, and get that on the page.







Monday, September 5, 2022



Question: I’m a former Christian so I approached this work and pantheon with respect, but I also wanted to express the importance of separating church and state. From my understanding Christian Fiction has underlying themes/motifs relating to the faith. Christian Fiction isn’t my goal, I just wanted to bring what I know into the realm of spellswords and gunslingers. Do I need to state that this is not explicitly intended for Christians in my query? I don’t want to mislead anyone.


Dear Query Shark,


Jericho Brightbolt trudges into the withered husk of a town, weary from scavenging through the desert wasteland.


His search for food and water leads him directly into a demon ambush. The doors burst open around him and the street floods with the damned.


Jericho unleashes his astonishing speed as a storm disciple, brandishing his revolver and katana in a barrage of muzzle flashes and steel. 


You've got about 65 words here to set up the start of the story: Jericho has piqued the Devil's interest.

How much of this do you really need?


This isn't plot, and it's not character development. It's just set up. You only get 250-300 words in a query. You don't want to use 20-25% of them on set up?


Before the final demon is vanquished, Jericho discovers he’s piqued the Devil’s interest.


The Devil needs him brought to Hell in order to restore the Aether, something dismissed as an ancient myth.


It will help if we know what the Devil wants here. He wants Jericho to restore the Aether, got it, but what is Aether and why is Jericho the (only) guy who can restore it? What problem would that solve for him (the Devil)?


Jericho flees home to Nazareth in a desperate attempt to hide, a problem in itself. His face is peppered across the city on wanted posters for crimes he did not commit. 


I assume you chose Nazareth on purpose.

If you want to avoid the slings and arrows of outrage, consider using a different name for the town.



Lo and behold, Jericho finds his only ally in a mess of her own. Mason Earthbreaker is being forced out of active duty as a soldier and thrust into arranged marriage for child-bearing.


It’s wedlock in two days, or prison. She has devoted her life to combating the demons since she lost her brother to possession, and this is the thanks she gets.


Jericho sneaks in looking for Mason, and she does her best to shoulder his crisis while wrestling with exchanging her armor for a wedding ring.


I thought Jericho was already in Nazareth? And we already know Mason's predicament.

Now you have him sneaking in, looking for Mason; how does he know about her predicament?


In short form work like a query, unfolding the story in chronological order goes a long way to making the query easy to follow.



When the demons lay siege to the city in the hunt for Jericho, Mason straps on her cuirass in defiance and heads to the battlefield, wielding her titanic strength as a stone disciple.

wielding her titanic strength as a stone disciple is confusing. What is a stone disciple?


 You used storm disciple above in reference to Jericho, but right now we don't know what disciples are. You don't explain it till later in the query.



You can just cut the reference here and avoid the need to explain anything.



Wanted by both Nazareth and the horde befalling


befalling is probably the wrong word here. It generally means something bad about to happen. I think you mean here is closer to besieging. 


 its walls, Jericho must choose his fate - help Mason shield the very people who will execute him, or let the demons drag him to Hell for the mysterious Aether.


 The stakes here are pretty small: Jericho's fate.




124K can be an auto-pass even for fantasy. 120K is often cited as the top word count. 


 is the first Dark Fantasy in a planned series set ages after the apocalypse.


This is a nice place to put the world building, but it will also help if you have themes. What is the book exploring?


The few million humans left have become a superhuman species known as disciples, each born with one of seven distinct physiologies respective to the archangels. While they battle the wasteland’s monsters, they must also navigate the ruptured socioeconomic terrain left in the wake of the archaic belief system that supports Nazareth’s infrastructure. 

I have no idea what navigate the ruptured socioeconomic terrain means.

Plain writing in a query is essential. This is not some sort of treatise. It's a novel. Your reader should be able to picture what you mean in her mind. 



It’s reminiscent of GUNMETAL GODS by Zamil Akhtar

This book is self-published so it's not an effective comp. Comps need to be published by a trade publisher (small or large.)



with some MASTER OF SORROWS by Justin Travis Call.

Always include the author's name with the title of your comp. Titles aren't subject to copyright so more than one book can have the same title.


I’m a furnace operator who works seventy hours a week on third shift, and my wife and I just welcomed our first child into the world. Between working and spending time with my son, I plod about like something a necromancer summoned. But don’t worry, I’ve learned to write during between bouts of microsleep.


Thank you for your consideration,


I don't think you need to worry about this being mistaken for Christian fiction.

Christian fiction has very specific tropes, and this query doesn't refer to any of them.

And since you call it dark fantasy, an agent reading this will know you intend it for the secular market.


But the larger problem is that I don't see enough story on the page, or reference to enough story in the summation to support 120K words.


Right now you have one character driving the plot, and the big question is what will happen to him.

 120K words needs a more epic sweep. Not quite Game of Thrones size, but certainly something like Leviathan Wakes (189K). 


Here's the description of Leviathan Wakes from the publisher's website:


Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond—but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.


 Notice there are two main characters, and the stakes are much more than personal. It's a bigger story.


When an agent checks the word count in a query, it's not only to see if it's too long or too short.

It's to assess if there's enough story to support a large count, or if there's  not enough story in a short word count.

One of the biggest problems with high word counts is that it can signal writing that is repetitive or  glacially paced (every moment described.)


I'm absolutely willing to read a taut, tightly paced novel of 127K if there's enough story to warrant the word count.


So you need more story in the query, or a ruthless reduction in word count.

 Focus on conveying mental images to your reader. Plain writing is VERY difficult.