Sunday, August 3, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

Lizbah is destined to be a god, determined not to become one, and damned no matter what path she chooses. In a world caught in a Circle of Time that perpetually repeats itself; Lizbah must join with five unlikely heroes on her epic journey as she seeks an answer to the ultimate question: "I'm not really a god . . . am I?"

I know you're writing in English. I recognize the letters. I don't understand a single word of this.

Lizbah: Genesis Revelation, a completed 90,000 word novel, can be sent to you upon request. The first three chapters can be found at www.

You get a full page for a query letter. Use it. This doesn't give me any idea of the plot, the stakes or a sense of the characters.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Form rejection.

Revision #1
Dear Ms Reid (May I call you Maggie?),


A War of mythological proportions is brewing and no one knows who to trust. Senator Rikon has assassinated the King and declared himself Populace Magister over the Therconian territories. If he succeeds, then all are doomed to eternal servitude. Rikon can be stopped, and the World saved, by an orphaned farmer; but she has no desire to be a hero.

Mythological proportion doesn't mean the same thing to me that I think it means to you. I think what you mean is epic proportion. Mythological proportion doesn't actually make sense to me since epic battles of good versus evil seem to be in operas about gods, not actual stories. On the other hand, maybe I missed something in Myth 101 (and yes, that was a real class, and yes I took it, and yes, I passed.)

Lizbah, the prophesied child of a Druid Lord and an Elf Queen, is destined to be a God, determined not to become one, and damned no matter which path she chooses. Lizbah receives guidance from a sentient Oak that we later discover to be Lizbah’s Father, and a compassionate Pixie that Lizbah created from a dying woman who, unbeknownst to Lizbah, was her Mother. Lizbah, in stages, accepts her responsibility and sets out to become the savior that everyone believes she is. However, saving the World isn’t as simple as it appears.

You're drowning in detail. You'd do better to be more specific in paragraph one, and lose this paragraph entirely. The gist of your story is that Lizbah has to save the world, doesn't want to, and then discovers she likes being a mom.

The World is entangled in a repeating cycle of events that span the Genesis of existence to the Revelation of the end. The Oak refers to these events as “The Circle of Time.” The Circle of Time has deteriorated to such a state that “knots” exist in time. These knots allow people to exist, in different planes of time, as different entities. The Oak, for example, exists as three characters: a god (as the Oak), a wizard, and a Druid Lord. The Oak has existed through all times and knows what is going to happen, before it happens; however, The Oak is unsure about how it will happen. Only with death is the Oak assured that the Circle of Time has been broken and that the World might yet be saved.

Pare this down to tell us what you need to: The Circle of Time, Genesis to Revelation, has deteriorated such that knots now exist. The knots allow people to exist in different planes of time, as different entities. THEN you tell me how I'll keep all the characters straight in the novel.

I actually represent a novel that is episodic, each episode told in the first person, but a different person each time. AND it's out of chron order. I'm very clear about this in the cover letter so the editor/reader KNOWS what to look for. You need to do that too. The query isn't just what the book is about here. It's got to give the reader a road map particularly since you've got a complex narrative structure.

At the anticlimax, Lizbah has an epiphany and realizes that there are more important things in life than becoming a god and saving the world: Like being a mother.


In the end, Lizbah returns to her life as a farmer and rebuilds her life with her newborn daughter. Lizbah soon realizes that the end of one journey is simply the beginning of another. We are left with Lizbah learning that “they” are coming for her daughter. Thus we have the beginning, of the end, of the Genesis.

You don't need to recount the entire story in the cover letter. That's the job of the synopsis.

My completed novel of Genesis Revelation is 95,000 words can be sent to you at your request. Thank you for your consideration.


Southern Writer said...

Lizbah is destined to be a goddess. For goddess' sake, at least get that part right.

One more thing. Janet tells me I am the world's worst at naming characters, but you might just usurp my throne.

Here's my nice comment: I like your title.

ver: cqrsh

Pretty much, yeah.

beth said...

I was OK with Lizbah.

I think maybe you could inject more of the tone of the novel here--is it light and comedic, or darkly serious?

Also, a brief, one sentence explanation of the Circle of Time thing would have helped me...if they repeat everything constantly, I don't see how the world makes sense.

Marian said...

I like the title too, but the "ultimate question" part made me think of The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

"Epic journey" and "unlikely heroes" are also common (and cliched) terms in fantasy. Flesh out the query to show what makes your story different and interesting.

Clare K. R. Miller said...

It sounds loosely based on Hindu mythology. More of that could be intriguing.

I agree with Southern Writer on the name. Too much like the capital of Portugal.

Just_Me said...

My first thought is to run from the epic fantasy cliche: Chosen One!

But reading I think you might have an anti-Chosen One book. This could be very funny. Or at least well written. The thing is... I can't tell from reading your query.

I read and look around for the rest of it. You need to explain motivations and give a hint at the tone your use.

Re: Mc's name
I'm not maddly in love with it

Re: Title
It could work

Arlyle said...

Southern: She's destined to be a God, not a subserviant Goddess.

Chaos has no gender, but is referred to as a God. You should remember that everything arose from the nothingness of Chaos.

I mention different Goddess' in my book, but they are described in the classical sense.

Now if I were writing for the wicca market, then Lizbah would be destined to be a Goddess.

beth:My novel is flippantly serious. Perhaps that is why it needs a ton of work.

The Circle of Time probably shouldn't be mentioned in a query.
It is a driving force, but not the focus of the story.

To everyone else: I must admit that it does sound tired and cliched.
It has elements of all classic mythology.

I'll probably just have to post the whole novel for free on the net. To describe it in a query or synopsis is impossible.

For example, I have an Oak tree in my novel. The Oak turns out to be a God, a human wizard, and the father of the main character.

To make matters worse- the Oak is both omnipotent and unsure.

Hey Janet- Thanks for posting this query of mine. It has served as a wakeup call that I need to do some more work on my novel (and query).

Beth said...

I think you need more information about who Lizbah is, why she's destined to become a god(dess), and who these people are who are going to help her avoid that fate. There's nothing about the setting -- is this real world? Historical? Created fantasy world?

Beyond that, watch your punctuation and grammar. Should be..."no matter which path she chooses" and the semi-colon after "itself" should be a comma. Though you did use the colon correctly! :)

Arlyle said...

Beth: Sorry about the which vs
what. I used the "what" to allude that there were paths within the paths. Apparently, it didn't work.

Yes my semicolons are messy,but my colons are always clean.

Setting? Futuristic, ancient mythological past. (yeah, it makes no sense)

Joanna said...

This looks like a book I would want to read. Paradoxes, a hero attempting to escape from power/immortality instead of seeking it...and also 'god' as ungendered.

Does preferred query length vary widely from agent to agent? Nathan Bransford's excellent query examples were quite short, like this one.

Arlyle said...

Thank you for your time and expertise, Janet. I would like to make a few points:

1. "Maggie" is Amy Poehler's character in Mr Woodcock. She reminded me of you at the waterfront (Not that I've ever seen you in person). Actually, she's the female version of who I'd like to be.

2. Mythological Proportions: I should have just stated that there is a meat-eating Pegasus (complete with talons and carnivorous teeth like a T-Rex), witches, and way too many others to mention.

3. By anticlimax, I mean that the conflict appears to be resolved like most other novels: a lame resolution to a complex buildup. Then, the reader learns that all is not as it appears.

4. Hopefully, by the time I write Revison 20X:4c, I'll finally get it right

Anonymous said...

I, again, am late to the party, but Arlyle, you must be able to explain your story in a query. It is a hard process, but it can be done because if you can't, how do you expect your agent to sell it to an editor (publisher), the editor to explain it to his marketing team, the marketing team to explain it to bookstore attendants, and the bookstore attendants to explain it to potential readers? Imagine if you had a TV interview on Oprah? How would you convince people to buy the book if you can't explain it. This book has potential, but you need all the advice Janet offers in these queries to make your query (and book) a masterpiece.