Sunday, May 27, 2018


Question: I’ve had a devil of a time coming up with good, recent comps. One possibility is Christina Dalcher’s VOX, but that’s not yet published and I’ve only read a short excerpt. Another is Ben Winters’s UNDERGROUND AIRLINES, but that’s an dystopian thriller about race, not a dystopian mystery about religion. Is it better to leave out comps entirely?

Dear Query Shark:

Father Rolf Sorenson is a procurator—responsible for spiritual law and order in the Christian Republic. He’s a Priest of the Gun. He barely remembers America before the Awakening, before he began hearing the Voices. They’re his secret curse, those Voices. They hound him with mindless phrases and bits of banned pop songs.

On a cold Chicago night, Rolf takes a call—yet another church suicide, seems like, a woman in a baptismal fount. font. He gives her last rites for good measure. Then the dead woman talks to him using lines from Shakespeare. And tells him she was murdered.

Rolf knows he should close the case as a suicide. If he pursues the woman’s killer, he’ll attract unwanted attention from the clerics in DC and risk exposing his own secret. But Rolf can’t let go: the case could reveal at last what the Voices are and the role they played in transforming America into a theocracy.

PRIEST OF THE GUN is a procedural with supernatural elements, set in a dark future where TRUE DETECTIVE meets THE HANDMAID’S TALE. It’s complete at 99,000 words.

I taught legal writing at (school). I’m now a tenured professor at (a different) Law School and a scholar of National Security Law, which plays a minor role in the novel. I’ve published a couple of pieces in THE NEW REPUBLIC and numerous articles in law journals.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I'd read this. This is a good solid query. It give us enough world building to know where we are, without overloading details to bog down the pace of the query.

It's also something I haven't seen before, and that's always a good thing.

An of course, the writing is very good.

I'm not sure you need comps here.  I have a good sense of this book without them. 

BUT, if you want to use comps, don't use a book that isn't published. And particularly not one you haven't read in its entirety.

Comps are one way to figure out where a book goes in the bookstore; is it SF or literary for example, would be a question I'd ask here. 

Comps are one way for readers to hear about your book: if you liked that book, you'll like this one.

You want to get as close as you can in category and style.  This book is similar to The Electric Church in setting but I have a feeling it's a lot less violent. You'd have to read TEC to know if it's a good comp AND want to see your book shelved in SF, cause that's what TEC is.

Some agents insist on comps so it's a good idea to include them.


Mark said...

There is no such thing as a baptismal "fount." It's a font. So that is one correction I would urge the writer to make.

I'm confused about whether the protagonist is a Catholic priest, and if so, why he has a Danish name, when Danes are overwhelmingly Lutheran. If this is specifically a Catholic theocracy, the query should say so. If it isn't, why is the protagonist's title "Father" and why is he a "procurator"? I raise these concerns because as it stands, the query letter makes me wonder whether the author understands that Catholics and Protestants are different.

Sean Gates said...

Those are good points.

I’d also add that as attendance at churches is down across the board in the US (as far as I know) it seems unlikely we would ever become a theocracy. I’m a Protestant, but I see our society drifting away from religion lately. Secular progressivism has been the gender-fluid monarch for some time.

All of which says something really massive would need to have happened for the theocracy thing to occur.

The query seems to hint at such an event but is vague about what it might be; that combined with the points you raised above creates a serious red flag for me.

Unknown said...

Sorry guys, you both sound unbelievably nitpicky. Let the man/woman create whatever religion in whatever world they want to create already. I shouldn't have to earn an M.Div before I'm allowed write a book that mentions the name of an existing religion in an alterative-world context.

Frankie said...

This query doesn’t need to be modified. It’s a good query. It’s not too detailed and cleared to the main plot of the novel.
I’ve to admit I’ve never read this type of books but this one is intriguing.

Good job!
Hope it all works well!

Elissa M said...

This query definitely works for me. I understand speculative fiction and find no fault with the premise and no confusion over what sort of "priest" the MC may be. Of course, the novel itself has to hold up, and that would be determined by the agent who is enticed by the query.

Julie Weathers said...

I'm cruising through Query Shark because it's 1:00 am and I'm not tired.

The query works for me. I was immediately put in the mind of The Electric Church. That's a good thing. Something else that may be a stretch is the show Preacher, which may be a stretch. I had to quit watching, but used to enjoy it.

Mark, Sorenson isn't a Danish name, it's more likely Swedish, but could be Norwegian. Danish names properly end in "sen", not "son". I've fought this misspelling of my Danish surname all my life as did my father and very Danish grandfather. Also, even during WWII there were Catholics in Denmark let alone having someone with a Danish name, which this isn't, in America in the future being able to be a priest. I think we're picking things to death that are inconsequential.

Sean, this is a dystopian world. It's fantasy more or less, so to say this couldn't happen is kind of like telling someone there's no way they can have dragons. I hate it when people start dictating what your world can and cannot have. If it works, it works and this is something I would want to see more of.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I would totally read this! Please query it and get it published as soon as you possibly can. It sounds so unique and interesting. Don't worry about the nitpicks. That's what editors are for. Write what you want.