Monday, December 13, 2021

#339 Revision #1


Question: When comping a series, does the 3-year rule apply to the most recent installment or to the first?  What if the series hasn't been concluded yet? 

You want to use comps that are as close to the specs of your book as you can. That means using the first book of any series because yours is the first book in your series. And you want that first book to have been pubbed recently, no earlier than 2018 and 2019 is better.

If you're banging your head against the wall on a comp search, you're doing it right. 


Dear Query Shark,


Three years ago, Aman once had an entire barn full of horses he loved.  Unfortunately for them, the Düzen were desperate for food.


Three years ago, Düzen soldiers invaded Aman's village, slaughtering the animals he had been entrusted with.   

Let's put this sentence about the Düzen soldiers in the first paragraph, then start the next paragraph where there's a shift in time.



Three years ago, Aman once had an entire barn full of horses he loved.  Unfortunately for them, the Düzen were desperate for food.  Düzen soldiers invaded Aman's village, slaughtering the animals he had been entrusted with.



 New paragraph here for shift in time.

Now in his early twenties, Aman serves in the Corthiaks' heavy cavalry, hiding his guilt, grief, and self-loathing from his fellow soldiers.  His only source of hope, the one horse he has left, is old and inexperienced with combat—far from an ideal war horse.   


I stumbled over source of hope here because we don't have any sense of what Aman wants. You've described how he is now, but not what he wants.


Surrounded by hardened warriors and their younger, better-trained steeds, (some of whom aren't even horses,) Aman can't help but wonder if he or his horse really belong here.


I am intrigued by a cavalry that doesn't have horses, that's a nice detail to include. 


The Düzen have a new king, named Karib, and he wants peace with the Corthiaks.   


And here is where I lose the thread of the plot. 


Aman is sent to recount the story of his village to Karib, but he didn't take his last horse into war so that he could forgive the Düzen.  

After all, Karib believes that animal welfare means nothing in times of human suffering.  He and his soldiers would kill this horse in a heartbeat, along with anything else that isn't human.  


 Well, the Düzen should all burn in hell of course BUT you've set them up here. In the first paragraph, they slaughtered horses for food. Understandable but yucky. But here they are simply equicidal maniacs and that's a whole different bucket of entrails.

If Karib wants peace, what's standing in his way? What does Aman need to do?

Whether from a negotiator's seat or a war saddle, Aman must show Karib that animals are worth more than their weight on a butcher's scale. 

or what? The or what is what's at stake, and that's what you need here. 


 One will have him face difficult questions about the value of animal life and the ethics of eating meat, but the other will pit him against hordes of infantry that outnumber the Corthiaks forty to one, volleys of arrows that darken the skies, and rideable, venomous, twenty-foot carnivorous lizards.   


This sentence is 49 words long. That means it's got too much information in it for your reader to absorb easily.  Let's cut it down to two or three shorter sentences for easier understanding. 


 One will have him face difficult questions about the value of animal life and the ethics of eating meat.

One what? It's not clear who/what you mean. 


 Nothing is more off-putting in an otherwise good query than the idea the book is some message driven polemic. No one reads novels to hear about the ethics of eating meat. They read novels for the story.


If you want themes about the ethics of eating meat in the novel, that's up to you, but here in the query focus on the story.


but The other will pit him against hordes of infantry that outnumber the Corthiaks forty to one, volleys of arrows that darken the skies, and rideable, venomous, twenty-foot carnivorous lizards.   


This is an odd choice in that they don't seem to be alternatives. You can philosophize about eating meat while you battle lizards. There doesn't seem to be an either/or here, and that's what you need. 


Either way, he cannot hope to succeed without his fellow cavalrymen, and the horse who has carried him all this way.

CURSORIAL is an 82,000-word work of adult fantasy. You can add here: It explores themes of the ethics of eating plants etc.  

You can mention themes here (rather than above). I know I've said in earlier QS posts that you don't need them, and you don't BUT it can help elevate the query beyond plot points and characters.


It will appeal to fans of The Masquerade (by Seth Dickinson) 

When you list comps in a query, the first thing I do is look at the books on Amazon. The Masquerade appears to be the name of the series, not the first book. And the first book, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, was pubbed in 2016.   You need to use titles of books, not series. Sales figures are by book, and that's what we look at.  And of course, the book is too old to be an effective comp.

 But the description of the book is utterly compelling. 

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They will conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She'll swallow her hate, join the Masquerade, and claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

To test her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

 If I saw that in a query I'd fall all over myself to request the full.

The closer you can come to this vivid writing, the better.


and The Unbroken (by C. L. Clark).


 Don't put parentheses around the author's names.

I've seen a lot of that recently. There's probably some query advice that says to do so, but don't. 


I'm an equestrian, and an absolute geek for natural history, paleontology, medieval warfare, power metal music, and the color green. This is a terrific bio. It's the most vivid thing in the query. That tells me you're holding back in the query, maybe trying to be all serious and business like. Businesslike does not mean flat. Vivify!


Thank you for your time and consideration.

 I don't have a sense of the plot there that would compel me to request a full.

What does Aman want?

What does Karib want?

What's getting in the way of each of them getting it?

What choices do they face?  What sacrifices will be required?


Don't get lost in the weeds with lizards and vegans.

Focus on the plot. 




Original query

Question: I realize my comp titles are rather old, but I find them to be the best representatives of the emotional tone of this story. I've literally had beta readers tell me that they can't think of comp titles, so I went with my gut on this one. Is it a dealbreaker that the most recent comp title is almost 20 years old now?


Comp titles need to be recent, no more than three years old (no earlier than 2018).

It's not up to your beta readers to find them (nice try). This is your job.

Dear Query Shark,

Aman once had an entire barn full of horses he loved. Today, only one of them is still alive.

Aman and his horse, Arty, barely survived when the Sacramouth army invaded their village and slaughtered everything in sight.

I thought Sacramouth was a person. Turns out, later in the query, it's a country. To avoid that misapprehension you might add the army.

Three years have since passed, and Aman and Arty now serve in Aerdoth's heavy cavalry together, seeking vengeance against the people who took everything from them.

You need to tell us what problem Aman faces. You have to get plot on the page here.

To Aman's dismay, the King of Sacramouth agrees to host a series of peace talks with Aerdoth. Aman is sent as an ambassador to recount his story to the King, but refuses to forgive him for what his country did. However, as the peace talks begin, the King proves to be more persuasive than even Aman could have foreseen.

Persuasive about what? The last thing you want to do in a query is be coy!

The threat of war looms throughout the negotiations, and Aman faces difficult questions about the value of animal life, his own capability, and the relationships that he chooses to make. His only hopes of success lie within his own intuition, his fellow cavalrymen, and of course, Arty.

The plot is not clear. Aman faces difficult questions, ok, but what problem does he have? You've said his only hope of success, but success at what? Plot must be on the page.

CURSORIAL is a 55,000-word war story that skirts the line between fantasy and ecofiction.

This is fantasy. The question is which shelf: adult or MG.

You have an adult plot and it sounds like Aman is also an adult (or at least not a child.)

But 55K is way too short for an adult fantasy novel. Fantasy needs world building and world building needs words. And the comps below are kids.

It closely follows the bond between horse and rider,

Really? Cause there's no sense of that here in the query.

inspired greatly by works such as War Horse (by Michael Morpurgo) and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. The story can stand alone, but is also the first of a planned series.

War Horse is for grades 4-7. Spirit is an animated movie (not a book) ie for kids. That and your word count signal make me think this is not an adult book.

I'm an equestrian, and an absolute geek for natural history, paleontology, medieval warfare, and the color green.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Another thing that leaps off the page to me is the plethora of A-names: Aman, Arty, Aerdoth.

But the biggest problem here is you don't know your shelf. You've got adult themes, and MG comps.

This is confusing, and confusing often leads to an instant pass.

If you can't find suitable comps, you're searching too narrowly OR you haven't read enough in your category.

If you're having trouble finding comps you might try reading reviews in Publishers Weekly (which is NOT the same as Publishers Marketplace). Your library has a subscription to PW, but they don't put it out in the circulation area. You'll have to ask. Read the reviews going back a year or two. It will take you a while, but it's worth it.

Get plot on the page, and get comps that reflect the book.



Cheryl said...

When looking for comps I suggest looking more broadly than "books that feature horses". Think about style, character types, setting, etc.

PAH said...

Takes me 4 - 5 years to write a book. Comps need to be within 3 years. Which means I have to HOPE someone publishes a good comp well after I've already begun writing.

Good system.

Lion said...

Glad to see you back, Ms. Shark!

The FIRST thing I noticed was the plethora of A-names. Even if the author is in love with the names, at least a few need to change. Also are all these names even needed in a query. For instance, substitute, "the King of his country," "the grand Vizier of _Another Country_," "his best friend," and so forth.

Recently I was asked to create a book description where the author thought that the name of the Love Interest's two friends and the names of ALL THREE antagonists were somehow important to include. Nope! Name soup is out. Give me the names of two main characters. Maybe additionally the titles of some of the antagonists, such as the Mayor of Copper Forge, or her spinster Aunt.

Lion said...

A bit more about cliffhangers: IMO if you wrap up MOST of the threads of your story, you can leave one or two threads danglng open for the next book. But I agree: Leaving the story on a dead cliffhanger will end up with nothing but hate from most of your readers.

100,000 words sounds SHORT for a fantasy novel. Most go at least 2-3x that. Is that my imagination? Arbitrarily cutting off around 100k words isn't making a lot of sense to me on any level.

Harley Bishop said...

100k isn't short for a fantasy novel. It's exactly on the money. More than 140k and editors get anxious; 110-120 probably ideal for adult. (I'm debuting at 109, fwiw.) Querying a 300k novel as a debut is auto-pass from most agents. So is 200k tbh. The giant doorstopper books being put out are usually either 20 years old and/or put out by established authors.

Unknown said...

Hi! It's the author of the query here. There are a few things that I feel I should say.

1.) I didn't mean to throw my beta readers under the bus like that, and I'm glad that Madame Sharque called me out on it. Paid or unpaid, beta readers have done the unenviable work of slogging through my very first drafts and pointing out the errors that I didn't see. In the slim chance that any of my beta readers are here on this blog, I apologize dearly.

2.) This might be a silly question, but when you all said the A-names need to change, did you mean that the names in the story itself need to change? Or simply that the query doesn't need so many A-names? I've recently sent a revision where only the main protagonist (Aman), the main antagonist, and their respective factions are mentioned by name. Aman's horse is simply referred to as "Aman's horse."