Monday, December 13, 2021


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.