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. 




Friday, July 22, 2022



After reading the archives, banging my head on the wall of current comps, this is what I came up with. My biggest struggle has been the series in my head is one far reaching arc, with each novel containing its own smaller arc. Trying to pare that down into something manageable and interest grabbing without tangling delicate threads that weave and weft has been quite the challenge. I believe in this story, my question is; did I convince you to pick it up and be transported too?


Not yet, but that's the whole point of QueryShark. Revise till you get there!

Don't pare down the entire story, just focus on the start of the story.


Dear Query Shark,  

907 A.D. Britain is suffering birth pains of becoming a united land, divided into separate kingdoms, barely able to resist Danish assaults. Rhiannon, orphaned young during a savage incursion by the heathen Northmen was raised by a Viking warrior plagued by regret. Trained to be one of the best archers in the land, Rhiannon earns a name, The Northern Flame, 


I suggest adding The Northern Flame here, so that when you use it below, your reader is not confused about who you are talking about. 

and a vaunted place amongst King Anarawd ap Rhodri’s teulu, single-minded in her quest to avenge her parents.


 Ok, and?

What you need in a query is a sense of where the story is going. That's often shown by telling us what problem the main character faces.

Story is not events.

Story is NOT set up and background (what you have here).


Story starts with what problem does a character face, and what are her choices, and what's at stake.

How must she change/grow or what must she do to overcome that problem?


Rhiannon is a great archer.

She wants revenge for the slaughter of her parents.

What's the problem?

What are her choices?

What's at stake?


Mercia is ruled by King Alfred the Great’s daughter; the intrepid Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia.

It took a minute to sort out the who and what here.

Let's revise:


The intrepid Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, rules Mercia.

 It's a tad awkward, but it's clear. Revise further as needed.

She is threatened on all sides by invasion on all sides: of Danes and Norsemen intent on conquering everything in their path and subjugating her subjects.


subjugating her subjects is really awkward. You'll hear these things if you read your query aloud. 

Revise here for smoothness.

Hearing tales of The Northern Flame’s skill, she makes a deal with the Welsh king.


To do what?

Marry him?

Kill him?

Foist her mean sister off on him?


Commander Wulfric, a man haunted by the past, leads Lady Aethelflaed’s hearth-guard and is sent to retrieve the infamous archer. Opposed to bringing a foreigner to his land during these tumultuous times, yet unable to disobey his liege, he discovers a passionate woman who tests his patience and makes him question his vows to absolve his family’s name from the shadow of treason that cloaks him like a death shroud.


Rhiannon and Wulfric must find a way to trust each other before the Viking warlord, Ingimundr, lays siege to the burgh of Chester, annihilating the dream of a united country. They try and fail to resist their explosive passion while struggling to keep their sworn oaths of vengeance.


What makes this hard to read and absorb is you've got too much going on. For starters, you've got too many characters:


King Anarawd

King Alfred the Great


Commander Wulfric



Six named characters is three too many.

See below for notes on how to focus the query, but also get a sense of the series.


THE NORTHERN FLAME (122,000 words) is historical fiction that will appeal to fans of early medieval history like The Last Kingdom, by Bernard Cornwell


Was first published in 2006 so it's not an effective comp.

Effective comps are recent; pubbed in 2019 or later.



as well as sweeping historical romances such as Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon


First published in 1991, same problem


 along with strong female protagonists as in The Warrior Maiden, by Melanie Dickerson.


Pubbed in 2019, so that's ok, BUT take a look at the publisher: Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson publishes Christian fiction. Unless your novel is also Christian fiction (which I don't get the sense it is) you don't want to use this as a comp.


Your comps should be in the same category as your book. Christian fiction is a separate category.


THE NORTHERN FLAME can stand alone but I envision it as the start of a series.


Here's where you develop the series idea:

From above

Set in 907 A.D. Britain is suffering birth pains of becoming a united land, divided into separate kingdoms, barely able to resist Danish assaults.

develop this further of course.


New paragraph for bio.


I am a debut author, wife, stay-at-home mother working on my history degree, and wear so many hats I resemble the dog from Go Dog, Go! 


this is a terrific line. It gives your reader a sense of your wit.



New paragraph for pub credits.

My non-fiction essay, (Amazing) has been was published in the literary magazine (Woohoo!) winning and won 2nd place for best prose.



Thank you for your time and consideration,



As for getting the whole of the story line into the query, you can't.


What you can do though is give us the start of the story, and then sketch out the larger picture.

Using Game of Thrones as an example (cause almost everyone has read/seen it), Ned Stark has discovered the King is not the father of his children. When the King dies Ned is faced with the choice of staying silent while an illegitimate son ascends the throne, or going public and risking not just his life but those of his family.

That's the individual problem.

The thematic problem is who is entitled to rule.

You can get that on the page with meanwhile, or what he doesn't know.


Meanwhile, each of seven power hungry families is plotting to take the iron throne.

What none of them know is a pawn has just become a queen. And she has dragons.


We need plot and drama on the page to compel your reader to want more. 


Revise and resubmit.