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.