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.