#4 – A Doctor Query-certified letter – The Golden Gryphon

Dear Dr. Query,
I’m sorry to send you yet another one, but I think I’ve finally got it.
Life is not proceeding smoothly for Faldur, King’s Ranger of Belhanor.

Marenya, his Captain’s daughter, is in love with him.  This wouldn’t be so horrible, if it weren’t for the fact that her father is dead, killed by a nightstalker years ago, and Faldur has sworn never to leave a wife and family behind.   He wouldn’t want anyone to suffer that kind of grief for his sake – especially not Marenya.

The nightstalkers – black mountain lions that were trained to kill his people in the war – are coming down from the heights more frequently than ever, and no one knows why.

The Restorationists – regional lords whose fathers rebelled against the King – want the lands restored to them that the King reapportioned, and aren’t above killing sheep (the people’s main source of income) or taking innocent hawen hostage to get what they want.

Yesterday he tried to walk through what he thought was an enchanted waterfall.  It wasn’t.  He nearly drowned.

Now Marenya has been taken hostage, and he can’t go after her because he has a sworn duty to fulfill for the prince first. To make matters worse, he’s badly wounded.  To make them completely awful, she let this happen so that he could escape and fulfill his mission.  Stupid, foolish, stubborn, brave, wonderful girl!

The Book of Wisdom says “All things are predetermined, and in the end are right.”

Faldur certainly hopes so.

THE GOLDEN GRYPHON is a fantasy complete in 95,000 words, told alternately from Faldur and Marenya’s points of view.  I would be happy to provide sample pages upon request.

Congratulations!  At last, you have put together a compelling query letter.  The voice is personable and funny, and the details are evocative.  One might quibble with the length — and the excess of dashes — but one won’t, at this point.

Good for you!

Doctor Query won’t tell anyone that there was yet another version (that would have been #4, and this #5) you sent in that never got posted.

Now send this out!

Then, forget about it, and start on your next project.  Hi ho!

That is all.

Doctor Query

Um… a third revision arrived on the same day as the second one, below.  This is better.  It tells us more about the character we are presumably to care about and follow.

However, your many different approaches reveal that you are not sure enough about what’s important in your book to query yet.  You need to think about it some more.  See my comment after the end of this query.

Dear Dr. Query,
I think this one is better.  Please let me know.  I can’t seem to get it below 250 words, no matter how hard I try.
Thank you,
Marenya has lived most of her life in her cousin Pelwyn’s shadow.  Now she must become Pelwyn.  Not only her own life, but the fate of a lost prince and the future of her homeland, depend on her performance.

Marenya is a hawin, a young woman of a race called the Hanorja.  Ordinary hanorja have ordinary magic; the stronger abilities reside with the line of the Kings, such as Pelwyn’s future husband, Prince Melbrinor (Mel). When Pelwyn’s safety is  threatened, Marenya takes her place, acting as a decoy on the wedding journey to the capital.  She is taken hostage by the last person she expected:  Mel’s long-lost younger brother Raynor, and finds herself in the midst of a plot to murder Mel and his father, with Marenya/Pelwyn as the bait.

Marenya soon realizes that Raynor has been magically enslaved by the king’s nemesis, Lord Synedd, who is using him as a proxy to undermine the king, while forming his own uniquely-enhanced army.  Having failed with normal troops before, Synedd is determined not to fail again.  But Raynor has rebelled the only way he can: he kidnapped Marenya knowing she was a decoy, hoping to buy them all some time.

Marenya must find a way to free Raynor and herself in time to save everyone – and everything – she loves.  In the process, she discovers that both courage and magic can arise in the most unexpected place: within herself.

The Golden Gryphon is a fantasy complete in 100,000 words.  I will gladly provide sample pages or chapters upon request.

Question:  If you liked this query and asked for pages, and found that the first couple of chapters are in Faldur’s point of view (I didn’t even mention him in the query), would that cause confusion?

Yes.  You need to decide who your book is about.

Don’t write any more queries for a while.  Step back and make sure you are clear on the story.

Doctor Query

Second revised query:

Dear Doctor Query:

Okay, try this on for size.  Minus the cupcake liners.

Marenya has lived most of her life in her cousin Pelwyn’s shadow.  Now she must become Pelwyn.  Not only her own life, but the fate of the entire kingdom, depends on her performance.

Good opening.  Lose third sentence above.

Pelwyn has won the heart of Prince Melbrinor (Mel), heir to the throne.  Marenya switches identities with her on the journey to the capital for the wedding, in order to protect Pelwyn from her father’s enemy Lord Chalmeth, who wants to use her as a hostage in a land dispute.  When she is captured, Marenya realizes that Chalmeth is the least of their worries:  Mel’s long-lost brother Raynor is working behind the scenes, and plans to use her as bait in a plot to kill first Mel and then his father, in order to gain the throne.

You notice I put two paragraphs together.  Keep it tight.

But Raynor himself is a pawn – controlled by an enemy who is slowing tearing his mind apart by forcing him to act against his father and brother.  In his own way, Raynor has rebelled: he kidnapped Marenya knowing that his brother’s true bride had escaped, but both of their lives depend upon her giving a flawless performance.  If either of their deceptions are discovered, the subtle plot will be abandoned and a brutal invasion unleashed upon their homeland.

With the help of a golden gryphon, a little bit of magic, and a more courage than she ever dreamed she possessed, Marenya must find a way to free both Raynor and herself in time to save everyone – and everything – she loves.

The Golden Gryphon is a fantasy complete in 100,000 words.  Thank you for taking the time to consider this project.

You have a typo (extra “a”) in the penultimate paragraph, btw.

I’m liking it better.

But I think you could smooth it out even more.

What’s happening?  Our heroine Mar switches identities with her admired cousin Pel on the journey to Pel’s wedding to the crown prince Mel, and is kidnapped in her stead by nasty Lord Chal.  It turns out that the bigger threat is Ray, bro to Mel, who wants to murder his bro and pa and assume the throne.  [Not clear on what Ray has to do with Chal and the kidnapping, which may be okay to omit.]  But Ray is actually under the control of some really bad guy who is tearing apart Ray’s brain.  Ray knows it’s Mar, not Pel, that he’s got, and both of them are in cahoots to keep up the charade.  [Not clear how this helps Mel and saves Pel, but again, you don’t necessarily have to tell us that.  Just interest us.]

It’s still a bit dense.  I had to work hard to simplify your description.  And it’s also true that this query letter makes the plot sound completely different from your first effort, below.  Which makes me wonder whether you know the bones of your story.

Are you telling us about the main conflict?  Is this the character who drives the plot?

You’re closer, but you’re not there yet.

That is all!

Doctor Query

Original —

Dear Doctor Query,

You make me laugh!  Here is my query. I have no delusions of grandeur. I know I need help.
Thank you for your time.

[DQ Reader]

P.S. You didn’t specify whether you wanted the query as an attachment or included in the body of an email. I am sending an attachment; I hope that is alright.

Sometimes, the aftermath of peace is war.

Twenty years ago, a civil war divided the peaceful kingdom of Belhanor.  The traitors were beheaded, and most of their lands reapportioned. However, the king showed mercy to their families by allowing them to keep their ancestral homes and a fraction of their holdings, hoping to win back their loyalty.

Instead, many of these families are turning against him, forgetting their past disgrace and seeking to be restored to their former wealth and power.  They call themselves the Restorationists, and are plotting to force the king’s hand by seizing loyalist holdings until their demands are met.

I like your first sentence.  But the next two paragraphs, while mildly interesting, are too broad and test the patience of anyone reading this.  Keep in mind that agents or their assistants must wade through hundreds of queries.  They are looking for reasons to reject, sorry to say.

Thus — no extra words.  Cut to the chase!  You cannot afford to use two paragraphs for backstory.  Start with the action below.

It is up to the king’s son Melbrinor(Mel), and Faldur, captain of the Rangers, to stop the uprising before it starts.  They discover that one plot threatens Mel’s bride-to-be. Faldur is assigned to protect her, and is thus reunited with her cousin Marenya, whom he has tried hard to forget. She is the daughter of his former captain, who died in the line of duty.  Because of her father’s death, Faldur has vowed not to marry; despite this, they are inexorably drawn together.

Wait.  I’m confused.  Is Mel’s b-t-b Marenya?  Is Faldur a female, thus the second “her” refers to Faldur?  Or is the bride another person and Marenya is her cousin?  Any reason you can’t just name the bride?  Okay, wait.  It looks like Faldur is a he.  You need to unkink this paragraph.

And I don’t have any idea why Faldur wouldn’t marry because Marenya’s Dad died in the line of duty.  Why and what does that mean?  But only tell me if I need to know!

One of Faldur’s own men betrays them, and Faldur is injured.  Marenya takes the bride’s place and allows herself to be taken hostage in order to allow her friends to escape.  She soon discovers that both she and Chalmeth are pawns in a larger game, which threatens the future of the kingdom and the lives of everyone she loves.   She faces a series of dangers and deceptions for which she is entirely unprepared, while Faldur battles not only their enemies, but his own fears about love and loss.  Ultimately, faith and courage win out, and they find that the best weapon against evil is the truth.

Who’s Chalmeth??  More importantly, who is your protagonist?  I thought it was Mel, because you started with him.  Then you talk about Faldur, so maybe it’s him.  But if it’s actually Marenya, start with her.  Often, if your query letter is unclear, there’s a problem with your story.  Iron that out first.

The Golden Gryphon is complete in 100,000 words.  Thank you for taking the time to consider this project.


Cool title.

Start with simple declaratory sentences, and then embroider as necessary. For example:

“Marenya’s father is dead, killed fighting the Restorationists.  They’ve been restless since losing the civil war two decades ago and losing most of their lands and power.  Now Faldur, a man she loved but swore never to see again, has come back into her life.

Faldur, head of the Rangers and loyal to the king, is in charge of protecting the prince’s betrothed, Mystery Name.  Of course, as Mystery Name’s cousin, Marenya is thrown together with him et cetera, et cetera.”

But the biggest thing missing here is conflict.  You may well have it in your book, but it’s not in the query.  You say, “she faces a series of dangers and deceptions,” but you don’t tell us what.  That’s your plot.  Don’t just set it up. Give us a taste of what happens.  For example:

“Marenya must face the double-headed dragon while trying to make cupcakes in her Easy-Bake oven.  Dastardly Mel steals the cupcake liners, and she is forced to help him stir his red velvet cake batter until Faldur rescues her.”

Show us some of the stakes, while still keeping it clear, active, and short, short, short.

Feel free to revise and resubmit.

That is all.

Doctor Query

P.S.  DQ prefers submitted queries in the body of the email.


#5 – Christian Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy “Seraph”

Dear Doctor Query,

2012: Satan engages Heaven and humanity in an earth-shattering battle for supremacy.  The forces of good narrowly prevail, and God leaves Earth’s survivors to unite and rebuild society.

2998: Over the centuries, Earth has coalesced into a bicameral Christian state.  When a fleet of rapacious aliens attacks, the ideological divide between the pacifist Church and the militant Sword of God mutates into a dangerous schism.  With the Church excommunicating war-supporters and the Sword conscripting the able-bodied, society teeters on the edge of a civil war it cannot afford.

Expert marksman Kenneth Barrett enlists in the Sword to procure amnesty for killing a man in self-defense.  On the megastation Seraph, he rises through the ranks and establishes himself as Earth’s best hope.  However, the discovery of a loathsome conspiracy in the Sword’s highest echelon complicates his mission and calls his destiny into question.

Genevieve Brennan foresees a glorious future in the military.  When the Sword begins a prestigious new excavation on Earth, she drops everything to immerse herself in the career-making project.  In a fit of ambition, she unearths the prize: an imprisoned demon with insuperable coercive powers.  Now Genny is set to spoil Heaven’s thousand-year-old victory…unless she can find the strength to stop herself.

Kenneth has his work cut out for him on Seraph: unravel the Sword’s corruption and defeat the alien foe.  With the help of five specialists and a brilliant engineer, he just might manage.  But with Earth embroiled in civil conflict and Genny sowing the seeds of chaos besides, will there be anything left to come home to when he’s done?

Seraph (157,000 words) merges Catholic mysteries and deep space into a fast-paced commercial fantasy.  The full manuscript is available on request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,


Doctor Query says:

Oh my.  What a lot you’ve got going on.  Aliens and religion and conspiracy.

The reason people buy and read books is because they want to be pulled into another world.  Starting your query with the religious war of a thousand years before is not the way to go.  Start with the action.

Also, be wary of language you include in order to impress.  “Coalesced,” “bicameral,” “rapacious,” “mutates,” and “schism” are all words that slow us down.  Instead of impressing, they make the query turgid and hard to follow.  In addition, much of your letter is in passive voice.  It sounds like a term paper you wrote to show the teacher how smart you are.

Sentences such as “However, the discovery of a loathsome conspiracy in the Sword’s highest echelon complicates his mission and calls his destiny into question” confuse the reader.  We have to stop and think about what you mean.  How about, “When Kenneth makes his way to the top of the power structure, he is stunned to discover a conspiracy at the highest level.”

Simple, simple, simple.  Short and clear and full of action.  Tell us your characters, their goals, and the conflicts they must overcome.  Start with Kenneth and what he’s trying to do.

You have two large issues here.  One is the obfuscatory language of the letter. The bigger one is your story, which sounds like it is overstuffed with three layers of conflict: conspiracy in the ranks, Genny and her demon, and the alien war.  Methinks it’s too much.  Most writers don’t have enough conflict — you may have too much.  Perhaps you could lend some to another writer?

Of course I haven’t seen the book, and it might be brilliant.  But with this letter, I wouldn’t be asking for pages.

Fellow writers, please post some comments — I’d love to hear whether you see this plot as overstuffed, and the query as bombastic.  Or not.  And if the story would attract you.  I assume it’s an attempt to marry Dan Brown with Star Trek… maybe you would love it.

I know you’re out there — my dashboard count reveals you!

That is all.

Doctor Query

#3 – Confused picaresque novel

Dear Doctor Query:

Titled From Agoraphobia to Zanzibar, my novel (250,000 words) deals with the conflict between agoraphobia and wanderlust.  The main character is Brent, a young man who lives in a small, insular suburb of Boston, but wants to travel.   But he’s afraid to.  His parents are Italian-Americans, second generation.  It is written with great tension, psychological insight, and passion.  It is also very funny.

I have had it critiqued by many friends.  To a person, they have said that it will be a best-seller.

I was a agoraphobic myself for 7 years.  I know a lot about this.  Now I travel, and I am looking to this novel for enough monetary success to make my traveling lifestyle possible.

Please contact me by email at: [redacted].

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Here’s what Doctor Query has to say:

Your novel is way too long.  Cut it in half, at least.

You haven’t told me what it’s about.  Telling me that it’s written with tension and passion doesn’t convince me that that’s true.  And your style of writing here seems to indicate that humor is not your strong point.

You need to tell me, in simple sentences, what happens in the book.  What are the actions, and where is the conflict?

Do not tell me your friends loved it.  Do not tell me it will be a best seller.

Do not ask me to email you.

I liked the title.

Doctor Query