#8 – Sky Funeral

Dear Doctor Query:

Peter Grant had the good sense to retire from his stint as a Marine on permanent loan to the CIA while all his parts were still in working order. Fifteen years as the pointy end of Uncle Sam’s big stick earned Grant the right to a quiet life.

Then an old friend calls in a chit, asks a simple favor. Since Grant already has plans to visit Tibet, all he has to do is deliver a letter when he gets there. The recipient? A mole. A high-ranking officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army, commander of a top-secret military facility outside Lhasa.

Based on an intelligence officer’s assessment, Grant expects to find a self-important, avaricious traitor who’s lost his nerve. Instead, he meets Colonel Sun, a determined, principled man caught in the closing jaws of a State Security investigation. Sun requests exfiltration, a move that would threaten the existence of the Tibetan network.

Grant finds himself sucked into the vortex that swirls around clandestine operations gone bad. A State Security officer dogs the colonel’s steps, half a world away Chinese spies relentlessly dig for the truth, and the carefully woven shroud of subterfuge that protects the Tibetan underground begins to unravel. In the scramble to protect networks, operatives, and secrets, the interests of nations threaten to grind the Chinese agent under the wheel of necessity.

But, Grant doesn’t have to let it happen. He doesn’t work for the CIA anymore.

Deep in hostile territory, operating naked on the remote Tibetan plateau, Grant takes a risky gamble. He plots Colonel Sun’s escape, a hell-for-leather race to freedom.

The simple favor just got complicated.

I am seeking representation for SKY FUNERAL, a completed 90,000 word spy thriller, the first in a planned series. I have a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and a fourteen-year career in the defense industry. I’ve been a member of Pikes Peak Writers, Colorado Springs Fiction Writer’s Group, and Valencia Critique Group, and have attended numerous writing seminars, conferences, and classes.

This is very good.

You have given us a sense of urgency, and your voice has authority.  The query and the subject matter fit together, and your life experience makes a convincing argument that you could tell this story.  As a reader, I feel as though I would be in good hands with you.

The only thing I would do is tighten it up.  Take your seven paragraphs and try to turn them into three or four. Brevity is strength.

Then send it out!

That is all.

Doctor Query


#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.

#7 – Quest For Justice

Dear Dr. Query,

I am currently seeking representation for my completed 110,000 word historical fiction, QUEST FOR JUSTICE.

That’s long for today’s market.  Losing some words would up your chances of representation.

Peter Royer, a young attorney, stumbles onto a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln en-route to his inauguration in 1861. When Peter’s friend is arrested for being the ringleader of the plot, and is then murdered, the circumstances persuade him that his friend was framed.

En route has no hyphen.  No one’s going to dismiss your query for this, but you may as well get it right.  Check every word for correctness.  It shows that you can manage to get through a few paragraphs with perfect spelling and punctuation, and that bodes well for the 100,000 words to follow.

Encouraged by both his fiancé and a Kant-quoting German émigré, Peter embarks on a quest for justice that takes him from the docklands to the mansions of a pro-secessionist Baltimore during the final days of antebellum America.

I see you’re avoiding names here, perhaps for simplicity.  It works okay with Peter’s friend and his fiance, but “Kant-quoting German emigre,” while evocative, is quite a mouthful.  How about naming the fiance and emigre?  Something like: “Encouraged by both his fiance Buttercup and Johan, a German emigre he met at the pub, Peter embarks on a quest for justice that…”

But Peter is ill-prepared to face the would be assassin: Henry Gambler, a mysterious man who once escaped a near-hanging and has resurrected with one thing on his mind: revenge. As Peter and Henry duel each other in a race against time, he becomes infatuated with the glamorous daughter of the city’s most prominent judge, a man also seemingly implicit in the assassination plot.

I think the name Gambler is a little too coy.  Unless of course he’s a historical character, and that’s his real name, which would be pretty interesting.

If you escape it, it’s of course a near-hanging.  If it were a hanging, he’d be dead.  Lose the near.  You like hyphens, don’t you?

“Has resurrected?”  I don’t know what this means.  I think you mean has been resurrected (can one resurrect oneself?) but that sounds too much like Jesus, so you should just come up with a less dramatic word. Resurfaced?

“Duel each other in a race against time” — do you mean a literal duel?  Confusing.  How can he become infatuated in the middle of a duel?  Too many adjectives.  Strip this down.  You’re telling us more than we need to be intrigued.

It’s implicit in your sentence that you mean complicit here.  Look these two words up in the dictionary and learn the difference.  This is your assignment!

Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing America as the country speeds towards war, Peter learns the real meanings of justice, a just society and what it takes to be a just person. This crystalizes when Peter discovers that he alone has the means to save a great man, but that doing so would come at a terrible personal cost. Finally defeating Henry Gambler during a dramatic train ride and saving the president of the United States leaves Peter Royer a nearly shattered man, but with his last ounce of resolve he tries to salvage his engagement and prepare himself for the unknown future.

You can delete this whole paragraph.

While the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 is one of the great tragedies of American history, almost forgotten are the rumors of a plot to assassinate Lincoln in 1861. Historians have long been divided on whether this Baltimore plot really did exist, and drawing on real-life characters, the existence of an early machine gun, and surprising coincidences and relationships between real-life figures, I have written a historical fiction that presents a possible scenario for this earlier plot. This is my first novel.

“A historical fiction?”  Try a book, a story, or a novel.  Don’t tell us it’s your first.  If it weren’t, you’d be mentioning the others.  (And that doesn’t count the ones in the drawer.)

Included in this email are the first five pages of the novel. I’d be glad to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Fascinating historical incident.

Your query is way too long.  You use four paragraphs to tell me the plot; make it one or two.  I like the paragraph about the actual historical background.

Do you have any training in history?  If so, you can tell us that.

Can you distinguish it from similar books already out?  I trust you are aware of last year’s well received “The Baltimore Plot” by Michael Kline?

You don’t need to offer to send the ms.  We know that.

Title is a little bland.

Good luck!

That is all.

Doctor Query

#6 – Obsidian

Dear Doctor Query,

Bee had no idea just how weird things were about to get when she set out to save mankind from extinction, but weirdness is a price you pay when you hop around in time.

She did not foresee being marooned thousands of miles away from her mission’s target, only to find a shaman’s son waiting for her — nearly five-hundred years in her past. She didn’t expect to have cannibals admiring her ass, and considering possible marinades. And how could she have known her new best friend would be a hat?

This is all very ironic because, even with her paranormal powers, all she could foretell was her own impending death. Again, and again, and again.

OBSIDIAN is complete at 88,000 words. I’d be happy to provide a partial or complete manuscript for further review.

Thanks in advance for your consideration,


Doctor Query says:

This is very good.

We get your voice, which is funny but tart.  We get some of the plot, which you have summarized deftly.  We get a selection of the characters (and possibly a hint of romance?), along with an idea of the conflict — clearly, cannibals eyeing your nether regions with a bottle of hot sauce in hand is rather threatening. And we learn that the best friend is a hat… sounds fun.

A taste of darker matters is touched on in terms of her foreknowledge of her own death.

Skip the “very” ironic.  Perhaps you could do it this way: “It was ironic that even with her paranormal powers, all Bee could foretell, et cetera…”

You’ve got a strong query here.  Send it out!

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