QueryDice #10

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Mr. Schneider, (I am not Mr. Schneider.)

In a land where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors, Liu Jie is haunted by past decisions that cost him loved ones.

I’m too busy wondering how heroes could possibly be traitors to absorb this first sentence. You vaguely introduce your world, your character and his conflict all in one very short sentence, so I feel a bit like you’ve dumped something really heavy in my lap and I haven’t seen what it was yet: jarred. Also, how do the two halves (separated by the comma) of the first sentence relate to each other?

Now all he wants is a safe life with his family.

Nit-pick: You’ve begun the above paragraph with the word “now” which implies that Jie’s wants were once different than they are now. Since we don’t know what they used to be, or even clearly what they are now, this sentence doesn’t work.

Then the Emperor sends a plea for protection from the Imperial Chancellor.

Who are the Emperor and the Chancellor? What do they (and the plea) have to do with Jie?

Jie tries to stop the coming civil war by assassinating the Chancellor, but the attack fails. The Chancellor escapes and retaliates by murdering Jie’s co-conspirators. Branded a traitor and with the death of hundreds on his conscience, Jie defends his people from armies, famine and fire. He launches a counterattack, yet when the Chancellor captures Jie’s brother, Jie faces a terrible choice: sacrifice his family or his country.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s a story in here, and I love that Jie has to choose between his family and his country, which sounds extremely Chinese to me, but all of the details in the above paragraph have been shot into my head like rapid-fire, so I haven’t a clue what the heck is going on. How does Jie’s past tie in with his struggles in the above paragraph? Remember, I don’t know your world, your characters or their conflicts.

I think if you paced yourself a bit and took this more slowly, this could be a great query. After reading this three times, I think there’s an epic and intriguing story here, but I would reject this query because the world you’ve created is not well-explained and I’d fear that this would continue into the manuscript.

[redacted] is a 97,000 word fantasy set in the fictional Xing Empire. I based the story on the Chinese folktales about the Three Kingdoms period. The novel can be described as a cross between “Braveheart” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and will appeal to fans of Peter V. Brett or Alison Goodman.

I usually advise against naming names as you’ve done above. However, since I’m not intimately familiar with any of the titles you’ve cited, I have no criticism. I will advise that if you choose to do this, remember to make sure that your work truly is comparable to these.

I am a 2010 Sandy Writers Competition finalist and have published fiction in several online publications. In addition, I am a member of the Wuxia Society and The Historical Novel Review Board.

I invite you to experience [redacted] and look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.



Best of luck,


Posted on September 15, 2011, in Advice, publishing, queries, Query Dice, slush pile, submissions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks so much! This helps. 😀 And sorry about the name faux pas. I got itchy fingers and forgot to check before I hit submit. *___*

  2. “Dear Mr. Schneider, (I am not Mr. Schneider.)” <– This made me LOL!

  3. How can it “cost him his love ones” but now all he wants is a safe life with his family”?
    There is also no explanation of the ghosts that was mentioned in the 1st sentence – thereby seeming to be an important part of the story – yet …nothing. How does a plea for protection= civil war? Why if he is a traitor would they ask him for protection?

    I think to many very interesting bits were left out. Enough that I would wonder I missed. Just don’t know if I would wonder enough to request a MS.

  4. This sounds very exciting! I love the idea, from what I could decipher, the story seems to have great potential. The query, however, is a little confusing. I would like to know more. Mr. Schneider must have the same query in his inbox, so I would request this regardless. I would request more immediately and take a look before someone else does. Very cool tale to tell.

  5. The first sentence doesn’t bother me. It sets up the next paragraph and story in a tall tale sort of way. All you have to do is read a few more sentences to see that Jie while playing the hero attempting to save the lives of his people was labeled a traitor.

    The ghosts as guides is a little more ambiguous, but presumably in a Chinese sort of way he is being guided by his sense of guilt and responsibility to the people his past actions have killed, IE trying to do right by them, their ghosts guide his sense or purpose.

    That’s why “Liu Jie is haunted by past decisions that cost him loved ones.” is the second part of the sentence. Ghosts being guides I don’t think is meant to be taken literally. Either way I don’t think it’s that confusing. It’s an extremely short synopsis so just read a little further to understand that first sentence. I like the short synopsis and think it gives all the info needed for me to decide if I want to read the pasted pages.

  6. Really love the last part of this query and find it very interesting! I got confused at the beginning, when you say “ghosts are guides, heroes are traitors”. I’m sure this is a very integral part of the conflict and if you elaborated just a bit more it could pull everything together in your query. What/who are the ghosts guiding? What are the heroes doing that makes them traitors? Are the ghosts and heroes pitted against each other? Is Lui Jie a ghost or hero? If so, does his existence as one or the other relate to the “costly past decisions”? Again, I find this intriguing and think with just a little clarification up front it would be wonderful!

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