Posted by Lauren Ruth
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,
Tags: characterization, Chinese, commercial fiction, comparing to other authors, conflict development, disjointed query, dos and donts, fantasy, historical, making your query stand out, name-dropping, plot, queries, query, query problems, querydice, slush pile, standard query format, world building, writing