Query Questions

I’ve struggled with this query letter more than I can say. Does anyone have any comments or suggestions?

Liu Jie fears losing family members more than anything, so he raises an army when his nephew, the Ron Emperor, requires protection from Yellow Turban rebels. With the help of Aiyu, an orphaned boy Jie saves, the rebels are destroyed. However, Jie does not believe they were the Emperor’s true threat. He suspects the Imperial Chancellor intends to usurp the throne.

Rather than waging war and risking the lives of thousands, Jie attacks the Chancellor during a chance meeting. The attack fails and Jie, his family and Aiyu flee, continuing their struggle to survive amidst drought and warfare.

During battle, Jie’s wife sacrifices herself to save her son and Aiyu, whose secrets cost her life. Aiyu confesses his mistakes and rather than lose yet another loved one, Jie adopts Aiyu, fulfilling their mutual desire for family. However, bitter loss continues to overshadow Jie until he must choose between the safety of his family or his Empire’s survival.

MOURN THEIR COURAGE is a 95,000-word fantasy based on Chinese folktales collectively called “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” Though adapted for film, comics and video game serialization, there are no modern English novelizations of this treasure. MOURN THEIR COURAGE may interest fans of Eric Flint, Cindy Pon and Guy Gavriel Kay and is similar in setting to Kay’s “Under Heaven,” due April 27th.
I have published fiction in several online publications and am a member of the Wuxia Society and The China History Forum Online, where I contribute book reviews. I am also an active book reviewer on two blogs.

Saving an orphan launches Jie on an epic journey where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors. I invite you to experience MOURN THEIR COURAGE. Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to hearing from you.






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10 Responses to “Query Questions”

  1. catwoods says:


    My first impression (after the fact that you have a great grasp on the mechanics of writing) is that the query is too long.

    It feels like there is too much information in here for me to digest–and that's what I want to do. Sit back and ponder.

    A great query hooks the reader and makes me feel compelled to keep reading. NOW. Not after thinking.

    Yet that doesn't mean your query has to pell-mell action. In fact, you have a great hook in yourself.

    You are a fan of Chinese lore. You review books. You are firmly planted in your genre. Your hook may be something like "Because of all these experiences, I realize a modern day telling of this story is a gap that needs filled." Obviously finnessed with your words, etc…

    I've heard agents and editors speak on this at conferences. Some of them like to know if the author has anything to offer in way of themselves. They get tired of the hard and fast pitch line and find a change of pace refreshing.

    It might be worth playing around with to see how it feels on paper.


  2. Victoria Dixon says:

    See, when I cut it back, I get folks telling me there's not enough. LOL I may stick with the one that's worked. Why fix what ain't broke?

    I know there are some agents who like exactly what you're saying. I've only found a few, though. I'll keep an alternative version for them. LOL Thanks!

  3. Suzan Harden says:


    You have a couple of great links in your blog from yesterday. Have you tried boiling your plot to the logling and building the query from there?

    I know the process is aggravating sometimes, but hang in there!

  4. Victoria Dixon says:

    Good point, Suzan. I'll look and see what I did for my logline – obviously not memorized yet. ;D I think I'm trying to work in the plot, character and emotional points and that's too much.

  5. Janet Johnson says:

    I agree with catwoods. It feels too long. I think you mention too many of your characters (it's hard to keep track, even having read it). And I think you tell too much. For example, I don't think you need to mention his wife's sacrifice. Leave the specific losses as part of the intrigue.

    I've read the book (almost completely) 😉 and it's great . . . action packed, I can't wait a month for the next chapter, great. But your query felt bland. You don't need to say everything. Just enough to hook the agent/editor.

    If you haven't already, go to Elana Johnson's blog series on writing a query. I thought her advice was really great at helping me boil the plot down to a few sentences.

    Good luck my friend!

  6. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I read Elana Johnson's book on queries and I found it very helpful in writing a query. Not that mine's very good yet. She critiqued my query and suggesting mentioning as few characters as possible. You could buy it on her blog and it comes with a critique of your query from her.

    I agree with the others that this is probably a tad too long. I wasn't sure from the first sentence how Liu Jie's fear of losing his family tied in with his raising an army. I like at the end how you show his ultimate choice: save his family or save the emperor. Probably just tightening and shortening it a bit will work and you'll have a great query.

  7. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Janet and Natalie for the book suggestion!

    What do you think of this rewrite?

    Liu Jie fears losing family more than anything, so he raises an army when his nephew, the Ron Emperor, requires protection from rebels and the Imperial Chancellor. After destroying the rebels, Jie attacks the Chancellor during a chance meeting. The attack fails and Jie, his family and army flee. When Jie launches a counterattack, he must choose between the safety of his remaining family or his Empire’s survival.

  8. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I'm still a bit confused as to how the fear of losing his family ties in with raising the army. I also liked including the part about the adopted child because it's different and ties into an action he does to not lose more family. But I think you're definitely getting there. Keep in mind that because we're different people, we'll all have different opinions on your query so take them with a grain of salt.

  9. Sabrina says:

    I hope you don't mind my notes on your query, but of course, it's all IMHO and please take or leave as much as you like.

    –I don't think your query is too long, but might be clearer with reordering some events. Tell us Jie's nephew needs protection and thus Jie raises an army. And how does Aiyu help (I picture him young, since you call him boy)?
    –It seems a bit strange that after raising an army, he's worried about waging war (albeit diff. enemies).
    –"Aiyu's secrets" comes out of nowhere, so although it's intriguing, it's also rather jarring. "Confesses his mistakes" is too vague so the reader/agent might need a bit more detail, or maybe you don't need it. And if the adoption fulfills Jie's and Aiyu's desire for family, where's Jie's son? What "bitter loss?"
    –Great paragraph about "Mourn Their Courage." I'm curious how much of the novel pulls from the folktale and how it differs, and it's good to know you're offering something that hasn't been done before.
    –"…where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors" I love this line. I suppose Jie is the hero, thought to be a traitor, but I'd love a hint of the ghosts earlier on. You've told us this is fantasy, but this is really the only fantastical detail in the query.

    Sorry this is lengthy, but I'm actually very curious about your story, so it was nice to read this. I hope my notes are helpful.

  10. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Sabrina and Sandy! Man is this ever a crap shoot. As in pick this or that and pray you win.

    Sabrina, I think some of your questions are both legit AND things I want to leave hanging – tantalizing. I'm afraid an agent may or may not catch the whole ghost thing – and there's more than one ghost – and therefore won't see a fantasy in the book. But there is fantasy and would be even if there were no ghosts because this is an alternative world to our China. That's one way in which my stuff is similar to Kay's. I also don't want to give a huge revealio about the ghost, to be honest. If they request a synopsis, they'll know, but otherwise I hope folks will read it and say "OH!" LOL I don't know, I love the "ghosts are guides" line, but maybe it would be better just to leave out the ghosts and stick with the alternative world definition of fantasy. It's a thought.
    Oh, Natalie, the Emperor is Jie's nephew. Hence, the fear of losing family. Also, Jie looks on the nation as a land of brothers so EVERYONE is family. ;D He is a bit obsessive on that.
    More thinking is clearly needed, but I've got a monster re-write due in one week, so I'm off to bed early for an even earlier start. I hope.
    Thanks everyone so much for your comments, and Sabrina, you pop in anytime!

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