Nov 4, 2009

QUERY: Soldier, Sage, and Vagabond

Sample pages have been posted. Click here to read them.

Dear (agent),

Janto, Crown Prince of the seafaring nation of Mosar, knows he's a disappointment to his people. Bookish and obsessed with languages, he doesn't fit the profile of a charismatic leader. It doesn't help that every time he sets foot on a ship, he becomes violently ill. Or that his choice of avatar --his magical link to the spirit world--is a ferret, which grants him the disreputable shroud-magic of spies.

But Mosar, under attack by the powerful Kjallan Empire, is on the brink of destruction, and an unconventional leader may be just what the country needs.

Janto, desperate to prove himself, is trying to rescue a fellow soldier when a Kjallan arrow buries itself in his shoulder. The Kjallans capture him. Unaware he's the prince, they send him as a slave to Kjall. There he must outwit a jealous overseer determined to ruin him and a Kjallan spy who knows he's hiding something. But not everyone is an enemy. Janto finds aid, friendship, and ultimately love from a Kjallan princess who, he discovers, is as much a slave as he is. As he learns more about Kjall, he begins to see a way he can save his country. Only with his unique assets--his inside knowledge, his language obsession, and his homicidal ferret avatar--can he pull it off.

Soldier, Sage, and Vagabond is a fantasy novel with romance elements, complete at 115,000 words. May I send you the manuscript?


Botanist said...

Legal disclaimer: I am not an agent, have no publication credits, and have no claims to expertise in query letters beyond reading loads of Query Shark. But you are welcome to my personal opinions as long as you understand they are worth nothing more than what you paid for them :-)

So, on a first reading I felt that the query can probably be tightened up, but I finished off thinking that there's lots of interesting ideas here and that I'd like to read this story.

I think the first paragraph is in desperate need of trimming. First sentence is good, and I know the rest is expanding on why he is a disappointment, but I really think you need to get this across quickly and get on with the conflict. "Bookish, obsessed with languages, and afflicted with near-terminal seasickness."

A few phrases caused me to pause as I read.

I laughed at the ferret avatar, but "which grants him the disreputable shroud-magic of spies" didn't make much sense and didn't seem to add any essential information to the query.

The "jealous overseer determined to ruin him" didn't ring true. He's a slave. Lowest of the low. What's to be jealous of? And what's left to ruin? I think a more credible adjective for the overseer and leave it at that. Tyrannical? Sadistic?

"Homicidal ferret avatar" is a beautiful image, but "homicidal" gave me a moment of "Huh? Where did that come from?" I think if you're going to use this (please find a way to!) then it might need a bit more setup earlier on. I didn't get any hint of aggressive tendencies from the first paragraph.

Finally, I'm not sure how agents will take to "May I send you the manuscript?" They know that's what you want to do. A lot of blog comments I've read suggest that they don't want to feel you are trying to be pushy. A simple "thank you for your time and consideration" or something along those lines seems to be the recommended close.

All the same, I thought this sounded promising.

Donna Hole said...

Since this query is unsigned, I’m going to call you Sage, because I sometimes have to use a name when I write notes to people.

First let me say I like this query. I like the synopsis of your plot, your characters, your world. I read Botanist’s comment because I was hoping he could define what it is about this query that is just “15 degrees left of cool” (Bill Engvall). He has some of it but not quite all, and I can’t tell you what its lacking any more specifically than “it needs tightening.” Because it truly is practically there, but IMO an agent would reject it, but not on anything specific.

So saying, Sage, I’m going to be a little awkward here. I have a blogging friend (Tara) who does some reviews of published novels. No, she’s no expert, but her reviews are pretty interesting. She did a review in October on Terry Brooks THE SWORD OF SHANNARA novel (

I didn’t agree with her review and there was some good discussion of the novel. The phrase of her review that really resonated with me is: NO. This is the same formula as most epic fantasy: Regular guy discovers he has epic destiny. Mysterious man who knows everything comes to help him. Guy takes a stocky sidekick on a quest to save the world, and he's the ONLY ONE who can do it. *yawn* I was so bored I literally would read three pages and fall asleep. This is why I never read epic fantasy.

Now, the import thing in our discussion of this novel, I think, is the disparity of our ages. The Sword Of Shannara is one of the first fantasy novels I ever read In my youth (I’m 47) and I still judge newer novels by Terry Brooks’ standard. Along with Anne McCaffery, JRR Tolkein and a few other “old” fantasy novelists. Tara’s age (I don’t know but judging by her pix less than 30) for reading is probably much newer than mine.

Maybe that is what your query is lacking. Maybe it is like “so many other fantasy novels” of its type.

When I read this query, I was reminded me (and damn me if I might not have to just go and re-read the series now) of Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts novel DAUGHTER OF THE EMPIRE. I don’t know if you’ve read it; it’s a Rift War saga. Anyway, the second novel in the series, ‘SERVANT OF THE EMPIRE (which right now was the only one I could find on my book shelf), was first published in 1991. Maybe Tara’s point could be applied to this query as well.

Not that your concept is not exciting; and your world seems well developed. I am very much intrigued - as a reader. First, you have to sell it to the Agent.

I, like Botanist, am not an agent, so I can’t really tell you what you need. But, points I think you might clarify are:

1. What is the “profile of a charismatic leader”? In a few words, no more than a sentence (short one).

2. Shroud-magic of spies sounds intriguing: what advantage does it give him.

3. “But Mosar, under attack by the powerful Kjallan Empire, is on the brink of destruction, and an unconventional leader may be just what the country needs.”

Oh, I so hope you can keep this. It is a strong story plot, a very active and intriguing statement.

4. It is the paragraph that begins “Janto, desperate to prove himself . .” that need the most tightening. Something about this is off. Its too long, and doesn’t really convey the essence of Janto personality, or the lengths (obstacles he has to overcome) to achieve his goal.

“TRYING TO RESCUE A FRIEND” is very passive. Give him a mission and a potential reward. Who (besides the Kjallan Empire) is his rival to the crown? What consequences does Mosar (and Janto) face if Janto is unsuccessful.

5. I like the love interest in the enemy culture, and the knowledge that she “is as much a slave” as he is. That has a lot of potential meaning behind it. Romance is almost as big a motivator in fantasy as philosophy is.

6. Never pose a question to the Agent in a query.

Donna Hole said...

Sorry, the above comment was getting a little long and I was afraid of character count so it ended rather abruptly. Didn't mean it to.

But I really wanted to say this query has serious potential, and so does the novel. It's really good. I hope to see a revision up soon.

And, I hope a lot more people comment on this and can be more specific - though perhaps more concise - than I have.

Good luck Sage. I will be looking for you on the fantasy shelves.


Najela said...

I don't think you need the "May I send you my manuscript?" You can just thank the agent for their consideration.

Janto, crown prince of the seafaring nation, is a disappointment to his people.You could probably put some physical attributes and more personality traits here. I agree with the Botanist, you can tighten up the first sentences. Janto is the bookish, language-obsessed, chronically sea-sick Crown Prince of Mosar. He's doesn't fit the seafaring nations profile of the charismatic leader (what would that be exactly). While most citizens of his country have (insert more acceptable animals here) for their avatars, Janto has a ferret (insert ferrets name if relevant and what it does with more clarity).

When Mosar is under attack from Kjallan, Janto is desperate to prove himself. While trying to save a soldier, Janto is captured and sent to Kjall as a slave. Janto finds friendship in the Kjall princess (insert name here)as well as an enemy in the jealous overseer (insert name here).

Using his unique set of skills, Janto and his ferret avatar (what makes him homicidal) can be the hero that he is expected to be (or something like that.)

You get my idea I hope. Just tightening things down.

Gina Logue said...

I really like that Janto, Crown Prince of the seafaring nation of Mosar, becomes violently ill every time he sets foot on a ship. I find that funny and endearing. And it shows a lot about Janto more effectively than telling that ‘he’s a disappointment’ or ‘he doesn’t fit the profile of a charismatic leader’.

I agree with the others this query could be tightened, more active.

I didn’t get ‘the disreputable shroud-magic of spies’.

‘an unconventional leader may be just what the country needs’ is telling, which you show later. You could remove this.

More specifics on his ‘language obsession’ would be nice.

Instead of a question at the end, just say “Thank you for your time and consideration.”

I usually don’t read fantasy so I don’t know if this plot is used a lot. But from other queries I’ve seen, MCs all have some kind of super power, but Janto doesn’t. I like the fact that saves his country with his knowledge, language obsession, and the help of his ferret.

AmyB said...

Thanks so much for the feedback! It's very helpful.

RCWriterGirl said...

I agree the query could be tightened. But, in general, I liked it. So, go with the same feel and theme, but tighten ("the disreputable shroud-magice spies" was confusuing to me, too; also the "jealousy" from the overlord seemed odd to me, too.)

Good luck