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Query Saturday: Pierce the Darkness

Welcome to Query Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a query to be read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. Published authors may do so under their own name or anonymously.

Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?


Dear J,

Hello. My name is ___________. I’m looking for an agent to represent my book, Pierce the Darkness. It’s a 116, 000 word hard-core, paranormal romance that would be the first in a series of books.

It was the lowest level of hell. It needed to be burned. By his hands. The Lycan fortress looked almost exactly the way it did when he first stepped foot on the flagitious soil almost three hundred and fifty years ago. The jagged gray rocks twisting and interlocking to trap the evil within, the endless forest of evergreen trees looking like dragon’s breath had scorched them, and the reeking smell of Lycans polluting the murky air with their foulness. It was the black-hearted serenity only the devil could love. And the devil was about to die.

Draven-the Vampyran King- was forced to watch as his amora-wife- and unborn child are savagely murdered in front of him by the Lycan leader’s cruel hands. Upon their deaths, he vows two things: to kill the Lycan leader, and to never love another. Vengeance and drugs have become his only solace in his lonely immortality- until he meets a Vagrant named, Sadira. With her, he begins to find himself dangerously close to breaking his vow to never love another. But when she betrays him to the monster who took his life away from him…

Sadira hunts for the Shadow Dwellers who murdered her parents, kidnapped her sister, and turned her into the same type of monster she hunts. When one of her victims leaves her with a name, she is urged to go to the Vampyran King for help. Immediately, she is drawn to Draven. Everything in her craves his touch, but when she is told Draven is the one who sold her sister to the Shadow Dweller she sought, she wants vengeance. But can she kill the man she loves?

Now, a little about me. I have read many paranormal romance novels and have found that my taste in reading reflects in my writing. What sets this story apart from others in this genre is that it is very action packed, and filled with many characters that will entrance the reader. Per your guidelines, I have enclosed the prologue of my book for your review. The full manuscript is available upon your request. Thank you for taking your time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.



Interested in participating in Query Saturday? Send your query to jane at All queries are kept confidential. We are also going to start a First Page series in which we post the first page of both published and unpublished books to see whether the opening scenes hook you as a reader. If you are an author, either aspiring or published and want to participate, send your first page to jane at or use our handy dandy input form.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ann Somerville
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 04:16:49

    Say ‘will be’ , not ‘would be’ a series. Sounds more definite. What does ‘hard-core’ mean? Erotic? Say that. If you want to mention the ‘action-packed’ bit, then put it in this sentence.

    “Draven-the Vampyran King” – Draven’s a bit of a cliched name. ‘Vampyran’ and ‘Lycan’ – is the assonance deliberate? I found this awkward. And are they vampires? If not, why ‘Vampyran’? If so – why not just ‘Vampire King’? It’s confusing.

    Ditch para two about the castle completely. My eyes glazed over. The next two contain the meat of the story, and are interesting enough to hook my attention. Keep them. They work.

    The last para needs to be cut down – no one cares what you read, only what you write. “What sets this story apart from others in this genre is that it is very action packed, and filled with many characters that will entrance the reader.” I think it would be better to prove this, than state it. It’s rather clumsily written and comes off as if you’re full of yourself. Also ‘entrance’ sounds like Disney, not a hard core paranormal story.


  2. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 09:01:31

    I’m with Ann on the phrase hard-core paranormal. What does it mean? Especially dark? Edgy? Erotic? And, yes, ditch the name Draven. It does sound cliched.

    The second paragraph’s prose was rather florid and off-putting. Either eliminate that paragraph or rewrite it.

    Be careful, too, of shifts in tense: e.g., the first sentence of the third paragraph jumps from past to present. Make sure tense is consistent throughout your synopsis.

    And heed what Ann said about the final paragraph. Don’t make assumptions about how readers are going to react. Saying they will be “entranced” is rather presumptuous.

    All in all, though, this does sound interesting!


  3. Meezergrrrl
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 10:45:14

    Has no one noticed the lifting of the Underworld Lycans against Vampires world building? Right down to Draven as the vampire king.

    The writer may very well wish to approach whomever holds the Underworld franchise (I know they’ve been publishing books, I’ve seen them in the SF section at BN), rather than try to take this query anywhere else.

    Of course, I just got finished reading the SBTB entry re: the RT session on plagiarism, but I swear, I saw the name “Draven” along with “Vampyran” and immediately thought Underworld without even reading the whole entry – that’s when I went back and read the whole thing.

    BTW – this isn’t a flame or a slam – just an observation, so please don’t take it as anything other than someone noticing that this query may be closer to the “fine line” than comfortable.


  4. carolyn Jean
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 10:45:19

    This sounds really interesting, though I agree with the commenters above on that highly descriptive second paragraph.

    As a reader, I’m most interested in Draven’s struggle to keep his vow about vengeance and never loving, and the obstacles he will encounter to keeping those vows, as well as his relationship with Sadira and how they can help each other.

    I’m also interested in the circumstances under which he sold her sister into slavery. If he really didn’t do that, and it’s just something she wrongly believes, I might feel duped if it’s a major engine of the story. I would want it something he really did somehow, and he has to come back from it, or for it to be minor.

    I love that the setting, at least partly, is hell.

    I haven’t read Underworld, but you might want to heed Meezergrrrl’s warning and make sure your story isn’t too close to another.


  5. Jill Myles
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 11:42:24

    Hi there! This story sounds like it has a lot of elements that I would love, but I got stuck on a few points along the way.

    #1 – ‘Lycan’ – not only is this used in the Underworld movies (thanks to Meezergrrl for pointing that out) but it’s also used in Kresley Cole’s series. If you’re going to come up with a creative ‘spinoff’ of lycanthrope, I’d suggest using one that isn’t already used a couple of other times. It gives me (the reader) the wrong impression.

    #2 – Grammar/Punctuation – You need to have a couple of crit partners go over this letter with a fine-toothed comb. There are a lot of errors (and em-dashes) and if I were an editor/agent, this would turn me off immediately. Grammar is the easy fix. :)

    #3 – Action – You mention several times that there’s a lot of action in your story…only I didn’t feel it in your query. Show the reader the gritty action that you keep hinting at, and it’ll read much more exciting. Right now we have one paragraph on each character and their background, but that’s about it. I think launching with current events (and making them as action-oriented as possible to reflect your novel) would really be more effective.

    Hope that helps. Good luck!


  6. Liviania
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 13:09:54

    I second the grammar comment. Poor editing on the query letter makes the manuscript look bad.


  7. Tracey
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 13:20:29

    It's a 116, 000 word hard-core, paranormal romance that would be the first in a series of books.

    Too long–100,000 words is the upper limit when you’re going for hardcover novels.

    Second–what’s a “hard-core” paranormal romance? A particularly dark paranormal romance? A porny paranormal romance? Or are you just tossing in “hard-core” because it sounds edgy to you?

    “Lycan” instead of “lycanthrope” or “werewolf” grates on my nerves. There are perfectly good words for shapeshifters; a borrowed word from the Underworld movies doesn’t thrill me. The same goes with the word “Vampyran”–what’s wrong with the word “vampire”?

    There are other similarities with Underworld. Your story features a vampire leader named Draven; Underworld features one named Kraven. Draven is preparing to burn the Lycan fortress; in Underworld, Kraven supposedly sets the fire that burns down the Lycan fortress. Sadira’s family was killed by Shadow Dwellers, leaving her alone and thirsting for vengeance; Selene’s family was killed by vampires (though for much of the movie she believes the killers to be Lycans), leaving her alone and thirsting for vengeance. The love triangle in your story features Draven (a vampire), Sadira (a Shadow Dweller, which may or may not be a vampire) and an unnamed Lycan; the one in Underworld features Kraven (a vampire), Selene (a vampire) and Michael (a Lycan).

    It looks as if you’ve been unconsciously but strongly influenced by a particular movie. That might make selling the story a bit of a problem.

    Other criticisms:

    The second paragraph has to go. It’s far too florid. Not to mention that some of it doesn’t make sense. “The reeking smell of Lycans polluting the murky air with their foulness”? Isn’t murky air already impure and foul? So how much more polluted could the reek of Lycans make it? As for “the endless forest of evergreen trees looking like dragon's breath had scorched them,” my first thought was of the slang meaning for “dragon’s breath”–severe halitosis.

    There also seems to be a lot of Random Capitalization–Lycan, Vampyran, King, Vagrant, Shadow Dwellers.

    But when she betrays him to the monster who took his life away from him…

    Yes? What happens then? You start the sentence, but it goes nowhere from there.

    I have read many paranormal romance novels and have found that my taste in reading reflects in my writing.

    Unless it’s in some way unusual to write what you like to read, I wouldn’t bother saying that.

    What sets this story apart from others in this genre is that it is very action packed,

    “Action-packed.” And honestly, action-packed paranormals aren’t unknown. This makes me think you haven’t been reading that particular subgenre.

    and filled with many characters that will entrance the reader.

    Don’t tell me that the characters are going to entrance me. That gets my back up; automatically, I don’t want to be entranced by the characters.


  8. Leah
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 17:50:47

    I actually liked the second paragraph, because it sets the atmosphere for your book and gives me an idea of how your writing sounds. I did have the same problem with “hardcore” as the others, however. I assumed it meant erotic, but you probably need to spell it out for the agent.

    I am not a big reader of paranormal romance, so I wasn’t familiar with the series the others pointed out. Is it a kind of “franchise,” like the D&D series is for Wizards of the Coast? If so, maybe you should target that publisher exclusively. Otherwise, it might be best to step away from your book for a few weeks and then read it again with an eye towards catching similarities that might cause you problems. Then you can rework them. If you have a trusted reader who also likes the same books you do, ask him/her to read your work and honestly point out areas in which your world might be too similar to the one mentioned. You don’t want to derail your career right out of the gate (to mangle two metaphors!). And don’t be insulted that they pointed this out, btw. It can happen to anyone, and you really don’t want your book to meet the fate of Opal Mehta.

    There were some puntuation problems which you probably saw as soon as your query was posted! Also, in the paragraph abt Sadira, I would lose the “But” in the last sentence. You’ve already used it in the sentence before, so having those too close together sounds awkward. Also, it’s not really necessary in the last sentence. “Can she kill the man she loves?” is probably sufficient.

    Honestly, I thought it was a pretty decent query except for, yeah, the last paragraph. Maybe you’re afraid to admit that this is your first novel, that you have no “clips” or big contest wins? I know that we’re supposed to use the query letter to “sell” our books, and differentiate ourselves from others, but while the rest of your query seems confident, this last paragraph seems very amateurish, or unpolished, if that makes sense. As I have yet to write a good query letter myself, perhaps someone else here might have some suggestions as to how to fix this.

    Best wishes!


  9. Angelle
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 22:10:31

    I agree with the others. I read the first two sentences from the second paragraph and basically gave up. But since it’s a query crit, I moved onto the third paragraph…if I were an agent though, I don’t think I would have. From what I understand they’re looking for a reason to say no and your second paragraph is it.

    What sets this story apart from others in this genre is that it is very action packed, and filled with many characters that will entrance the reader.

    I would delete it. When I hear people say that their stories are “very action packed” I think that maybe it’s at the expense of character development. Also there are plenty of action-packed and fast-paced paranormal romance, so this makes it sound like you aren’t familiar with the genre.


  10. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 00:46:20

    Has no one noticed the lifting of the Underworld Lycans against Vampires world building? Right down to Draven as the vampire king.

    I’m not familiar with the series, but…whoa. Not a good sign. Now it’s starting to look like fanfic being passed off as something original.

    I may very well be wrong, though. Just have no way of knowing for sure.


  11. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 23:04:52

    I actually liked the second paragraph (it doesn’t belong in a query letter, but I thought it was descriptive/interesting) and assumed the word hardcore meant “kick-ass” rather than XXX.

    I found the heroine’s conflict promising but I don’t like a hero who uses drugs. OMG I’m turning into my mother.

    I also wouldn’t say your story is different because it’s action-packed. That sounds like a critique of the genre rather than a selling point.


  12. Lan Tester ·
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 03:28:08

    when it comes to treating halitosis, i use stabilized chlorine dioxide ~


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