Fail Fast, Fail Often—Evolve


I followed through with what I said I would do. Starting a few weeks ago, I hopped on and began submitting to agents. And yes, the headline means the rejection notices have started coming in.

For starters, it sounds a lot easier than it is.  There’s a number of things you need to do before submitting to agents:

  • Write a compelling query letter
  • Write your synopsis (3-4 pages tops)
  • Clip the first five pages of your book
  • Investigate agents on and see may be the best fit

Anxious to get this process moving, I did my vetting and sent out three initial queries with limited customizations for each agent.

Within 24 hours I had my first email form letter rejection. The next one came a few days later.  They are not fun to get. But, given that many places don’t even respond now (and can take up to 6-8 weeks to do a form letter rejection), I appreciated the quick responses. It really forced me to scrutinize my work, and admit the problems.

I have to be honest, when I sent out the submissions my query letter had a drab conviction statement (why this book, why me writing it) and I wasn’t happy with the first five pages of chapter one. Right? I know. The first pages are the most important. The rest of the book is solid—honest!  BUT, what was I thinking?

“Always put your best foot forward.” I had to remind myself that agents are already flooded with a million other submissions from people just like me. They’ll give me two seconds to catch their attention. If I don’t (and readers at book stores and on Amazon do this too), game over. No second chances, no second glances. That book is stuck on the black list of do not respond to…

So, okay. I literally rewrote Chapter 1 (which is really just 5 pages anyway). I tightened it up, reduced out information the reader really didn’t need to know (even if I as the author wanted to tell them “all this cool stuff that came from the original trilogy”). It’s MUCH more focused and compelling! Hey, better late than never I guess.  See, I’m learning all the time yet!

I also thought a lot about “Why this book now?” In the first version I talked about how I channeled my own live experiences into the characters, which made them more accessible and relate-able. Well, isn’t that wonderful. What author can’t say that?! Well, we all should be able to say that…  I needed something that spoke to the uniqueness of the approach.

When I think about the book, beyond the traditional epic invasion with big bad guys, and the superhuman abilities, the heart of my story is a very intimate one. Rhysus Mencari would do anything to find and free his family. Anything. The kicker is what Mencari finds done to his family by his enemy. It’s far worse than death. After all that Mencari’s been through, including the self-hating for failing to protect them to begin with, what has been done pushes him over the edge.  That’s what the story is about.

So, I rewrote the conviction section to talk about that very dynamic. I also went back and pumped up my synopsis to include more of the dramatic and plot twisting moments that I left out “due to saving space.” Don’t use space for things that aren’t key to the interesting parts of your book, or readers of your synopsis will think your story is boring. “NEXT!”

I’m still learning every day. I just sent out two more queries today. We’ll see what happens to them.

Out of the interest in sharing (and potentially getting feedback—email me if you have any), here’s my complete submission: query letter, first five pages, and synopsis.  Even if this isn’t the final version that captures the interest of an agent, I believe in my series.  I’ll keep you posted on progress.



Dear x y,

<Insert something here about why you sent to them.> I am seeking representation for my adult science fiction novel, D’mok Revival: New Eden, complete at 111,000 words. The alien invasion is over. Rhysus Mencari and his D’mok Warriors have emerged victorious. But the scars of war run deep, and his duty is far from over. Enemy remnants cling to conquered worlds, their allies lurk in the dark, and the infamous Kajlit’ga and her superhuman beast warriors remain at large.

With the New Eden station finally operational, Rhysus Mencari and his allies gain a new platform from which to create an enduring freedom and lasting peace. But a discovery leads to a far more burdensome trial. The family he thought murdered are, in fact, prisoners of war. An obsession to free them taints his every move, and threatens to tear apart everything he created.

Rhysus Mencari, the warrior who lost his family, struggles to become the husband and father he was meant to be. The decisions and sacrifices he makes along the way breaches the trust of those he leads. Will the team he created remain loyal knowing his judgement is compromised, or take matters into their own hands? Despite all he’d seen during war, is he prepared for what has become of his family?

Why is this book important now? In a time when heroes like The Avengers and Captain Kirk battle epic enemies, my work layers on a far more intimate struggle. While already warring with his inadequacy to protect those he loves, Rhysus discovers his greatest enemy is the very family he longs to rescue.

New Eden is my sixth work in the D’mok Revival universe. An earlier trilogy and two novelettes were self-published. The first edition was launched at Chicago Comic Con 2013, promoted in SciFi magazine, and presented at events held by the Stan Lee Foundation. Over 3500 units were sold across eBook, audio format, and printed edition sales. It also won honorable mention in the science fiction category for the 2013 Reader Views Readers Choice Awards. New Eden serves as the entry point to attract a new audience while feeding the existing base.

I hope I’ve captured your interest. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Michael J. Zummo



CHAPTER 1: The Dark Heart (the first 5 pages)

Rhysus, they’re alive.

                His mentor’s words echoed like demonic whispers in his mind. The longer he dwelled on it, the more exhausted he felt. Desperate for distraction, weary eyes scanned across the dark, makeshift quarters. The space felt sparse but functional, like his life.

Bursts of light pulled his attention to schematics and battle plans projected before him. Updates from his commanders streamed in, along with quivering panels which demanded his response. But the phrase wouldn’t let go.

They’re alive…

Helpless to resist, he found his gaze drawn to a small holographic image, floating just out of reach. There, a copper-skinned beauty draped with long black hair stood among a ragged crowd. A youth clung to her side, chocolate eyes peering out, beaded in terror.

Anaka. Rhyiel.

                His heart swelled with a confused mixture of love, loss, and shame.

The image was taken directly from the stolen Nukari archives, along with information that placed it posthumous for his family. It shouldn’t be possible, yet everything about it appeared legitimate.


His mind still rejected the notion. How many years had he suffered the same nightmare? He didn’t even have to be dreaming to relive it. Nukari fighters opened fire on the escape pod carrying his family. He heard his son’s cry, his wife’s shriek, felt the shockwave of the explosion. Each accursed time he awoke to the sound of his screams echoing off the walls. It was a cruel torment.

And yet, as his mind separated fact from fiction, reality from nightmare, one truth emerged. He never saw their escape pod explode. His superhuman abilities emerged in a blinding light before the Nukari even fired. Instead, he fell unconscious, waking weeks later in a top-secret Coalition hospital. There he learned of the complete annihilation of the Coalition’s space station, everyone aboard, including his family. The Nukari left no survivors—except him.

What he relived each night was not truth, but rather a fabrication of his own mind, served up in the most horrific way possible. Until seeing the recovered picture, he never considered another fate for his wife and son.

He fidgeted with the wedding ring he’d once taken off, having accepted their passing. Their survival should have made him feel better. It didn’t. His head shook in disgust. It shouldn’t be easier to believe they were dead. A part of him wished it true. Before, Anaka and Rhyiel met a quick fate. But now they were prisoners of a cruel and ruthless enemy.

Are they suffering?

He winced. His heart ached at the thought. There was no greater pain or shame than failing to protect his family. His stomach knotted. A bitter taste rose in his throat.

Will it be today?

                The phrase danced in his mind like steak dangled before a starving pit bull. The thought greeted him every morning. For a while it represented hope that a new discovery would lead to his family. But now? Now, it was a torturous mantra that mocked him. Desperate, it teased him before every attack, plagued him after each victory. The answer was always the same: no. All he wanted was one data point, one tiny clue to show him the way. Or, a sign their suffering had ended.

Rhysus, they’re alive.

He’d give anything—do anything—to free them. Despite it all, nothing he did got him any closer to it. He felt his heart pound, and his face prune with anger. Nothing would stop him, he’d keep hunting, until he had answers.

With a swipe in the air, the updates before him transformed into a holographic timeline dotted with events and glowing panels of information.

Nine months.

It felt longer. Kiyanna Kyoda had done well. The former military scout and hoverbike enthusiast had proved herself a skilled military strategist and D’mok Warrior. Her siege against the Nukari began with the destruction of their command hub.

                It was a calculated but desperate play. Her plan gave them the only chance to strike their elusive enemy, and strike hard. Though their victory came with great sacrifice. One undisputed hero emerged—a martyr.


The memory still shook him.

Defeat seemed imminent. Nukari reinforcements poured through an intergalactic gateway connecting to their home space. A massive ship, the Leviathan, was only halfway through when its cannons began shredding the allied fleet. Despite combining abilities, his D’mok Warriors couldn’t damage the gateway or the massive ship.

He should have known Seigie wouldn’t honor an order to retreat. She charged her own crystal body and became a living bomb. He realized her plan too late and turned only in time to see her detonation. A blast of multicolored light blinded him. Then, the entire gateway twisted, the connection across space imploded. The Leviathan cleaved in half. Lights aboard it flickered moments before explosive decompression spewed equipment and people into space and a hellish glow engulfed the ship.

Seigie saved them.

                But I couldn’t save her.

Seigie’s sacrifice made Kiyanna’s plan succeeded. From that point forward Kiyanna led the strategic planning of their offenses. Her strategies struck hard and continued to deliver results.

The same stolen data that revealed his family lived also enabled his team to hunt down Nukari facilities, stalk their allies, and take their resources. He smiled. They bestowed the same mercy the Nukari gave to the Be’Inaxi, his fellow Humans, the Nomads, and countless other races: none. The Nukari deserved nothing more.

He looked across the timeline. Each dot called to mind the many critical junctures: the allied fleet returned to full strength, the liberation of Tericn, the capture of Nukari resource posts, and the freeing of indentured worlds. At the end of the timeline sat a large glowing sphere decorated with five crossed swords.

He grabbed into the air. Attack plans along with the latest field reports extruded from the swords emblem. A satisfied grunt escaped him. With the field commanders in place, the final push on Abunai could begin. Another of his D’mok Warriors would reclaim their home today. But what was the bigger surprise: Naijen waiting patiently and following directions to retake his world, or the fact it took two days for Kiyanna’s strategy to unite the indigenous clans and knock the Nukari back to their final stronghold? Both left him in awe. Both led to this moment. A roguish grin stretch across his face.

“Nowhere left to run.”

His words rang with a sadistic pleasure. Once they captured the Nukari leadership, he’d allow Naijen to work something useful out of them. One of them had to know something that could help him find his family.

A gentle tone accompanied a holographic video which projected beside him. He glanced over. Rigid stance, blond crewcut—Kiyanna.

Early as always.

                With a swiping gesture toward the video, it flashed green then disappeared. Behind him the door to the corridor opened. A gentle gust of cool air wafted in, along with the clopping of heavy leather boots.



She came to his side and snapped to attention with a quick salute.

He grinned. “At ease. You don’t really need to do that.”

“Habit, sir. I’d rather keep the formality.”

“As you wish. How goes preparations?”

“Ground teams are in position.…”

Before she could continue, a tone rang out again, with another video projection. An alien with a bony, light-blue exoskeleton, both aspects more prominent on his face, and pupil-less, jelly-like patches of red for eyes, waited impatiently.

“Ghn’en?” Mencari said, thinking aloud.

With a swipe, the door behind him opened. Mencari stood, concerned, and waited for the admiral of the Be’Inaxi fleet. The deep blues and purples of the Be’Inaxi uniform took on a grittier look in the dim light of the room. Ghn’en was an impressive specimen of his kind. In addition to his muscular, imposing size, he had two powerful arms, and two, more diminutive ones, directly underneath.

“Is there a problem?” Mencari said as the bulky alien marched in.

“Things been too quiet.” In place of a mouth, two vertical slits ran along an elongated nasal cavity, which moved as he talked in two tones at the same time, lending a singing quality to his speech. “Some strange reports with phantom readings that can never be verified. I don’t have good feeling about it. I think we should move up plans.”

“The ground teams can engage on a moment’s notice, sir,” Kiyanna added.

“Let’s check with the Nomads before making the final call.” The others nodded as Mencari spoke into the air. “Minea, please connect me to Varen.”

He didn’t need to see Minea to know she was there. The artificially intelligent creation of Toriko Purg, once known as Mini-T, seemed to have no bounds since the change.

A flurry of holographic cherry blossoms swirled above them. From it, a radiant light poured into a female form. The detail of Minea’s remarkably Human face and long sandy-blond hair appeared. Tall fox ears poked through the top, and a long bushy tail waved happily behind her. Long gone was the bright pink, high-tech suit with white neon stripes. Instead she wore a sleeveless royal purple tunic decorated with white flowers, and a black sash. White cloth wrapped her arms. A hip-length silver fauld with white trim made her look ready for battle. Despite the changes, she still held on to her dramatic flair.

She playfully wagged her fluffy tail. “Connect you to Varen? Since you asked so nicely!” With a wink, a portal of light appeared. It spun briefly before tipping over. As it fell, a humanoid with dark coral skin and short locks of turquoise appeared.

“Varen here.” His face was placid with an unnatural calm.

Ghn’en’s red-jelly eyes glowed. “How is far space faring?”

“Secured, and under continuous observation. We have seen an increase in phantom readings however.”

Ghn’en grunted. “See, we shouldn’t wait.”

“I would agree with the admiral,” Varen said.

“Then we mobilize our forces now. Remember the goal: take their leadership alive.”

“Yes, sir,” Kiyanna said with another salute.

“Minea, please prepare the shuttle,” Mencari said. “Kiyanna and I are heading down to Abunai.”

“You got it!”

Soon he’d have a lead on his family. He could feel it.















D’mok Revival: New Eden Synopsis

RHYSUS MENCARI’s family died when aliens called the Nukari invaded. He spent years understanding the superhuman abilities which saved him, and assembling the D’mok Warriors, a band of aliens with abilities like his. When his forces defeated the Nukari, data taken from their archives revealed his family was not dead, but rather Nukari prisoners. From that moment on, gone was Rhysus Mencari, D’mok Warrior, savior of millions. In his place stood Rhysus Mencari, husband and father, desperate to rescue his family.

Now, he reflects on his predicament on the eve of an attack to reclaim his ally’s world from remnant Nukari forces. His true motivation: to find information about his family.  When the bloody attack is over, what’s left of Nukari leadership fails to produce new leads.

On the way back to their space station, New Eden, an anomaly redirects them to a rift in space. There they discover D’ABAR, an ancient mentor to one of Mencari’s D’mok Warriors. Visibly tortured, and near death, they bring him back to the station. There they discover D’abar was punished for giving aid to Mencari when he visited their world.

While D’abar is treated, the leader of New Eden reveals a lead on an abandoned Nukari space platform. To their surprise they find new aliens, the Nasidrac, have laid claim to the station. Wanting to investigate the former Nukari facility, Mencari takes his forces to negotiate. After a tense stand-off, the Nasidrac present the gutted technologies from the platform. Using powerful artificial lifeforms from New Eden, they assemble and reactivate the equipment to discover the location of another Nukari platform.

Probes to the new location reveal a platform still in use. However, it appears in the process of being evacuated. By the time the D’mok Warriors arrive, most of the platform appears abandoned. However, a small bundle of life signs draws them inside. Mencari senses the presence of his son. Deep inside the platform they find a host of prisoners left behind, guarded by a few Nukari soldiers. After dispensing with the soldiers, Mencari frantically searches for his family among the captives. Failing to find them, he begins to free prisoners, only to spring a Nukari trap. A torrent of beasts rushes at them. Only able to protect a few freed, Mencari dooms those still bound to a grisly death, while leading a retreat. While fending off the beast hoard, three super-human Nukari beast warriors attack. Among them is a powerful youth named JASK. As the D’mok Warriors and beasts battle, they discover Jask’s attacks cannot hurt Mencari. After a fierce fight, Jask collects his wounded allies and flees.

When Mencari’s team returns to New Eden they learn preparations to retake COGENI’s world, Argosy, are complete. Mencari hopes to capture the Nukari Commander on Argosy, and use him to get information about his family. Upon arrival they meet up with old allies who now also lead the resistance movement against the Nukari. They reveal the Nukari killed Cogeni’s mother, the matriarch and spiritual leader of Argosy, in order to take power of Argosy. Mencari must now help take back a world, and restore Cogeni as patriarch and ruler. Using New Eden technology, they disable Nukari defenses and trap their enemy. When a battle ensues, the Nukari Commander jumps to his death rather than be captured. Cogeni remains on Argosy, while Mencari returns agitated, again without new leads.

Upon returning to New Eden, Mencari and a team of D’mok Warriors go under cover as guards at a prison planet to rescue one of their own. When their escape attempt fails, and the team faces capture or death, the mounting pressures lead Mencari to a mental break. Unbounded, his abilities take on a mind of their own, sucking the power from his teammates and creating a way out. Despite their survival, Mencari falls unconscious. The event leaves his teammates wary of his degrading mental state and new power-draining ability.

Weary of Mencari’s unchecked power, D’abar questions whether Mencari is fit to lead.

While Mencari recovers, the D’mok Warriors, led by the telepath KATEN, respond to a distress call by the allied Human Coalition vessel. There they find Nukari beast warriors led by Jask and three silver-skinned youths attacking. Katen uses his abilities to mindwalk his enemies. His discovers the youths are actually from D’abar’s world and that Jask is really Mencari’s son, hidden in a beast-shaped encounter suit. Before the youths can be recovered, the Nukari flee.

Mencari awakens to news about the Coalition vessel, in addition to word they’ve found and freed his wife, ANAKA, from the Nukari. He travels with the damaged ship and a few D’mok Warriors into Coalition space to return their property and meet his wife. His self-loathing magnifies as he dwells on his inability to find and save her himself. His mental state worsens when he finds her medically sedated, her body ravaged from torture.

Before he can depart, the Coalition military threatens to harm Anaka if he doesn’t surrender to them. After he complies, he’s paraded before Nukari commanders that have taken over the Coalition. Nukari taunting combines with Mencari’s degrading mental state, leading to another unhinging. This time, his abilities create protective barriers around his allies, while incinerating his enemies in a fearsome blast of energy. He departs for the D’mok Warrior’s asteroid base along with his team and wife, leaving the Coalition in the hands of fellow Humans.

The D’mok Warriors, prodded by D’abar, discuss Mencari’s growing instability. D’abar creates doubt of Mencari’s leadership in the minds of the team. The team discusses their next mission, and directly exclude Mencari.

While in the asteroid base’s infirmary with his wife, a group of D’mok Warriors bring in a wounded Jask along with three youths from D’abar’s world. Mencari is exasperated to find out his team attempted such a mission without him. This is compounded by their revelation Jask is his son. His disbelief blends with the second instance of his inability to save his own family.

When a garbled transmission comes in from a still-captured allied world, Mencari leaves his unconscious family in the infirmary to make use of himself. He leads a small team, D’mok abilities blazing, to planet Aeun. There he is met by furious allies that don’t understand why he’s attacking. Its revealed the forces holding Aeun patriated after the main Nukari armada fell. The transmission was simply an update on their world’s status, not a distress call. Mencari is told he will be held accountable for the damage, and told to leave Aeun.

Upon return to the asteroid base, he finds it in ruin. While stabilizing the base and helping the wounded, he discovers his son caused the calamity. It’s revealed his wife had been conditioned while held prisoner to help Jask. Mencari is left wondering if Kajlit’ga architected the recovery of his wife and son for this outcome from the start. His wife helped free Jask, resulting in Katen’s obliteration. Once freed, it’s clear Jask attempted to destroy the base and kill everyone inside. Overwhelmed with grief, Mencari’s mind completely unhinges. He draws the conclusion his son is dead and only a monster lives on.

He chases his son across space to a world housing the remaining Nukari stronghold. His fellow D’mok Warriors and allies from New Eden follow to finally eliminate the Nukari. Jask reminds Mencari he’s powerless to hurt him. Using his new ability, an enraged Mencari draws the power from friend and foe alike for one devastating strike against Jask. The attack fails to hit Jask, smashing into the world below. Jask flees to the surface to save his Nukari friends.

When Mencari follows, a telepathic beast warrior enters his mind. Scanning his mind to learn what she can before killing him, sees the truth about Jask’s origins, and Mencari’s intentions. She realizes the deception Kajlit’ga used to control Jask and the beast warriors. Instead of killing Mencari, she heals his rage, and informs him she’s removed the mental conditioning from Jask’s mind. The monster is gone, and his son RHYIEL lives again. Furious at losing her pawn, Kalit’ga kills the telepath. When Kajlit’ga then uses her beasts as living shields to protect herself, the enslaved creatures turn on Kajlit’ga and kill her. The combined D’mok and allied forces destroy the remaining hostile Nukari.

Despite the victory, the trust between Mencari, his team, and allies are broken. He sets off to a location only known to his closest friends to help his family heal. D’abar steps into Mencari’s position as leader of the D’mok Warriors.