So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said – “Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!
OK – my hands aren’t actually grimy, but I don’t make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.
We all know the first line of a query is your “hook.” I call the last line the “sinker.” You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I’m going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author’s brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.
Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You’ll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!
And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.
There’s no way fourteen year old Jonathan Stevens is going to his first day of public school in May. Really? Why not? ‘Cause school sucks? Was he home-schooled until now? Does he have a big boil on his nose? So cutting class to wander around a park seemed tense problem here like a better idea… until a storm forces him into a bathroom stall, and he falls face-first into a giant hole caused by an earthquake. So there’s two natural disasters at work here? A big storm and an earthquake? That’s fine (I love chaos) but it can be a little confusing as worded here. And did he fall down through the pooper? Cause that’s how I’m visualizing this as it’s written.
Waking in the underbelly of the earth, Jonathan discovers he’s been kidnapped by a pain-in-the-butt sorceress named Tamara, who insists he is an immortal and he’s on the top of a very long hit list. I like the idea of them being underground, but why are they? Hiding? Natural habitat? But Jonathan isn’t like any other immortal. I don’t know that this is that important at the moment – we already know that J is an immortal, if he’s THE immortal that’s great and all, but it feels a little clunky here in this para. Just the idea that he’s special enough to be an immortal in the first place and is in danger because of it is enough to get your idea across in a query. He was created Created how? And by who? to save the immortal realm from the Master, an overlord with the power to locate immortals strong enough to challenge him before they are old enough to know how. I like this idea.
Jonathan learns from Tamara’s allies that the Master has discovered the means to control mortals–and he intends to test that power on Jonathan’s parents. Okay, that’s cool. Brings up the question of whether or not J’s parents knew all along her was an immortal though. To destroy the most dangerous man in two realms, Jonathan will have to risk his life by triggering an unknown power too early. Also cool, but is this like his own special immortal power? Does every immortal have one and he needs to learn what his is and how to control it? And if he fails, his family–as well as every other mortal and immortal in existence–will suffer for it.
The query is pretty well-written, and I like the idea. I don’t know if it has the originality to stand out in a pile of Percy Jackson look-alike queries though. The idea that he has a latent power that could kill him and injure others is what I think makes your story different, and I’d like to see that fleshed out more here. It sounds like that is the crux of your story -> special boy, special powers. We’ve got the boy front and center, so now let’s get those powers out in front instead of buried in the third para. I also feel like I need to know more about his circumstances – Why does he not want to go to school? Was he home schooled? Is he bullied? Is he odd? Does he fit in in the real world at all? Do his parents know what his deal is? And what’s the story with Tamara? Is she in his age range or older? Is there a romance at work here?
Yeah, that seems like a lot of info to jam into a query, but it’s the kind of information you need to bring clarity and originality out into the open. As it stands right now the plot sounds interesting, the underground setting is unique, and the power that could harm him when he wields it. So bring those elements out, make them your centerpiece so that the points that make your book different from every other “special kid with power to save the world” book.