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.
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 yellow.
Sixteen-year-old Layla Cadwell is losing her mind. Again. OK, at first I admit that I was thinking to myself, ugh… lame. And then the “Again” happened, and you got me. Good hook.
As a child, she almost I would use “nearly” here, but that’s a total word choice preference on my part drowned when she saw a blue lady’s face in a river, launching watch out for “ing” verbiage that can feel passive. I’d do a slight rephrasing to change into “launches” hallucinations that would “will” to make it more immediate plague her life. But when her father dies in her arms, murdered by a soul-sucking shadow-witch, Layla lands a stint in the psych ward. I’d change up the order of your sentence here. The commas are breaking up the sentence and pulling me out of the action because my brain is piecing it together. The other thing is, I guess I want to know why a soul sucking shadow-witch would be after her Dad. Is there an overall family connection to the paranormal? Is her ability to see the “blue lady” linked to the murder? Is the blue lady the same person as the shadow-witch? Because there’s no such thing as monsters, see. I like this line, very much. After too many kumbaya-inducing meds, the memory of her father’s death becomes fuzzy. Her mother attempts to de-crazy Layla by heading to a distant town for the summer, this feels like a little bit of a jump – psycho ward to summer road trip with mom. Are you saying that the drugs have made Layla question the witch’s existence? Has she “denounced” herself and pretended to be sane in order to get mom to let her out? Or is mom convinced that the road trip is what she needs to recover? The way you phrase “de-crazy” in this sentence makes me feel like Mom isn’t a very sympathetic character, and if that’s not the case you’ll want to rephrase. where Layla falls for local hottie, James.
Except…James’ past includes a slew of ex-girlfriends now sporting straitjackets in the loony bin. There’s also the unsettling phenomenon of his eyes changing color, something only Layla can see. Definitely inhuman. Good until here, I’d strike the line right before this. As if that’s not weird enough, Layla begins to see monstrous creatures prowling the woods nearby, and the blue water I’d strike “water” and keep Blue Lady, maybe capitalize it to assert it as an identity. lady reappears to beg for help retrieving her soul from the witch. Since the anti-psychotic pills clearly aren’t helping, Layla turns to her visions to piece together the blue water lady’s history. I see what you’re saying here, but the meaning is a little lost. I *think* what you’re getting at is that Layla has stopped fighting the visions and is now accepting them. What she finds leads her to the enchanted people hidden in the woods. And the age-old feud between her family and the shadow-witch, who’s determined to wipe out their bloodline. Aha – OK so there *is* a connection between the family and the paranormal. That’s great, but I think I still need more info as to why the heck the witch would want to kill dad a little earlier in the query. I’d draw the connection between her childhood paranormal experience a little more clearly in connection with her father’s murder for continuity, which won’t necessarily mean you have to move up the bloodline war information. James, who has never questioned Layla’s sanity, may be the only person who can help her. Why? Because he’s the only one who believes her? But while Layla’s desperate for someone to believe in her, she knows she can’t trust him. Why not? Because his eyes change color? What if he just has some kind of contact mail-order subscription and is really, really vain?
As the witch closes in, Layla must use her visions to survive the world HIDDEN beyond her own. A YA Urban Fantasy, HIDDEN is complete at 76,000 words.
I like the meat of what you have here, and even though the idea of madness and no one believing you when you’re actually *right* has been done, there’s always room for another twist. I think what you need most here is to capitalize on how Layla herself feels about her visions. You say in the second part of the query that she “turns to” them to help her, but we never had any real indication that she was fighting them. Make that inner struggle more clear, and it’ll help parallel the external struggle of the bloodline war, which by the way is a cool concept.
But on that – Why? Is this a supernatural Hatfield & McCoys thing? And how close are they to the bloodline being wiped out? Is Layla the last of her kind? Or does she have 25 cousins who can swoop in to save the day anytime they get around to it? And what about Mom? Does she know about the supernatural aspects of her husband and daughter? Or is she in denial?
And why exactly does the eye-changing color thing matter? And even more importantly – why the heck are his ex-girlfriends insane? I think *that’s* a fascinating idea, but you only mention it casually. Take these elements that make your story unique and flesh them out more.