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.
“You are safe. I will protect you.” Those are the words Marylin hears after she’s told of an apocalypse. The hook isn’t “hooking” me. I don’t know if opening up with a line of dialogue is a good idea. It might be a gamble that pays off in that it’s different, but I personally don’t find it working for me.
<—- You definitely want to be right justified Days bring about earthquakes that shatter cities, newscasters that turn their cameras away, and people that believe the ignorance they see. Now this, I like. The phrasing and the cadence is nice. Rephrase a little to make this your hook, and I’m listening. Safety comes in the form of Sanctuary, a post-Christian religion that took over once Christianity was seen as a disturbance. Interesting, and it has my attention. However “post-Christian” and then the phrase “once Christianity was seen as a disturbance” had me re-checking the sentence. Is Sanctuary a replacement for Christianity? Or did Sanctuary engineer the downfall of Christianity? And who saw Christianity as a disturbance in the first place? And among the chaos of disasters, the voice comes to Marylin. He tells her the date when fire will perish society this phrasing doesn’t work, leaving the remains to those of Sanctuary. Though, there is a clause. Again, clunky phrasing. If only one misplaced soul What do you mean by misplaced soul? Anyone who isn’t a member of Sanctuary? survives, the whole plan can be ruined. This information must stay a secret to ensure Marylin’s fate. I get why that would need to be a secret, but why tell her in the first place then? I’m also a little confused on the timeline here – the apocalypse is already happening, right? Earthquakes, anarchy, etc. Yet it sounds like there’s one Final Event coming, the Fire that the Voice speaks of. So Marilyn is living in a society that’s already in shambles, about to be totally eradicated and she’s the only one who knows? Do the other members of Sanctuary know? Why her? Is she already a member of Sanctuary?
<—- Doubts plague her thoughts. Technically, doubts are thoughts. This ending will create a revival of religious freedom and destroy immorality, but it also might mean losing her beloved children who were not promised to survive. Clunky phrasing on the previous sentence at the end, do a rephrase. Your meaning is clear, just need a polish. She asks the voice in her head these dire questions. He abandons her with no answers. Insecurities are eating her insides, when the secret escapes into the fragile public. How does the secret escape? Is she the only who knows? Riots break out and now nothing about Marylin’s vision is certain, including her survival. It sounds like the world was already a damn precarious place, why would these riots even make a ripple on the surface? And has the secret been released in connection with her? Is she being targeted as the messenger? How does the secret escaping impact her survival specifically?
<—- THE REGENCY STORIES is a 69,500 word dystopian novel targeted to the adult market.
<—- My name is [redacted]. I find right now I’m at a fork in my life, whether to unwillingly choose my life as an actuary or fulfill my dreams of being a published author. I found my story while visiting a garden in Nashville, TN, of which I mention in THE REGENCY STORIES. It seemed twenty-four hours later I had the book written in my head, waiting to be typed out. I currently have no writer’s background, though THE REGENCY STORIES has prospects of a series and I have other ideas of books tucked away in my head. No offense, they don’t care. Pretty much everyone who is querying has a day job and wants to be a writer, so it’s of no interest to them. Same with the genesis of the story. If you have no experience in publishing that’s totally fine (I didn’t either), but don’t mention it.
I have gotten into touch with (Agency Name) through the AAR website, then researched more to find good reviews of your agency. Thank you for your time, (Agent First Name), and I hope to hear back from you at your earliest convenience. I also thank you for considering and reading my query. A full manuscript is ready at your command if you find interest in my book. I hope you see my literary skills as an asset to your company. Have a great day! Again, you’re adding length to your query for no reason here. They know you got in touch with them, they assume that you liked what you saw because you queried. I know you’re trying to show that you’ve done your research, but there are better ways to do that. For example, you could say, “Because you represent title X, which deals with apocalyptic themes, I thought you might be interested in my manuscript.” After that, a nice simple, “Sincerely -” is the best way to sign off.
The story itself sounds compelling, but some of your phrasing here needs work. Also, my biggest issue is that I’m not quite clear on when I am in the future. It’s obviously not the world ending as I know it right now, because Christianity is still around. So are we 50 years into the future? 100? And also I need to know more about Sanctuary… is it a super-secret underground society that only a chosen few who hear the Voice know about? Is it a big movement that the Voice is driving people towards in order for them to be saved? I need that end-all be-all Organization Character fleshed out for me a little more before it can be a really strong query.