The Saturday Slash

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.

All it took was one bomb to incinerate her life… “All it took” implies that normally the following object wouldn’t be so life-changing. But a bomb incinerating something is pretty much what they’re supposed to do, so I’d definitely rework this hook. And kill the ellipses.

As seventeen-year-old Sadie James celebrates the hundred year anniversary of the South’s liberation from the North, I like this idea, but because of the “what if” twist, it almost has me wondering if we’re actually in America, or if this is set in another world entirely. I usually say to put the genre and word count on the bottom (as you have) but in this case it might make more sense at the top – unless you can do a little rephrasing to make the setting clear, an explosion rocks her town square. Escaping the chaos, Sadie follows a young rebel soldier into hiding. What she discovers is a safe house and the identity of the uprising’s leader – her presumed dead mother – very much alive. That’s cool, I like having Mom in the mix, but… why are there rebels in the first place? What are they uprising against? If the entire “what if” of the novel is what if the South had liberated itself from the North, it feels like any more rebellion is kinda overkill – we need a good reason.

Sadie’s first instinct is to turn her in as a traitor. Why? Does she even know her mother? How long has mom been presumed dead? Is Sadie really that much of a government believer? But as she listens to the rebel’s plan, and accusations of her government’s crimes, she doesn’t know what to believe. Then the government sends her a deadly warning: tell what she knows or everyone she loves will die. I definitely need more here – a rebel plan (to do what?) government crimes (like what?), a deadly warning (how did they send her a message if she’s still with the rebels?) This para makes it feel like she’s “with” the rebels, “listening” to their plan, etc., but if the gov’t is sending her messages asking what she knows, she must not be.

With nowhere else to turn, Sadie reaches out to her mother. Together they infiltrate a government compound where they find evidence (like what?) that will devastate the nation and trigger a second civil war. OK – here’s something, maybe even the crux of the novel and the best optionfor a hook But before the truth can be revealed, an unforeseen betrayal Aren’t all betrayals unforeseen? cuts out the heart of the rebellion. Now on the run, and the rebellion looking to her for guidance, Sadie will have to let go of the past if she expects to have a future. Really? Why? It’s a good line but it’s actualy saying anything. If “letting go of the past” is a reference to her mother, you need to capitalize on their relationship in the query if you want this pack a punch.

RESISTANCE is complete at 68,000 words. It is a YA fantasy sounds more like dystopian that re-imagines a modern day America with a “what if” twist, contemplating what life would be like if the United States weren’t united at all. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed the social injustice and military rebellion themes found in Ally Condie’s MATCHED and Marie Lu’s LEGEND.

Great comp titles, and I really like the premise, so don’t be disappointed by my reaction to the query. You need more here – why are people rebelling? What does the fact that the South succeded in seceding have to do with the overall plot? What’s the relationship with Mom like? Her first reaction is to turn her in, but how does she feel about the fact that she’s alive at all? It sounds like Mom is removed later on in the story, and Sadie (love the name, btw) will have to fill her shoes – awesome. But if that’s actually what happens, don’t be afraid to just throw it out there. You need the emotional tension of the mother-daughter relationship (which sounds like the heart of the book / character identity crisis) to underlie the action here, or else it feels empty.

And lastly, it sounds very much like you’re just asking the agent to accept what  you’re saying, without making it really clear what’s at stake. There’s a rebellion, there’s a bad government, the whole crux of the action revolves around the fact that you need the reader / agent to be sold on the rebel cause in the first place – but we don’t even know what they’re rebelling against.

It sounds like a great story, but also very generic the way it’s presented in the query. What makes your rebellion worthy, and different from all the other YA rebellions? What makes your government bad, worse than all the other YA dsytopian governments? If you can get those details in there, and find a way to get that ‘what if” premise into your hook, you’ve definitely got something to sell.