Saturday Slash

The Saturday Slash

Meet my 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.

Art by Lynn Phillips Nelson
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, 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!

Seventeen-year-old Tabitha Holt refuses to believe her sister was killed by wolves. I know from reading further that this is not a paranormal story, but the immediate jump my brain wants to make is to werewolf / paranormal. Lara trained dogs all her life, and was too wildlife-savvy to go anywhere near a hungry pack. Without any proof something or someone else ended Lara’s life, Alaska state troopers go after what they believe are rogue wolves, killing the animals unmercifully. To put a stop to it, Tabby has to prove Lara’s killer was human. But it sounds like this book is actually a wildlife / environment-centric story. Mash the idea of the last two sentences here into the hook – this is what makes you original. It’s a murder mystery wrapped up in a pro-wildlife setting. Tell me that right off. 

When a serious injury prevents Tabby’s dad from running because of the fact that it’s *his* injury that prevents him from “running” gave me a logic jump before I got to the word “Iditarod.” I know what the race is, but the words used before that injury / prevent / running / race immediately had me thinking Track and Field so the Iditarod threw me. Get the dogsled out front so we know what we’re looking at. the 1100-mile Iditarod dog sled race, the family’s finances are stake. Wait – don’t they only get money if they win? So technically their finances were already at stake and they were running the race to see if they could prevent that from worsening. Tabby’s mom has no choice but to take her husband’s place in the world’s most dangerous race. Tabby volunteers to help, intending to balance the demands of dog handling with her search for a killer whose stomping grounds eerily follow the race route. She soon discovers that tracking a murderer is much riskier than facing a pack of wolves. In her race for the truth, there is only the winner…and the dead.*

*Second option: But she soon realizes that pursuing justice will lead to a confrontation more deadly than a pack of wolves, and a finish line she may never cross.

You’ve got two good sinkers here, but I like the first one better!

RUNNING WITH WOLVES, an 80,000-word YA mystery, will appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen, Peter Abrahams and Gemma Halliday.

Good comp titles, too! You need to rearrange the ideas in the hook and get your originality front and center: a YA murder mystery set on the Iditarod? Cool. But… we kind of lost the point from the first para. I thought we were really worried about saving all those packs of dogs? But then we lost them when we started talking about the race. I understand that finding the human killer will absolve the dogs, but that train of thought is dropped abruptly. It needs tied back in, or not mentioned in the hook. If wildlife rights aren’t a main focus of the plot, stick to the murder mystery and the dogsled race.

I think the biggest problem here is that I have no grasp on the MC from this query. I hear about dad, I hear about mom stepping up, I hear about how sister was smart enough to know better. But I don’t know a lot about our MC other than she’s…. the MC. She’s got guts because she’s out there tracking down a killer during a grueling race, but because of the prevalence of her family members in the query I can’t say a whole lot about her. Take a look at the query and literally count the amount of words you’ve dedicated to each character and see where your MC ends up. She should be the one we’re talking about – not the others.

Think about what’s most important to the story here – the murder mystery and the race. Does it matter that Dad got hurt and now Mom is the one manning the sled? Does it matter that they are in financial trouble? Does it actually matter about the rogue wolves being killed? Sure, for the plot of the *novel* it does, but for the query do you want to give your word count over to subplots?

Get the MC out front. Get the murder out front. Get the grueling high-stakes race out front. You’ve got a great setting and original plot, figure out the absolute most important aspects of the book and give your word allotment to them, not the peripherals.

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