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.
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!
Twelve-year-old Haley has the worst life ever—stuck for the third summer in a row at her mom’s work, a stinking old folks’ home. Yeah, an old folks’ home is definitely not the cool summer hang out, but I feel like your hook here starts out a little cliche. Every 12 year old thinks they have the worst life ever. Get the old folks home out there front and center. Also, I’m confused as to why Haley is even there at all? Clearly she’s not working at 12 years old, so I assume Mom doesn’t have childcare, etc. Obviously that’s a lot of info for me to ask you to jam in the first sentence, but even if you just use the phrase “stuck tagging along” it would help. Also, I don’t think the fact that it’s the third summer in a row is relevant in the hook. At least she has plenty of time to figure out a way to make enough cash to buy a cell phone and smuggling contraband in is just the ticket. It turns out old people have a sweet tooth and selling snacks to the residents is a real money-maker. Nice – that’s awesome and hilarious. Get that hook spruced up just a little bit and your first para is definitely intriguing.
Things turn less lame when Haley gets to watch her favorite show, Cajun Pawn Stars, with the General need some clarity here. I thought upon first read that The General was the host of the show. On second read I think he’s a patient., and it only costs her a few Oreos an episode. Also my first thought here was that the TV she’s watching on is in some kind of common room. If she’s watching with a patient whom she’s sneaking Oreos to, that makes more sense – but we need clarity here. And when she discovers that one of the new residents is sixteen-year-old Rachel very confusing phrasing here – I feel like the way Rachel is introduced paired with the Cajun Pawn Stars makes me believe there’s some kind of connection between Rachel and the show – but that doesn’t pan out here who’s in a coma thanks to the driver of a getaway car, things really get interesting. And why is a 16 year old in an old folks’ home? That doesn’t make sense to me. Rachel’s roommate is 80-something Miss Essie whose best day is remembering where she put her teeth and worst day is over-hearing the strange visitors who just might be bank robbers and now want to hurt the only witness.
If a kid who’s stranded for the summer, a retired Marine who’s given up on life, and an old lady with Alzheimer’s can solve a bank robbery and prevent a murder, it’s possible Haley will have the best How I Spent My Summer essay in the history of middle school. This is a great sinker here – it helps clarify some of the things that are hazy in the middle, but that doesn’t mean the middle should stand as is.
THE SUMMER I STARTED A BUSINESS, SOLVED A BANK ROBBERY, AND SHOWED UP ON CAJUN PAWN STARS is a 31k middle grade novel. It’s a modern day Nancy Drew with some humor thrown in. I’ve been a teacher and school counselor for over twenty years. Currently, I’m a middle school counselor with the largest school system in the Southeast. I’m also a member of SCBWI. Great concise bio that explains who you are, and why you are qualified to write this book.
I think my biggest issue here is why a 16 year old is in a nursing home in the first place? Also, I get that you need to name the TV show she’s watching in order for your catchy title (it is good, btw) to work, but the way that sentence is phrased makes it sound like Cajun Pawn Stars is going to be the bid deal here, but really the focus (and prime mover of the plot) is the fact that the victim of the getaway vehicle is in the building, and in danger. I get that CPS might play into the overall plot of the robbery and Rachel’s injury, but it’s confusing when placed the way it is in the hierarchy of the middle para as far as the book’s focus.