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.
If you’re looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey – the query. My comments appear in green.
When her best friend’s careless mistake steals her life away, seventeen-year-old Hayley Brighton aches to find the future she deserves. Resolving to not accept her death lying down confusion here – whose death? It’s ambiguous so far who actually died / is under threat of death – the friend, or Hayley?, Hayley sets out in search of a continued life very unclear – is she, in fact, dead? And how does one search for continued life? and meets the person who makes her feel like she still has one: handsome and magnetic Clark McConnell. Clark renews Hayley’s hope that she can obtain the vitality she craves—and a chance at once-in-a-lifetime love. You need to get some clarity in here – what is the “mistake” and who did it effect? Hayley or her friend? How does one search for a continued life? Also, I have no feeling for genre here – because I scanned this before hand I know it’s magical realism, but from this first para I don’t have a feeling for whether the setting is contemp, fantasy, or SF.
But first Hayley must face a devastating assignment. From who? An assignment implies someone else told her to do it. To secure the life—and new love—she longs for, she must save the life of the person who ripped hers away. OK so… she IS dead?
And she has mere days to do it. Shackled to the mistake of killing her best friend, Leah Isakson Uh-Oh, POV switch inside of the query isn’t sure how long she can live as a prisoner to her guilt and has nearly decided that joining Hayley might be her only freedom. OK so Leah is considering killing herself and Hayley needs to stop her. Got it – but why is there a deadline of mere days on this? You can mention Leah without giving her the POV in this para.
Now Hayley must figure out how, unseen and unheard, to reach and rescue Leah. If she fails, she loses both Clark and her chance to replace what death snatched away. If she succeeds, the girl who just died will have her entire life ahead of her. Good closure here, but your pronouns are causing you problems because of the ambiguity of who is being referred to. Rephrase so it’s clear the last sentence is about Hayley, and also — she’ll have her entire life ahead of her? Like, literally? Or in some kind of parallel universe / magical thing?
Hayley Brighton refuses to lose her life all over again. Honestly I’d say that the last para is strong enough that you don’t need this line.
CERTAIN AS THE SUNRISE, my YA magical realism novel, complete at 55,000 words, will resonate with fans of Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL and Gayle Foreman’s IF I STAY. Nice comps here. I think the premise is strong – a girl makes a mistake that kills her friend, that friend then attempts to stop her suicide from the afterlife and as a reward…. well, I’m unclear on the reward. What this query needs is an infusion of clarity. Get that in there and your concept gets the attention it deserves.