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 Cybelle Ziegler arrives to her home destroyed and painted in blood, her perfect summer takes an unexpected sharp turn to Hell. This is a good hook but the way the sentence opens it sounds like the house is painted in blood… or is Cybelle? Possible confusion there. When you say a house is destroyed I think of a pile of rubble, which is hard to paint.
Her father, the Duke of the Western Regions of Lux, is suddenly might be a personal thing, but I hate the word “suddenly.” Also, everything following this implies that his disappearance was in fact sudden so you don’t need it gone. Missing. Wiped off the face of the earth as if he’d never existed. When the clock tick tick ticks this is different, but a bit grating as it messes up your beat here within the query – but again this could be a personal opinion on by with a week but no word, no news or message, the King orders Cybelle and four others to form a covert team in search of the Duke. Okay, how is Cybelle the appropriate choice for this? Just because she’s his daughter? Does she have any training? Right now I have no idea of her character traits.
Desperate to end her family’s suffering and her own, Cybelle agrees. The next thing she knows she’s on a plane Hmm.. OK up until now I definitely had a high fantasy feeling for this, with Dukes and Kings and Western Regions. Now there’s a plane. You’re going to want to make your genre clear from the outset, following an ancient, magical map to scavenge not sure about the word choice here the one man she can’t imagine the world without. Accompanying the chaos is Zane, the arrogant, infuriating boy with whom Cybelle shares a dark past, darker than the secrets cloaking her father’s disappearance, and she can’t seem to keep her mind off of him, her thoughts wandering to him even when she should be thinking about bringing her father home safely. This is a long, wandering sentence. Read it aloud without pauses and you’ll be out of breath. Also this dark past thing is a pure tease. I think we need to know more about why it’s dark.
In a race against the indefinite timer of her father’s life what does this even mean? Has his life been threatened? All we know is that he’s disappeared, Cybelle ventures through the unknown crevices of the magical realms, endeavoring deep into the darkness, where she is met with deceiving faeries and murdering werewolves. Manipulating vampires and wicked warlocks. I know what you’re going for here, but this isn’t a complete sentence. Death. Heartbreak. Assassination.
How far will Cybelle go to bring her father home?
But suddenly there’s more at stake than bringing her Daddy home or keeping her heart intact. There’s something brewing in a hidden world of darkness, evil lurking in the shadows of the magical realm Cybelle was raised in. There is a creature threatening everything Cybelle has ever known, a creature who she believes has her father—and may be coming for her next. I think we needed to have some kind of indication that father is being held hostage before she’s sent to rescue him. All we knew prior to hopping on a plane was that he was gone, and the map somehow will help her find him.
CHAOS UNRAVELING is my completed 105,000 word YA fantasy. It is the first novel I have written and will most certainly not be the last. Word count is a tad high. Fantasy gets some leg room on word count for world building, but I’d try to get it under 100k.
Right now we don’t have a very clear idea of our main character. She wants to save her father, and that’s great, but what kind of abilities or talents does she have that makes this even a plausibility? There’s a lot of plot talk here, but no character building beyond the love/hate boy with a tangled past relationship that we see too often. What makes yours different? I also feel like the plot is a bit twisty – is the goal to save father, and then it evolves into saving the world? And why is father so special in the first place that the King is sending people to save him? Just because he’s a Duke? Or is there something to this dark secret involving his disappearance? A query isn’t a place to tease- there are a lot of references to darkness and secrets here, but an agent needs to know what specifically makes your dark secret better than the 100 other queries she got today involving dark secrets.