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.
Twenty-four-year-old Norm Run-of-the-Mill Stevens has always lived in the shadow of his brother, Heroic Man. Unlike Norm, the intrepid superhero possesses the full spectrum of superhuman powers—super strength, super speed, super sexual prowess, flight, even a superhumanly muscular ass, which has become an icon of the city. And he uses them all to fight crime on a daily basis, much to the city’s admiration. You definitely have my attention. And it’s not just because of the ass icon.
But Norm is incredibly bright, phrasing here leaves a little to be desired after that awesome hook and has finally completed the blueprints for a far superior electrical power grid for the city that would save it billions of dollars a year and propel him into the limelight. Kind of a lengthy sentence here, I’d hack off the end. It’s assumed. Not to mention finally gain him the respect of his parents. If the parents aren’t a major plot point, I’d not bother mentioning here. Feels like a tack-on and messes with your rhythm. Problem is, his mailroom boss at Electrifirm refuses to show the blueprints to the C.E.O., C.E. Olsen, I think dashes here instead of commas? claiming a kid Norm’s age couldn’t possibly have come up with something so brilliant.
Out of pity for Norm’s misfortune, Heroic Man presents the blueprints to Olsen, giving Norm his well-deserved credit. But Olsen, out to boost his own reputation, claims in front of the whole city that Heroic Man stole the new grid plans from Electrifirm. I don’t understand how smearing a much-loved superhero would boost Olsen’s reputation? He asks Norm, who (whom?) he presents as the rightful creator, to confirm his story on the spot, and Norm is left with a tough choice: Refuse to go along with Olsen’s story and continue to live in his brother’s shadow, or stab his brother in the back and gain the respect and reverence he always dreamed of. Fairly long punctuation-filled sentence here. Definitely re-work these.
I think you’ve got a great, humorous thing going on here… but I’m not seeing a novel-length plot. Right now your query is focused on one scene – the moment where Norm decides what he’s going to say in front of the (city? nation? world? CEO?) In order for there to be an entire novel here, the agent needs to know where this goes. Does he stand behind his superhero brother? I’m guessing not or else there’d be nothing left to say. So is there fallout? What’s the real crux of the novel?
Right now you’re basing your query on one scene, but it sounds like this is the point where the novel actually begins – not what it’s necessarily about. Make sure you’re pitching the focus of the book, not just a tease as or a what-happens-next scenario. The agent isn’t invested enough in your characters after two paras to care. Show them you’ve got a novel length material here, and your voice can carry it.