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.
I am submitting to you because ______________ At just over 70,000 words, The Kavanagh House is a YA mashup—a haunted house with a mechanized past. This is strictly personal opinion, but I think it’s better to start with a hook than with your ms specs. Also I’m not clear on how it’s a mashup, unless what you’re saying is that it’s a paranormal steampunk.
Parker, who feels ghosts, enters the Victorian stone house her mother chose, and is attacked by the spirit of Vincent, the designer of the house, who mistakes Parker for Eleanor, the girl he holds responsible for his death. This sentence has me untangling plots and names right from the beginning. That night Parker discovers the journal of Eleanor Kavanagh with the cryptic note: My father’s house is haunted and it’s my fault. Now THAT’S a hook. Let’s get this front and center. Also the casual mention of “Parker, who feels ghosts,” kind of throws me off. I’m definitely interested in how the haunting is Eleanor’s fault, and what the connection between Eleanor and Parker is.
At first she avoids the rotunda where Vincent is trapped; however, when he attacks her family, Parker enlists the help of Miles, who can see the spirits of the dead, to help her get rid of Vincent. Lots of commas, more names, much untangling. How does she know Miles? Is this an across-town move? And across-state move? She and Miles must solve puzzle locks, clues to hidden compartments where journal pages are kept, and face her own fears. Unfortunately for Miles, Parker has developed a crush on her father’s campaign manager, the tall, available, and devastatingly good-looking, Declan. This is unfortunate for Miles b/c he likes her, I assume? Also, why does that even matter? Is it relevant to the paranormal plot? Meanwhile, her friend, Abbi contrives to have a Halloween party at Parker’s house. But two days before the party, her mother has the rotunda floor torn up, and Vincent is set loose. At the party, after Parker enjoys a romantic dance with Declan, Vincent terrorizes the guests and nearly kills Parker in the pantry trap. The next day she and Miles find Vincent’s body and bury him. But all is not at peace. That night, Parker again hears music playing in her room. Vincent has not left. This is definitely starting to feel more like a synopsis than a query. The level of detail here is using up way too much space, and it looks like all the characters are being drawn into it, which is unnecessary in a query. You need to boil this down to the actual problem and the most pivotal characters.
After the first four, the chapters alternate between Parker’s POV and Eleanor’s journal entries. This could definitely get confusing. The Kavanagh House is the first in the planned Mechanized Gears series. Each book has a different mechanized location, a depot, a lighthouse, a library, etc., in one of the model cities of the Gilded Age. The six members of the Innovator’s Club are destined to haunt the places they created. Parker and Miles (in the next book) learn that to break the force that holds their souls captive, they must collect pieces of a machine from each location to free the six condemned souls. While this sounds really interesting, the query isn’t showing me how the house is mechanized or why that matters at all. Also, pitching a series is going to be difficult in any case. You need to focus your query on pitching one book, not the plot that arches over six. See if you can turn this book into a standalone with series potential, and focus the query on selling that first book.