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.
Spanish-American war veteran Walter Churchstone, in the winter of 1925, trades a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop to a Japanese man named Ito and his two teenage sons Michi and Shirou, for stolen U.S Naval maps of Hawaiian military forts and gun batteries. Definitely hit the brakes – there is a LOT going on in this first sentence. Historical placement, full names, names of supporting characters and it’s generally just too long. You need a hook – an encapsulation of what your book is about in a catchy sentence. The next week Ito returns, he wants the maps back. Minutes later the only survivor of the four is the son Michi. This is definitely reading much more like a synopsis than a query. The amount of detail here is definitely overkill for a query. Walter’s seventeen year old son Billy finds, “Michi Ito burn face” scribbled on the dirt floor next to his dead father. Billy finds the maps and keeps them to himself. With nothing left for him at home, Billy joins the army always looking for “Michi Ito”. Six years later Billy sees an oriental sergeant at Officers Training Candidate school with a burn on his face. The lying, cheating, stealing Michi Ito with poor English passes every test in OTC until Billy finds out how. Ito is thrown out of the army vowing to kill Billy just like he did his father. Yep – this is definitely reading like a synopsis, not a query. You’ve got step-by-step plotting going on, not a compulsively readable nugget that delivers the central drive of your book.
Colonel Bill Churchstone is stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when the Japanese attack. His knowledge of the maps that he has held the last fifteen years help him hold the Japanese back despite three enemy attacks in five days. But Churchstone finds himself the surviving commanding officer on Pearl and he must quickly retreat the remaining five hundred men and women into the hills as Major Michi Ito, the commander of the Japanese invasion force, marches into Honolulu. Hearing Churchstone is on the island Ito wants nothing but deadly revenge. They cross paths again on Oahu for the third time. The next two years Churchstone’s life is nothing but a ricochet inside a concrete bunker. Yes, again – all the same problems here. Too much detail. This is definitely not reading like a query.
The War in Churchstone, 78000 words, is a historic alternative novel that is a cross between P.T. Deutermann and Scott Turow. A story of self-determined survival and unrequited love no idea where the love would come in? proves the human heart is stronger than war, and the bonds of hatred and love can be one and the same. There’s absolutely no indication of love in any thing prior to this.
You definitely need to do look into the difference between a query and a synopsis, and revise.