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.
Nothing terrifies 17 spell out numbers year old Isla Blume more than the thought of being alone, and now that fear may come to life. When mysterious collector droids steal most of her family and her boyfriend Daniel away, Isla and her mom are left alone. No one hears from collected survivors again, and Isla has a feeling she knows why: They don’t survive collection. Right now I’m not understanding if collector droids are part of everyday life – like avoiding them is just part of the routine, or if this is a life-altering, holy shit robots are taking over the world moment. I don’t have a feel of whether this is post-apoc routine, or if it’s the beginning of the actual apocalypse. You use the word “mysterious” to describe them, but I don’t know if it’s b/c their arrival is mysterious or if it’s b/c these particular droids are outside the norm.
On a regular supplies run See, this sentence makes me think that we’re existing in a post-apoc world, which means you need to clarify why the particular droids that took her family were mysterious, Isla and her mom discover not only that a group of soldiers have resurfaced 25 years after the nuclear holocaust began, but that they have murdered an entire town of survivors looking for Isla by name. To make matters worse, they’ve left collector droids at Isla’s house to take her and her mom too. I think you’re starting your query in the wrong place. I now understand that we’re post-nuclear, but I think I needed that earlier. Also, are these soldiers people that were supposed to be dead? Or a resurfacing of a group / shared vision contingent?
When the droids collect I’m not understanding exactly what “collect” implies. Are they just taken? questioned? kidnapped? forced labor? murdered? her mom, Isla fights to keep what’s left of her family, but after a failed attempt to fight off the droids using magnets—she read that might work in one of her books—she is collected too. Just when she is sure she will die, Deathless rebels, scientists planning to overthrow what’s left of the government I didn’t have a feeling that there was a government at all until this point, save both Isla and her mom. Now if she wants answers to the questions eating away at her, she will have to fight to find her place within the Deathless as their impending war approaches.
How does the government know her name? Could her family and Daniel still be alive? And is any of this connected to the new star in the sky? Ending with a rhetorical question is not a good idea. And you just introduced another new concept – a new star in the sky. If this is important to the plot, get it in there.
Complete at 81,000 words and featuring a diverse cast of characters, I AM DEATHLESS is a young adult science fiction novel that will appeal to fans of Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and Kass Morgan’s THE 100. I am currently developing the storyline into a trilogy. As a debut it’s better to have a standalone novel with series potential, just FYI.
I have a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh where I studied with Siobhan Vivian. I continued at the University of Pittsburgh to earn my MAT in Secondary English Education in 2012, and I have been teaching my target demographic ever since. I am a member of She Writes, as well as a Wattpad featured author with a Watty Award winning YA novel on the site. This is a fantastic bio.
You definitely need to get the query itself into more of a comprehensive flow. Let us know where we are right from the beginning – post-nuclear survival with a government in place. I don’t know what the droids or the soldiers actual represent – is this the overarching government? The rebels are good, I’m assuming, and they’re scientists, but why are the fighting this government? What makes the government bad?
Another thing is that right now this query reads like the back flap of a book, not a query. You’re doing a lot of leading but an agent needs to know that there’s a plot that makes sense here. In other words, go ahead and tell them why the soldiers are looking for Isla. She’s special – great. There’s a lot of chosen one stories out there so why is yours different? Get that out there.
Lastly I have no feel for your character’s personality. Right now this is all plot, no feelings. She tries to fight with magnets and apparently she reads books, but that’s all I’m getting out of her. So is she smart? Interested in science? Is she tough or scared to death? Why is she so scared of being alone? Get the personality of your MC in there along with all the plot mechanics, as well as what makes her special enough that the government is after her.