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.
Dinah Darling is willing to do almost anything to find a committed relationship. She meets Emily Johnson who might be crazy maybe set aside this phrase with dashes and jumps into a relationship heart first. But it’s 1990 and gays in the Midwest aren’t accepted as readily into society as in the coastal areas.
Emily avoids her family chaos what family? what chaos? parents? Do they know she’s gay? What’s the source of the chaos? by drinking. Dinah concentrates on her work and responsibilities, while trying to please her sons, Emily and everyone else who needs her. But it doesn’t take long before money issues come into play because Emily losses loses her job and they get evicted. Dinah moves them to her hometown where they can be a normal family. But normal will never describe their lives.
When Dinah suspects Emily’s newest friend is much more, it is confirmed on the night her apartment is vandalized. How does that confirm it? Emily’s drinking is out of control. Along with Dinah’s best friend and Emily’s newest distraction the three convince Emily to go for treatment. Detox is the least of Emily’s troubles when Dinah has to deal with the real reason behind Emily’s drinking. Emily has eight different personalities. This feels like a curveball Dinah see’s the angels within now we’re using supernatural language – another curveball as a coping mechanism and a clever way to survive everyday life. But when life and who she is with changes every five minutes, Dinah admits she can’t rescue everyone and needs help too. Through therapy Dinah searches for the answer to the age old question “How are you?” because “fine” feels like a impossibility.
When Emily’s mother dies everything changes. Dinah loses her job, and has to start over again. Through writing and sharing her story Dinah discovers she too is a survivor and nothing in her future would be as complicated as her past.
Unfortunately this feels like it has way too many things packed into it – drinking, self-identity, sexuality, infidelity, socio-economic issues, death, loss, mental illnesses… there are way too many issues present just in this query, let alone inside the novel itself, for there to be any real focus. Yes, all these things do happen to people in real life, but a novel needs structure and focus.
Also, this reads much more like a synopsis than a query. You’re giving a step-by-step plot point of events in the novel, not an overall feeling of the book itself, which I think is indicative of the lack of focus in the actual ms. It’s possible you’re trying to jam everything into the query to make the novel seem more conflicted, more interesting, but you need to find the true drive of this book and focus the query – and the ms itself – on that.