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.
Seventeen-year-old Emile Dodgson is in an asylum with only a vague memory of who he had been before and no knowledge of why he is there. If you read this aloud the little word phrases “is in an” and “who he had been” can get a little tripped up. I would advise rephrasing every so slightly, such as Seventeen-year-old asylum resident Emile has no memory of who he is, or why he is there. Otherwise this is a good hook, just be aware of those little connectors that make your brain have to parse as your read With the help of his doctor, Emile tries to patch together the memories he does possess. As these fragmented memories begin to come back, Emile wonders if he truly does want to remember his disturbing past. Highlighting in yellow some echoes – you’ve got three in one para here. Not necessarily a huge red flag, but it might make the agent wonder if the ms is littered with such problems. It’s a nit-pick, but that’s what I’m here for.
Two years earlier, Emile looks forward to leaving school and beginning his apprenticeship with his father, a hatter in the late 1860s Oxford. When Emile meets Alice Smalls, the daughter of a prominent watch maker, he feels his life is clicking into place with a precision he’d never dared to dream for. You’ve got some great imagery at work here – “clicking into place” alongside the watch mention, for example. However, this is slightly confusing as it seems these events precede your hook. I’m assuming that this story is what the doctor pieces together from his memories, and that your story isn’t told linearly, instead alternation between his sessions and the past, correct?
Soon, Emile notices the same symptoms in himself that plagued his father and claimed the life of his grandfather. He can’t always explain the disturbing images he sees or sounds he hears. He hopes his love for Alice will be enough to protect him from going insane, but as Emile spirals further into madness his behavior becomes more and more unsettling to those who care for him.
Drawing imagery from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this standalone book tells the real story of the Mad Hatter’s descent into madness. ALICE AND THE HATTER is a 70,400 word young adult historical fiction told in alternating chapters between Emile and Alice. Wait! Alice has a POV? That needs mentioned as more than an aside down here. It should get half of the query, if it gets half of the book.
I’m a youth services librarian with over ten years of experience working with teens. (Nice, this was pretty much my bio when I was querying too – it helps!)
Overall, this is pretty damn great. The actual writing here is good and the premise is awesome, but the execution makes me curious about the setup of the text. Is it merely bookended with Emile already in the asylum (a la THE GREEN MILE) or do his chapters go back and forth between the present and the past? Needs to be clear within the query.