Saturday Slash

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.

Indy Ramsay has studied and trained pick one her entire teenage life technically if she’s done it for her entire teenage life, then her teenage years might be in the past. How about “childhood?” for the day she would be recruited to the Reverend Council—the elite corps that runs the Aet-El Empire, the Ever Empire pick one. Okay, that’s a heck of a mouthful and a lot of information for a hook. See my above strikethroughs for how to pare down. It’s not bad, just long in the tooth. Instead, it is her grandfather, Eldritch, who is chosen and then promptly sent away on a mission of the utmost importance, leaving behind a shattered and dejected Indy.

The very next day, the Council is under siege from an unknown enemy; the annual market My first thought on this phrasing was that this was their DOW Jones or something, then I rethought and was like, wait, people only go shopping once a year? has been burnt to cinders, the Parliament stands destroyed in an earthquake, and Eldritch returns home to find his entire family murdered, all except his grandson. Right now we’re in Eldritch’s POV… a grandfather. Not sure on the focus of the query being on him at any point makes for a solid YA push.

He will get his grandson Who might that be? back Nothing in the earlier para indicated he’d been kidnapped, only that he was alive, he is told, if he betrays the Empire. A simple act . . . Still in grandpa’s POV and the ellipsis is a tease. Queries aren’t the place to tease the agent about what might happen next. They need to know exactly what it is so they can judge whether it’s a cliche or something new and interesting.

Unbeknownst to him, Indy is also alive . . . Humanity, kindness, justice, and above all else, the Empire. Not a sentence. These are the lessons Eldritch has taught her. Back to Indy, good. But I’m not sure there was a reason to switch over to Eldritch focus in the first place, query-wise.

Targeted for death Except, no one knows she’s alive? as Eldritch’s blood, she manages to learn of the enemy’s plan for the Empire and Eldritch. Which is what exactly? And what about that grandson? Now, as riots rage throughout the city and the enemy brings its true might to bear upon the Empire, Indy will prove herself worthy of the Empire and the validation she was denied. She will find and stop Eldritch, she will save the Empire at any cost.

Then what if the cost be Eldritch himself? Convoluted. Also, don’t end on a question. 

THE BURNT STATE is a fantasy novel about a girl and her grandfather, and the Empire that tilts on their decisions. It is complete at 113,000 words. Word count might be a touch heavy, but it is fantasy so you get some wiggle room for world building. I would see if you can pare it down to just under 100k, if possible. 

I have previously had a short story titled “Something Something” published in Apex Magazine, a Hugo award nominated science-fiction and fantasy magazine. Other than that, I am an anonymous voice from the ether. Cool. Those are laurels. Wear them. Get rid of the self-effacing bit at the end.

I think you’ve got a great angle here with the focus not being on a romance, or rescuing a sibling, or the fracturing allegiance with a former best friend. You’ve got a girl and her grandpa – that’s awesome. But in order to keep this firmly in the YA realm you need to keep your teenage protagonist as the focus of your query, as I assume she is the focus of the book. Unless this is a dual POV narrative (which you need to mention, if so) keep a tight focus on Indy.

Plotwise, I’m muddled. So, there are good guys (Grandpa, Indy) and bad guys (here only called “the enemy”) a crumbling empire, a last bloodline situation, betrayal and loss… basically everything any number of other fantasies have. What makes yours different? What is Indy’s goal? (Save the Empire! From who? How is she going to do that?) She’s going to prove herself worthy… how? (Physical fighting? A bake off?)

I have no idea what Indy’s talents are, where her worth lies, or what this training is that she’s had. Also, the grandson is mentioned as a blackmail type of narrative for Eldritch but is a non-mention for Indy. Is this her brother? Cousin? What bearing does he have on anything?


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