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.
I don’t get why we have to be all uncomfortable in pants and stuff, but squirrels are allowed to just run around naked. How is that fair? I totally bet it’s because they don’t make squirrel pants. Which I guess isn’t the squirrels’ fault, but still. I wonder if they did make tiny squirrel pants, would they have to have elastic waists? Because how could the squirrels do like zippers and stuff if they don’t have thumbs? Dude, I hate elastic waist pants. That’s what Tia Juanita wears with her kitten sweaters, and she hasn’t had a date in like six years. So this is definitely funny and I like it, but it’s generally not a good idea to open with lines from the actual book. You want to find a way to work this humor into your query, possibly into the hook.
Fifteen-year-old Alonzo Bartolo frequently ponders
these and why squirrels don’t wear pants, kitten sweaters, and other mysteries of life, especially when he is sitting outside of the principal’s office (again) waiting to be disciplined (again). It seems not everyone in Oaxaca is charmed by his lovable scamp persona. As an opener, something like this would work better. It’s fitting what an agent expects to see – hook first – and getting the humor into the traditional query format at the same time.
Oswaldo, conversely, is a bowtie-wearing, five-dollar-word-spewing, mostly homeschooled, fifteen-going-on-fifty unabashed nerd-for-life who possesses a charming naiveté and a complete inability to be cool for even five seconds, despite his slight British accent. Cute.
Their Odd Couple-esque friendship solidifies when the first colossal Olmec head discovered in fifteen years is uncovered in nearby Veracruz, causing shocking history surrounding Oswaldo’s only living family member, his elderly grandfather and legal guardian, to come to light. This is a very convoluted sentence, break this down. Soon the two boys find themselves–with the help of Alonzo’s older sister, Xochitl–racing to find the scattered pages of an ancient Hispanic codex that has the power to stop the Olmec gods from enslaving the people of Oaxaca and Veracruz as they did almost three thousand years ago. I’d cut the mention of the older sister since it’s producing a “name soup” situation, and consider limiting you place name mentions to a single one for the same reason. Also, we need to know what the connection between the discovery of the head and the resurrection of the Olmec heads is.
Can this trio of misfits reassemble the codex before the final colossal heads are uncovered and the Olmec gods regain power? As the author I’m predicting that they will, but you can weigh in on that if you have strong feelings one way or another. Cute, but ending with a question isn’t a good idea in general. Honestly I think you can cut this entire para, as you’re ending with a good stinger above.
Oswaldo and the Giant Heads is the first in a duology and is complete at 72,000 words. Middle grade and young adult readers Cool… but is this MG or YA? Definitely pick one way or the other, and if you get in front of an agent who feels that it has a better sell chance in a different age range, you can adapt then who enjoy mythology-themed adventures by authors such as Nancy Farmer and Rick Riordan will like this story, as well as immigrant and Latino readers who are eager for stories with relatable characters from this underrepresented region of the Americas.