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.
IN A WORLD where advanced telekinesis is just a video tutorial away, Katie Johnson stands alone, except for a small posse of an empath, a mentalist, a precog, and an extremely photogenic ostrich – against the forces of darkness. Okay, this is definitely cute. The voice is great, just make sure that this same infusion of humor is present throughout the story. If you’re going to go all out with a voice-y query, be sure it matches the voice of the book it represents. (And by forces of darkness of course we mean a frog faced paranormal professor threatening her 4.0 GPA at Psychic college, an evil stepmother threatening her sanity, and an obnoxious group of student Kinetics she’s about ready to threaten with a fist right in their faces.) In what way does Katie stand alone? Has she avoided said tutorials and is not kinetic while everyone else is? And what’s her motivation for abstaining?
Little did she suspect that during the course of her relatively mundane daily life, she really would accidentally, possibly, save …her school? Whatever, that counts. This wanders into unspecific territory. Is her life truly mundane? What is the threat to her school?
When Dean Yoshida of the Institute for Paranormal Science, the greatest precog in the nation, predicts not just the closure of their school, but the ostracism of psychics everywhere, all that stands between her friends and disaster is an invention Katie never even knew she could make. How – specifically – does this invention help them, and why is it such a surprise that she could make it?
She’s got until the school pageant to figure this out, and there’s no telling if she’ll make it in time when that mundane life of hers keeps interfering in very non-mundane ways. Again. Specifics. You’ve got the voice threaded throughout, which is good. What’s bad is that I walk away from this query not having any idea what the plot is.
Energy is a 94k word, humorous, sci-fi coming of age story set in a college in the near future. It’s the first in a planned trilogy. In the same universe, I also have planned a five-book series.
Wow. You just did an amazing job of alienating just about every agent with that first line. Here’s why — 94k is really long for a book that feels plot-light but voice-heavy (if we go by the query). It’s also going on long for a humorous book, SF elements aside. And “set in a college” is not going to do you any favors. Technically, that’s the arena of New Adult, and NA only tends to succeed well in romantic and / or heavily sexed books – which this does not seem to be. Is there any reason this can’t be YA?
I’d also work hard to make sure this can stand alone, but have series potential. Again, there’s not a lot of plot that I can see here in this query, so I don’t see how it can hold up a trilogy. Then you mention five more books set in the same world, and you just pitched 8 books set somewhere that I guarantee you the agent isn’t sold on yet. Pare your word count down by as much as 25k if possible, considering shifting the setting to a high school, and get more plot into this query – I know it’s got to be there if you wrung 94k words out of it.