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 write to submit a query for my historical novel The Peddler of Wisdom, a stand-alone narrative at 80k words. Typically, I suggest starting with your hook. Agents can assume you are writing them to query, and titles and word counts aren’t going to grab them. I always say start with what makes you unique.
Widowed many years, protagonist Irene works as a traditional healer wouldn’t she just be referred to as a healer? Only in a contemporary setting would her healing be called traditional in the tiny French village of St. Dalmas le Selvage. Being single and plying a trade are scandals indeed for a woman in the 16th century, even more so when Irene talks to pre-Christian spirits I don’t think you need the pre-Christian phrase here. Talking to spirits in general can be viewed as non-Christian (typically) and again, she herself wouldn’t identify them as pre-Christian for guidance. One midwinter morning a hunting party arrives from the Provencal coast. Within hours these soldiers seize the village, dynamite the bridge, and storm the medieval castle. The invader, Duke Domenico, prince of Sardinia, has been plundering towns throughout the Mediterranean and has set his eyes on St. Dalmas’ salt mine,
salt having huge value during Renaissance trade.
Irene knows Duke Domenico must be assassinated or expelled. With the help of the duke’s own physician, heart-throb alchemist, Juaquino Durande, she builds a puppet ghost to haunt the paranoid duke, who has enfeebled himself with mercury experimentation and the attendant kidney failure and hallucinations. He won’t go without a fight, however, and sends into the fray a mechanical warrior, a brass automaton empowered with the magic of a homunculus summoned from the lab. The Renaissance monsters burn down half the mountainside in their battle and no Sardinians survive, but Irene and Durande will build a new town on St. Dalmas’ ashes. Cool. This sounds like fun.
The Peddler of Wisdom will remind fans of Elena Ferrante how even rural peasants should have access to careers and as Margeret George’s Confessions of a Young Nero describes, tyranny will not last where there are educated women. Indeed, my village of St. Dalmas plays host to such enlightened moments as the arrival of the telescope, New World trade, the specialization of surgery, and the use of kitchen gardens as healing agents. Like The Golem and the Jinni, my story animates an era customarily describing men and fills those roles with everyday women.
I think you would do better to infuse the progressive ideas that you summarize here in this last paragraph into the query itself. As it stands, it feels like a checklist of cool stuff, not elements that are actually incorporated into the plot.