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.
Freja first experienced a claustrophobic attack when her aunt was sentenced to death. It’s an interesting hook, but it sounds more like an anxiety attack than true claustrophobia if it came on suddenly. Still plagued by the memory, Freja dives into the planet-wide ocean if it’s planet-wide how does she dive into it? Wouldn’t she require something to dive off of? to escape the constant torment of her underwater home. Confusing. She dove into the ocean to escape her underwater home? Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply say she ran away? Too bad the o-mask doesn’t protect her from the toxicity of the water. Or from her dead aunt’s voice. Definitely confused when it comes to world building. She lives underwater yet requires a mask, so are there underwater cities that are built for humankind? When you say she dives into the ocean you mean that she left her home, right? Definitely clarify. Right now it’s foggy. And why would she leave if she knows the water is toxic?
Freja thinks she’s imagining it until her dead aunt leaves messages on her task screen so she’s out in the massive ocean wearing only a mask? warning of sabotage and murder. When she overhears the cloister leader So she didn’t leave? She’s back home? Did the toxicity of the water drive her back? whispering about the same things behind closed doors, Freja searches for evidence. She abhors the cloister, but she won’t stand idle while something — or someone — attacks her home. It is, unfortunately, still the only habitable place left on the planet. This is the first real grounding we get for setting in this query. Unfortunately the plot is still really murky – she’s getting these warnings of sabotage and murder, but sabotage of what, and murder of who? Why does she hate the cloister and her home life so much, especially if it’s the only place to live? We need reasons.
To assist her, Freja recruits her best friend and partner-in-crime: Markus. He helps unravel their leader’s secrets until an accident puts him in a coma. He may know the last piece of information needed to expose the truth and rescue their home, but the cloister leader refuses to heal him. With magic, or medicine? To save Markus and protect the cloister, Freja will have to break stricter laws than ever before. But, in doing so, she’ll risk death by removal from the cloister. So what? She already left once of her own volition. Just like her dead aunt. Is she actually dead if she’s receiving these messages?
SUBMERGED is a young adult science fiction novel complete at 84,000 words. It will appeal to fans of the TV show Ascension and Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us.
Right now you’re being too vague about what the secret is. The biggest job of a query is to set the stakes – what’s at risk? The only habitable place on the planet, okay. But WHY would anyone want to attack / sabotage such a place unless they are located elsewhere? Is it the only habitable place? Is that part of the plot? Don’t be cagey in a query – tell us who the bad guy is, what their goal is, and how the protag is going to try to stop them.
You’re opening with an attack of some sort, but that doesn’t actually seem to be key to the plot. Freja hates her home (why?) but can’t leave (clarify) yet becomes the unlikely savior of it because… her dead aunt says so? It sounds like you have an interesting setting for an SF – spruce up the query to get the plot across.