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.
With a suspended federal prison sentence looming compliments of an ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, Fatál Wood, a third-generation Romani, accepts an almost-legal request to hack the computer system at the small Ohio college where she’s rebuilding her life. Wow, that’s a convoluted sentence. I had to unpack it, which is not good for a hook. What’s the actual hook here that gets the plot moving? The hack? Probably. Anything for her boss, a fellow scorned female who took a chance hiring an ex-con. The previous sentence might not be necessary. But when Fatál bypasses security protocols and hits an unexpected firewall, she discovers the school director is using the network to support his night job: collecting gambling debts. Her discovery leads to a second betrayal, this one by her boss. Fatál is left unemployed and angry, and plotting revenge with her best friend and former co-worker, Carmen.
Okay, so there’s a LOT going on in this first para. We learn that she has prison sentence coming up, yet she’s enrolled in college, has an ex boyfriend, takes a job that uncovers something, gets betrayed again, then ends up plotting revenge. Figure out exactly what elements are important to the actual plot and which are background noise that don’t belong in the query.
But one of the gamblers had double-crossed the director to use the network as a conduit for stolen military secrets, and Fatál inadvertently disrupts his plans. Carmen is hit by a bus – literally – and the stakes jump from a lost paycheck to death. Fatál is framed for the crimes, and she’s caught between rival federal agencies, a suspicious probation officer, and a murderer. She must learn to trust again before her family pays the price for her errors. Fatál marshals her personal geek squad and combines twenty-first century tech savvy with an inherited Gypsy sixth-sense to balance the scales of justice…although not as evenly as she would like.
FATAL ERRORS clocks in at 80K words. Those who enjoy strong females and high-tech intrigue with a more-than-a-cozy mystery will enjoy this story. My many years in computer desktop support – and marriage to a white-hat hacker! – provide the resources to present Fatál’s computer-ese for the layperson. I am a member of Sisters in Crime and teach writing in several venues and formats.
Your second para is pretty strong and your bio is spot-on. My biggest concern is that there are too many character mentions in this query. It clouds the query and leaves the reader sorting out who’s who. Water down, water down, water down. Plot, characters, everything. I know that’s hard with mystery, but that’s the essence of what makes a query work.