The Saturday Slash

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.

Mark Biderman is on the verge of getting what he’s always wanted: publication by a big literary house. Unfortunately, his wife, Denise, promises to divorce him if he goes through with it. Why? What’s the connection? Mark loves Denise but knows there’s a special corner of hell reserved for people who renege on their heart’s desire to keep the peace. Is there? That’s a very specific corner of hell. I can’t imagine it heavily populated. And I had to untie the sentence to figure out who was assigned to this corner – him or her. 

If HarperCollins publishes his memoir, Mark and Denise’s private life will be paraded before strangers. Well, yeah, but how many? Memoirs don’t typically explode. It might help put more vavoom on this if we know what is in the memoir that 1) makes it publishable and 2) his wife doesn’t want in public. He owes his wife better. Already he’s worn her out on his quest for personal fulfillment with stints as (a?) lawyer, clown, musician, entrepreneur, and teacher.

That last one, teacher, almost sank them. Mark’s South Bronx principal, Ms. Rodriquez, fired him, leaving Denise the sole breadwinner, and Mark with enough rage to clog the Alaska pipeline. No picnic for Denise when she learned that Mark had leaned on another woman to get through it all. Not a complete sentence… also why was he fired? And “leaned on another woman?” – He had an affair? Is that what she doesn’t want people to know?

Chastened, and armed with new clarity, Mark vies to regain Denise’s trust. Confusing timeline – after the affair? Isn’t that already in the past? Is the affair in the memoir? What’s the connection? He also sweats out a face-to-face with Principal Rodriquez to help a friend. Why? What friend? We have no connection to this to know why it matters. No monster there, just an ex-boss who chased him from where he didn’t belong. Confused on the point of this sentence.

Mark is sure that he must betray either his wife or himself: publish the book or hold onto the only woman he has ever truly loved. But forgiving Ms. Rodriquez frees him in an unexpected way.

We definitely need clarity on the connection between the book, his wife, and Ms. Rodriquez. Right now this reads like a series of unconnected things and the reader can’t inuit from this query what holds them all together.

2 thoughts on “The Saturday Slash

  1. Hi Mindy, Thanks for your great critique of my query above. One general question: Does a query always have to begin with a hook? I'm finding that my query is more easily understood if I do not begin it with the hook as follows:

    Mark Biderman has worn out his wife, Denise, on his quest for personal fulfillment with stints as lawyer, clown, musician, entrepreneur, and teacher. But “writer” is the calling he’s really gunning for.

    His stretch as a teacher almost sank them. Mark’s South Bronx principal, Ms. Rodriquez, fired him, leaving Denise the sole breadwinner, and Mark with enough rage to clog the Alaska pipeline. No picnic for Denise when she learned that he had conducted an emotional affair with another woman during this stretch.

    Mark pens a personal essay for the New York Times that goes viral leading to an offer by a big literary house to write a memoir in the style of his much-tweeted piece. The article arouses an intense response from people tired of working soul-crushing jobs. Denise knows that Mark’s memoir includes his affair and promises to divorce him if publishes it.

    Chastened, and armed with new clarity, Mark vies to regain Denise’s trust. He also sweats out a face-to-face with his adversary, Principal Rodriquez, to assist a friend. Rodriquez was no monster he decides — just a woman who chased him from where he didn’t belong.

    Mark is certain that he must betray either his wife or himself: publish the book or hold onto the only woman he has ever truly loved. But forgiving his ex-boss frees him in an unexpected way.

  2. I'd say cut the para that begins ” chastened” – right now you've got a little bit of a synopsis feel going, and that's no what you need. Same with the last line, “But forgiving…” if you cut those, it will eliminate that feel.

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