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.
Arcad is an island-kingdom where the word Possession has a singular meaning. Meaning that possession only has one meaning? I get that’s what you’re saying, but (ironically) the word singular has more than one meaning so this is a slightly confusing hook. The Possessed are taken forcibly to King Treista’s castle, a journey from which no one returns, dead or alive. Ten years ago, apprentice-potter Kumi’s brother was Possessed and her grief-stricken mother took her own life. When her father too is taken to Treista’s castle, Kumi determines to discover his fate with the help of Lillian of Sallika, the greatest living witch. Okay, not bad. But I did get a little giggle out of referring to her as a living witch, as opposed to… a dead one?
Kumi arrives in Sallika to find the city-state in upheaval. A plebiscite I’m a pretty smart person, but I had to Google plebiscite. The simpler your query, the better. A power hungry priest has taken leadership? Okay has catapulted a demagogic priest into power. Witches and mages are arrested by authorities and murdered by mobs. Resistance is impossible because using magic to harm humans is the ultimate taboo. But can’t they resist without using magic?
Kumi’s need gives Lillian a way out. Together they journey to Arcad where Lillian uncovers what what Possession means. King Treista plans to conquer the world through a system of mind-control. Lillian realizes that stopping him is the greater priority, especially since Kumi’s father has become a minister to the king. Kumi, though, cares nothing about saving worlds. She just wants to take her father home. If Lillian is not willing to help her, she will try on her own, even if it means putting herself, Lillian and their world in peril.
So, the thing that’s not working here is that the middle paragraph appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the plot, other than being the reason why Lillian is willing to leave Sallika to go with Kumi. If what’s going on in Sallika has any plot tie to the King and Possession, that needs to be clarified. If it doesn’t, even mentioning the plebiscite, the priest, and the magical purge, only takes word space away from the real plot – Arcad, the King, Kumi’s father, etc. – which honestly, could use a little more oomph.
Is there friction between Lilian and Kumi because of their differing goals and motivations? Is Kumi terrified about what’s going on, or is she marching off with her chin in the air and her hand in a fist? Use your query to get small clues about character as well as plot involved.