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.

Twenty-four-year-old Emma likes to play it safe. She prides herself on her good judgment. But one bad decision has led to another since the day in the garden when her eyes wandered from her small son, Jonah, and she survived by being pulled from the muddy pond that killed him. Slightly confusing wording here, as she took her eyes from her son, yet she somehow also ended up in the pond… so she would have dove in after him, thus having seen him again. Now all Emma wants is to feel like herself again, but she can’t quite get there. Thinking that a change of scene might help, her husband Nathaniel entrusts her to deposit their harvest bonus money and take a weekend away with her sister, Jo. In another bad move, Emma arrives at the bank after closing.

When Brooks Davis, a grifter just up from Texas who’d been hired by Nathaniel as a field hand, shows up in the hotel bar where they are staying, Emma is caught off guard. Brooks is the one who saved her life that day with Jonah. Emma is drawn to him. I’d combine some of this information from two choppy sentence into the two previous She overdrinks not a word? and ends up back in her room with Brooks. But before anything can happen between them, she passes out. In the morning Emma discovers that he has taken off with the money.

Emma has no choice but to tell Nathaniel what happened. Nathaniel chases Brooks to South Dakota and returns with the money. When the sheriff shows up with news that Brooks has been found dead, torched in a tee-pee outside of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Emma confronts Nathaniel. Nathaniel is vague at first but later spills his version of the story. Emma must decide if she believes her husband and what the consequences are for her life if she doesn’t.

So – it seems odd that the biggest part of fixing the problems her mistakes have caused (losing the money) is fixed by her husband? It seems like there’s a lot of action that your main character is missing out on by not being present – or at least involved peripherally – in such a pivotal moment. While I know you’re just looking for a query critique, and not a plot breakdown, this is a red flag for me.

Also, I admittedly don’t know much about women’s fiction, but it feels like the plot goes from tragic (dead toddler), to kind of madcap zany (series of mistakes, including a bedroom mishap), to a murder mystery. The tone of the query feels uneven, which will make an agent wonder if the ms suffers from the same. Make sure that the tone of the query accurately represents the manuscript itself.