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.
Allii (Princess Albalia of Sallonia) spent the first seventeen years of her life closeted in her father’s castle, studying plants and rocks to fill the long hours. Then her beloved step mother is murdered and Allii is accused of killing her. Now she is on the run from her father’s justice
and her father’s soldiery, with only a daemon dog for company. Good hook, and I love the twist that she actually loved her stepmother – that’s nice to see! Only tweak would be to strike what I ran through above, to get rid of “father’s” echo.
Allii is determined to uncover the real killers, bring them to justice echo here from “justice” in hook and clear her name. But her quest takes an unexpected turn when she discovers that everything she thought she knew about herself was a lie. She is not a Sallonian princess but a Halfling bastard. Her parents loved each other but couldn’t marry because Sallonian law forbids any interaction between her father’s people and her mother’s people. Her mother didn’t die in childbed but was killed in an accident while fleeing Sallonia with the baby Allii. Her father had been trying to divorce her childless stepmother when she was poisoned. He is desperate for an heir because he doesn’t want his despised cousin to succeed him. His chief minister and his chief priest start searching for a new queen before the old one has been buried. So this entire paragraph – and therefore the bulk of the query – covers backstory. This doesn’t tell us what actually happens in the book and to Allii… this tells us more about her father and mother than her.
As Allii digs deeper into the past, she begins to wonder whether uncovering the truth will release her from her travails or lead her to a worse bondage. But she has no choice, not if she wants to stop her father’s people from unleashing a war of annihilation on her mother’s people. So you’re telling us what she discovers and what is at risk, but not how she discovers these things, or what true danger she’s in. This whole story could unfurl while she’s reading old texts in a library, which – while realistic – would make for a pretty boring book. I don’t know what her “travails” are because all I heard about is what happened to her mom – and stepmom.
Murder is easy (complete at 110,000 words) is a standalone YA fantasy novel with series potential. That’s a hefty word count, even for a fantasy. You get more room to play with world building in fantasy, but as a debut you’ll want to pare it down to under 100k.