Meet my Hatchet of Death. 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 me an email.
The first line of a query is your hook, and it really needs to work. You want it to punch your reader 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 intimidated by my blade, 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.
Because of your interest in found families, vivid world-building, and swoony romance, you might enjoy FIRE AND LIGHT, a 70,000 word young adult fantasy with diverse characters and multiple POVs. FIRE AND LIGHT is the first part of a duology and may be enjoyed by readers of Children of Blood and Bone and The Wrath and the Dawn. You might know what I’m going to say… everything you have here is great. You’ve tailored the query, you’ve got a good word count, your comp titles are solid. But you’re querying a duology. YA fantasy is extremely cramped right now. If there is any way whatsoever to make this a standalone, go with that option.
The vana chara are storytellers, or liars. Thieves, or performers. Artists, or charlatans. I like what you’re doing here, but can you be more clear – are they one or the other depending on who you ask? Or are they actually both? And possibly keepers of the world’s magic, a dangerous resource locked away by the gods long ago. Anais is vana chara, but she doesn’t believe in magic, until the prince burns her village to the ground searching for the key she unwittingly stole. Right now you’re being very vague – the world’s (what world?) the prince (what prince?). You don’t want name soup, but you also don’t want to be so vague as to make this interchangeable with any world, or any prince. Also, a little bit more about this key might be good. Do you mean a literal key?
Sander sacrificed everything—his home, his family, his future—when he took the sacred oath as Protector of magic, determined to prevent humanity’s violent nature from taking hold of the world again. When he meets Anais, he is immediately drawn to her, despite the lies dripping from her lips. Is he one of her people? Why does he view her as a liar? This goes back to the question from before – are they actually liars, or just viewed as such?
To save the vana chara from the prince’s persecution and prevent magic from being released into the world, Anais and Sander embark on a journey in search of a powerful ally. Along the way, Sander’s oath is tested when protecting Anais becomes more important to him than stopping the prince, and Anais must choose between saving her people or keeping magic from the hands of a tyrant.
Right now this feels like we need more specifics in order to make it stand out. Why is magic deemed too dangerous to be used? What is the prince after the key? Does he want the magic? For what purpose? Why would protecting Anais interfere with Sander’s oath to protect magic as well? What are the circumstances that make Anais have to choose between her people and the magic defense?
There’s a fine line between being too vague, and too detailed in a query. Right now you are too close to being vague. This could be any fantasy story – there are two people, there is a bad prince, there is magic, there are conflicting emotions and choices. That is about all there really is here in this query. Give us more specifics about how your story is different by answering the my questions above.
I work with young people regularly as a high school English teacher and coordinator of a nonprofit youth empowerment program, serving immigrant and marginalized populations. My claim to fame is that one of my students read and loved my manuscript! I hold a BA in English and a Master’s in Education, and I am also a member of SCBWI.