The Saturday Slash

Axe2 clip artMeet 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 blue.

When Minnesota farm wife Emma Gustafson throws herself into a pond to save her young son, the only thing that keeps her from sinking to the bottom is a fast-talking, charismatic grifter named Brooks Davis. Emma survives, but it’s too late for her boy. Now all she wants is to get her life back on track after a tragedy that happened on her watch.

Pretty good start! I feel like you’re hitting all the beats here, although it feels a bit odd to have the obvious romance / appeal of Brooks immediately followed by the loss of the child. I know those two things will play together to form the plot, but it almost feels like a meet cute and then it’s like, oh, but… not… so… cute…

With her baby gone and her marriage headed for the rocks, Emma is drawn to her rescuer. When she spots Brooks in a hotel bar she over drinks I’d say has too much to drink instead. Over drinks almost sounds like oversleeping, which isn’t quite what happened here. and ends up in her room with him. In the morning she discovers that Brooks has taken off with the bonus harvest money her husband, Nathaniel has entrusted her to deposit. Later, when Brooks turns up murdered, Emma suspects Nathaniel who in a night of confrontation spills his version of the story.

Emma doesn’t know what to believe. Is it a question of what to believe? I think we need to know what Nathaniel’s version of the story is. She tries to cope by doing what Nathaniel does, never discussing the accident or their feelings and living their routine on the farm as if their child never existed. But guilt over the accident and the hurts and failures of her marriage haunt her. When Emma helps her sister move to Minneapolis, she makes excuses to stay even though she realizes that Nathaniel’s objection could be their final blow.

But it is here, in an old mansion, a boarding house for young women, the use of boarding house is the first indication that this is historical. It’s important to get genre detail in here earlier that Emma meets Miss Adeline, a cantankerous old landlady. An unlikely candidate, Miss Adeline becomes her mentor in a risky but rewarding search for self. At twenty-six, time is still on Emma’s side to start over. Can she pick up the pieces of her marriage and begin fresh with Nathaniel in the country? Or, will she leave it all behind and become the independent working girl in the city, a dream that had tempted her before she fell in love and had a baby. Technically this is another question and needs a question mark… but I’d skip adding the question mark and instead find a better way to end this than with a rhetorical question.

Emma’s Folly is women’s fiction/historical with romantic elements complete at 94,196 words. For word count, round it up (or down). In this case, simply say it’s 94,000 words.

Readers who will enjoy this book also like the domestic realism of Jane Smiley’s, A Thousand Acres, and the Iowa Trilogy as well as the stories of Anne Tyler that end with a sense of peace, if not happiness and whose characters are often distinguished by their quirks. I don’t know the genre to know well enough if these are good comp titles, but I do know that Emma didn’t come across as quirky in this query. Is it that big of an element that it needs mentioning with comp titles? And if it is, it definitely needs to be present sooner.

In a previous life, I worked as an editor for Mademoiselle Magazine. I’m a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. Thank you for your time, and I hope you will consider Emma’s Folly for your list.

Great bio. Overall, this is in pretty good shape. Get a historical mention in there sooner, clarify what Nathaniel’s stance is, and sharpen up that ending with something other than a rhetorical.

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