Here we go, friends.
So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"
OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC 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.
And a little bit of BBC literary info. 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. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.
And now for our first brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.
Sixteen-year-old Chicago’s stumbled into a secret: her castle home isn’t meant to keep monsters out. It’s meant to keep them in. Not a bad hook, not bad at all. My nitty-nit picks: I'd say "Chicago has." Since our MC's proper name is also a city, it helps for clarity. I almost want to say shorten up the hook by combining with the second stand-alone sentence here (... meant to keep monsters out, but to keep them in). But on a re-read I changed my mind. I like the stand-alone for weight and cadence.
The world outside the castle is barren, heaped high with skeletons, and ravaged by genetically engineered monsters. Years ago they scoured the world with the plague they carried, leaving behind only a handful of survivors living inside a refurbished castle. Venturing into the wilderness means certain death— after all, that’s how her friend Babylon died seven years ago.
Great thoughts and good imagery here in this second section, but I feel like you need to do some re-arranging. I'd start with the idea that Babylon died outside the castle walls, and that's why Chicago is thankful for their presence. Then you roll into the the how and why of Babylon's death and combine some of your ideas here for word count. For example: "... her friend Babylon died at the hands of the monsters who carry the plague that made their land barren." And there you've got all the ideas in one sentence, which will leave you more room to explain some of the things I'm going to talk about next.
At least, that’s what Chicago’s been told. Nice, but extraneous. The hook has already implied that Chicago is being duped.
Yesterday she found a body in the woods, Did she now? That's interesting because I was under the impression she couldn't leave the castle. I'd also drop the "yesterday" it feels like a tense jump within a query. recently killed and unearthed by rain. It’s the right size and shape to be Babylon, Err... but Babylon's been dead seven years... I realize that's not necessarily TRUE, it's what Chicago's been TOLD, but it still makes the query unnecessarily murky. but the people in charge these "people in charge" is very vague. Is this her family? Other survivors? Some kind of provisional government? won’t let her get close enough to learn for certain who it was — or the cause of death. I think the idea of the body is interesting enough to make the query reader follow that the body is what's going to bring Chicago into the questioning phase, not necessarily her suspicion that Babylon is still alive - you can cover that later, and not have to over explain in this already murky paragraph.
Chicago’s determined to learn what really happened. She's warned not to investigate, but that means ignoring fifteen years of lies and the last guy on earth who officially counts as tall, dark and handsome. Unsure of who this "last guy" is. Is it someone from the woods? One of the people in charge? Maybe she should have listened, because now Chicago is blacking out, having seizures, and finding things that shouldn’t even exist. Hmmm... like what? Lighter fluid? Plasma TV's? I'm OK with this sentence until that little tease there. The people who raised her are using machine guns and monkey wrenches when a stern talking-to used to work just fine. This is great - in fact, I like it so much I'd consider using this after "Maybe she should have listened..." because it's got more punch than the line currently there.
Because Chicago knows that Babylon isn’t dead. In fact, he’s standing in her bedroom right now. Here's the thing - I thought Babylon was a chick right up until this sentence. Also, the "right now" brings up more tense issues, as "yesterday" did, which pulls the reader out of the place you want them to be. As a sinker, I think you want something stronger.
My thoughts: We're in a post-industrial apocalyptic setting that feels slightly medieval with a parental / adult structure that is keeping our MC in the dark. The monsters on the outside are the icky type, but the monsters inside are the emotionally unstable lying kind. Babylon is actually a dude (get that across sooner) and he likes to hang out in our MC's bedroom so there's a romance going on too. What I'm not getting is - what's our MC's goal? What's the main conflict here? Find the truth? We know that it's not to save Babylon, because he's alive. Is he still in some kind of danger because of the truth?
Jump in my fellow readers. Do you think I'm right, wrong or living in the gray areas in between? Our first willing victim threw herself out there - let's help her!