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.
Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Cutler has blood on his hands and a hellhound on his trail. I am so listening right now. Ephraim hunts and tends crops these are two separate actions but the phrasing can be read as he "hunts and tends crops," like, he finds them, then tends them. Not, he hunts animals and also tends crops. Try saying instead that he relies on hunting and farming to care for himself and his mother, who has been slowly going insane since the death of her husband in the Civil War. Fiercely loyal, Ephraim does his best to hide her madness from the neighbors, but small-town folk tend to talk. Very good.
When Ephraim’s mother coerces him into killing an innocent Yankee veteran maybe a little reasoning here... if he knows she's a little nuts and yet he still follows through on killing someone for her, we kind of need to know why... otherwise he comes off as seeming a bit simple. Does he think he's protecting her? Their property?, he finds himself in a whirlwind of tribulation. News of his crime spreads through their isolated Appalachian community like a plague. With a bounty on his head, Ephraim flees to the hills and hollers. There, on the darkest night of his life, he is tracked and bitten by a beast that can smell his guilt—the devil’s own hound.
Desperate to redeem himself, Ephraim is torn between two clashing figures: Barefoot Nancy, a granny doctor rumored to be a witch—and Reverend Boggs, the local preacher. He must decide who to trust, evade the hangman’s noose, and spare his true love’s heart—all before the hellhound’s bite poisons his soul.
This sounds awesome and fun and the query is really well done. The only thing I have to say is that the sudden entrance of love and romance there at the end kind of threw me for a loop because there was no mention of any such thing until the very last sentence. Overall though, this is very well done and I'd totally be drawn in by this if I were an agent.
Some Dark Holler (70,000 words) is an Appalachian gothic, fantasy YA. It is the first book in a planned series. Possible hangup there, hopefully it has the ability to stand alone. Usually the best route is to call it a standalone with series potential. However, only say this if that is, in fact, true.