Okay. Sorry I'm late this morning, I had to drop my daughter off for her AP Lit exam this morning. I'm a little nervous, but I'm sure she'll do fine.
Anyway, here we have Hannah's query again, this time with my feedback, in blue.
Being a fellow fan of anything horror, I think you’ll really enjoy my supernatural, YA horror.
I don't really critique the personalization part of query letters, because they're usually changed for each specific submission, but I do think you need one more word at the end here. Maybe "supernatural, YA horror manuscript?" Do you see why I say that? I hope it makes sense.
When seventeen-year-old Zachariah Malone faces an obstacle he can’t take out with his fists, he must find out if he’s battling an evil entity or if he belongs in a straight-jacket.
Hmm. At first glance, this isn't bad. We've got character, we've got what seems to be an inciting incident, and we've got maybe even a sadistic choice. But ... this is vague. An obstacle he can't take out with his fist is awesome for characterizing your protagonist, but it's not so great for describing your conflict. I completely understand that you're probably going to get to it in the next paragraph, but you have to be very careful, because lack of specificity is the bane of all good query letters.
After years of being bullied, Zach finally learns how to defend himself. How? Like he meets a mentor who teaches him to box? Or he studies Muay Thai? Be specific. When Zach is caught fighting on school grounds (again), he makes a deal with the school counselor: stop his confrontations and attend an advanced art class instead of risking suspension. Something about this wording feels off. Maybe it's the "risking." Seems to me he would definitely get suspended for fighting, so maybe it should be "attend an advanced art class instead of serving suspension." The problem is, he doesn’t do art. But he’ll try anything that puts him in close proximity to Jennifer Drake and, most importantly, distract him from the voice in his head. This is pretty good. It's more characterization, the potential for romance, and a rising of the stakes, since we're beginning to understand a little more about the main conflict. However, again I think you can be more specific. What does the voice in Zach's head say?
Because the voice in his head has a name: Alice. She feeds his isolating thoughts with others’ secrets, as if he needed one more thing to make him an outsider. Okay. See? This is good. This is really good. The only problem is that it kind of makes everything that comes before it wasted words. I would consider working this detail into your opening hook. I'll try to share an example below. And not even Zach’s growing relationship with Jen is enough to distract him from the idea that he’s saying goodbye to his sanity. So the voice is something new to him? I think you can clear a lot of this up with a new opening hook. When he learns there might be a connection between Alice and a series of disappearances, he starts to wonder if maybe Alice is more than just his mind steering him towards a padded cell.
When Zach wakes with blood on his hands, he races to discover the truth. What does this mean? He races where? If you don't mean literally, then consider being more specific about what Zach does to investigate the missing people. Soon the police begin to suspect him in the disappearances, and Zach must decide if he’ll fight to prove his innocence, or run from a crime Alice is beginning to convince him he committed. This last sentence is pretty effing boss though. Well done.
TO FACE BENEATH is a dark, psychological YA Horror complete at 60,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Christopher Pike and The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. I don't like these simple, direct comparisons. I get why they're used, but I think people should try to be a little more subtle in their wording. Something like "I believe it would appeal to fans of the psychological questions posed in The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith, and (whatever is unique about) Monster, by Christopher Pike" (mention a specific book, if you can).
Thank you for your time and consideration.
So, in summary: this query isn't bad. You've got all the elements there, you just need to re-arrange them, and bring as many specifics into the letter as you can.
Here is an example of how your opening hook could be re-written:
"Seventeen-year-old Zachariah Malone has an easy answer for most of his problems: his fists. But, when the evil entity who calls herself Alice starts feeding him other people's secrets by forcing her voice into his head, Zach must investigate a series of disappearances so that he can determine whether he’s truly battling a demonic spirit or if he simply belongs in a straight-jacket."
I know, it's way long, and I'm sure you can do better, but hopefully you see my point about how specificity can really pack more punch when it comes to your opening hook.
Otherwise, I think the ending of this query, in particular, is quite good. You'd have to change some things in the middle, if you went with my hook, since the specifics of the voice would already be revealed, but really, that's fine. You don't want to keep secrets in a query, except for maybe withholding the very end of the book.
What do you all think? Disagree with me on anything?