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Laura Pauling | Category Archive | Query letters
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How to query with confidence.

Your manuscript sits. Waiting. Polished to a shine. Ready to go. Just a week ago you put the last bit of spit shine on it. Your mouse hovers over send. With one click your dreams could come true.

Stop. Right. There.

For some that might work. Go ahead and try it if you want.

Remember my posts about confidence and staying in a place of encouragement? Letting your manuscript sit for 4-6 weeks is a great way to do it. It sounds like a long time but…

  • This will give you perspective on your story and your query letter.
  • Use the time to research agents and get your list ready.
  • Start brainstorming and prewriting and plotting your next story!
  • Use the time to read, study and grow in craft.

After the 4-6 weeks, read through your story one more time. You’ll know if you’re ready to query. You might even catch an embarrassing typo on the first page.

It’s so hard to focus on plotting your story or writing when rejections are rolling in or you have full requests. But if you already feel that excitement about your new project and have the first few chapters written – the rejections are much easier to take. (I didn’t say easy – just easier.)

Guess what I’m doing? I’m letting my current wip sit until August. Who’s with me?

How long do you wait? Should we take into consideration the market? Is there ever a time to rush your submission?

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Number one reason to memorize your pitch.

First, I’m sure you’re all dying to know whether I wore my daughter’s white lace headband over the weekend.

I didn’t. Even though she begrudgingly granted me permission to wear it. Plain and simple it didn’t look right on me. #nowthatwegotthatoutoftheway

What I will never forget from New England SCBWI:

  • Cheering for Kris Asselin’s nonfiction published books during the Books Published This Year slideshow.
  • Spending time with my crit partners: Kris, Jen, and Ansha.
  • Hanging with Heather Kelly from Edited to Within an Inch of My Life.
  • Meeting blogger and writer Alicia Gregoire even though she looked totally different in person. #lovetomeetfellowbloggers  #she’sreallynice
  • The worst stomachache I’ve ever had because of my complete nervous freak out before my query critique with the Incredibly Nice Agent. I couldn’t eat dinner and it didn’t go away until the next day. #i’msoprofessional
  • The incredible spot-on critiques I received on my query and first ten pages.
  • The Starbucks coffee.  #wishicouldblameitformystomachache

My top two moments:

1. By Sunday morning my brain was fried and my words weren’t exactly matching my thoughts. Over coffee, Alicia and I were talking about kidlit courses in college. I mentioned one of my favorite books. And this is what I said:

Where the Red Fern Groans.  #noidon’twriteerotica  #iswear

2. My impromptu verbal pitch with Incredibly Nice Agent.

Joyce thought she was being real cute and invited Incredibly Nice Agent over to talk with a group of writers.  #iwantedtorun

Five seconds into the conversation, she asked if he was up for a verbal pitch from all of us.  My stomachache returned immediately!

While I waited for my turn, my heart almost pounded through my chest. I think it echoed throughout the lobby. I panicked trying to remember my first line. Even though I was terrified, I did it.

Even though we all threw Joyce our death stares, we all agreed it turned out to be an amazing opportunity to practice our pitches with an incredibly gracious agent, who was put on the spot. Thank you Joyce and Incredibly Nice Agent.

Always memorize your pitch!

What’s your best, worst, or funniest conference memory?

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Yay! My crit partner signed with an agent – what we can learn from it.

I’m pretty sure you all know at this point who that is – Kris Asselin. She signed with Vickie Motter. Yay! Vickie has a great blog so go check it out and follow her.

And we can all learn from Kris’s experience. But I wanted to share her signing from a crit partner’s pov.

  • Kris has what it takes to make it in this industry. And she has been much too humble in her post on how she got an agent. The girl has skill and talent.
  • Kris is an incredibly fast learner. She picked up and applied elements of craft to her writing in a year what takes most people several to learn. Did she mention The Sweet Spot was her first novel? Yeah. Probably not. It was her first novel. Pretty cool.
  • From the very start Kris had amazing confidence. Not ego, confidence. She didn’t let rejections from high profile agents get her down. After receiving an incredible rejection letter with suggestions – she kept querying. Many would have stopped to rewrite. Many would have given up after the first 20, 30, 40 rejections. Kris kept chugging along. And she found Vickie on her 67th query.
  • She also used wisdom. She didn’t stop to rewrite or look at her query again because she was receiving plenty of requests for partials and fulls. Her query letter was solid. She has mad query letter skills so if you ever get a chance to win a crit from her– go for it!

I remember chatting about a year ago and mentioning that I could totally picture the cover for The Sweet Spot. And hopefully within the next couple years I will. She hit the “sweet spot” in the industry with her sweet story of a girl named Kate – with bunches of romance and mystery thrown in.

What can we learn?

  • Don’t query until you are completely confident in your manuscript.
  • Conversely, don’t keep fiddling with your manuscript until it’s perfect because it never will be.
  • Make sure your query letter is in tiptop shape. Visit forums, ask friends – but get it critiqued.
  • Keep up with industry blogs and interviews with agents.
  • Query widely. Don’t stop. Keep going. No matter how hard the journey.

For me, having my crit partner sign with an agent makes it real. It’s no longer some avatar on Twitter announcing she/he got an agent. It’s someone I know. I read her story and saw it in the infancy stages.

And I’m telling every aspiring writer out there. You can do it. Dreams are possible. Work hard and write. Be inspired.

My 200 followers celebration ends today at noon. The winner to be announced on Wednesday.

And check out Kris’s blog for an AMAZING celebration contest!  You won’t want to miss it.

Congrats and best of luck, Kris!

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Friday 5-Five ways your query reflects the writing in your manuscript. Or not.

Once upon a time, I didn’t really believe the writing in a query reflected the writing in the manuscript.


Voice seems to be the one aspect that will sell a manuscript, or at least catch interest. Not just to the agent, but to the editor, and eventually to the reader. You might be able to get away with a weak voice in your manuscript because you can distract your crit partners with the action, dialogue, and mystery of your story. But in a 250 word query, you’ll be out of luck. No distractions in something that short.

Show your protagonist’s goal and her/his consequences through the eyes and voice of your protagonist.

This could include: certain phrases, vocabulary, sentence structure, emotion…

If your query doesn’t have a strong voice – good chance your writing doesn’t either.

Boring word choice:

This doesn’t mean go through a thesaurus and sub words throughout your query letter. It means use strong verbs and nouns. It means say what you want using the least amount of words possible. Cut out the deadwood. Those words that create no visual image and do nothing but sit there. I know. It’s hard.

If your character/story is dark and mysterious – show it with the words you use.

If your character/story is fun and whimsical – show it.

If your query isn’t peppered with strong words – good chance your writing isn’t either.


It’s easy to write about 300 words and not really say anything at all. The dialogue, if cut out, wouldn’t be missed. The internal thoughts repeat the same thing every chapter. The exposition shares unimportant or boring info. Or something is really funny, so we take the scene farther than we should. Or, we needed to show a certain aspect about a character but the scene isn’t moving the story forward. Ah, the curse of the rambler.

If your query doesn’t get to the point  and stay focused on the main storyline – good chance your writing doesn’t either.

Lack of emotion:

This one is tricky. Your manuscript could be filled with great emotion, but maybe you, or I, haven’t been able to get that across in 250 words. Maybe you tell your emotion instead of showing it, which means there really isn’t much being felt by the reader. You’ve got to be able to show heart in your query. Extremely hard and why we write many, many, many drafts.

If your query doesn’t show the emotion and heart behind your story – good chance your writing doesn’t either. (Remember not to go overboard and get melodramatic.)

Too much telling or being too vague:

Even if you “show” well in your story, remember you must show in your query too. Instead of using too many adjectives, show the character in action. Show the creepiness, without using the word creepy. And don’t use vague phrases to describe your story. Like ‘and secrets were revealed’ or ‘her life was changed forever’. Get specific!

If your query doesn’t show as well as it should or doesn’t use specific, vibrant wording– good chance your writing doesn’t either.

If your manuscript has all the aspects above – make sure your query does too! But then again, if your manuscript contains voice, strong word choice, tight writing, heart, and great showing – good chance your query will too!

I loved reading through the queries featured on The Guide to Literary Agents blog.

What do you struggle with the most when writing a query? (If you didn’t already snag an agent with one!)

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Not your usual query tips.

I don’t even click on tips for writing queries on Twitter. Because. They. All. Say. The. Same. Thing. (Which is fine because new writers need that information.)

Twelve tips I don’t see that often:

  1. Be unconventional (but not as in writing the query from your character’s pov). If you’ve been writing long enough, you’ll know what’s going too far.
  2. Write the blurb for your query before you start your first draft. And make sure you love it.
  3. After you’ve written your query blurb – make it bigger. Make it bolder.
  4. Take that query blurb and write down ten different hooks, obstacles and stakes. You might just find a better story.
  5. Is your main character the least likely personality for the story? If not, make a change.
  6. Instead of telling us about your beloved character, show us through specific details.
  7. Don’t choose boring adjectives to describe your character.
  8. Rewrite your first sentence at least ten times. Use the shortest one that still gets the hook across in your voice. Heck, rewrite the whole thing ten times or more.
  9. Don’t just talk about your story using some snappy lines and sentences. Find a way to bring out the emotion.
  10. List the top ten aspects you love, love, love about your story. Narrow it down to the top three aspects of your story. Include those in your query. (If they have nothing to do with your main character and their goals and conflicts, you might be in trouble.)
  11. If you have any doubts then don’t send it. You only get one chance.
  12. Raise questions in your query but not the confusing kind of questions. The agents should think – Hmm, wonder what could possibly happen next? Instead of – huh?

If you’ve read all the same query posts as me then skip this next part. If you are a new writer and this is the first time on the internet to research query writing and barely know what they are – then please take the time to review the following.

Spell the agent’s name right. No mass queries. No glitter or pink paper. No calling. No sending food. Keep it to one page. Do your research. Don’t over research just to procrastinate. Make sure your name is on the email sent, and not your spouse’s. Personalize. Don’t write it from the pov of your main character. A query is not a synopsis. A query should have a hook, mc’s goal, obstacles, and stakes. Just google and read successful queries. Don’t use your pen name. Should be written with a similar voice as your story. Seriously good luck writing your query. Some people find an agent in two weeks others take ten years. Don’t include boring details about your life unless it’s relevant. Publication in your local paper is not relevant. But research agents even more, in case they like irrelevant details. Don’t be too personal. Don’t brag or compare yourself to someone too famous. Don’t say you’re the next J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyers, even if you think you are. Don’t say your mom loved your story. Shorter is better, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s really about the story. Write it. Let it sit. Let others critique it. Rewrite. Let it sit. Repeat. No humongous blocks of text. Don’t start with a rhetorical question. Don’t be vague with your wording. Don’t include backstory. Wow I’m kinda having fun writing this list. Use strong verbs. No clunky sentences. Write tight. Don’t give away too much. But don’t withhold too much. Always paste in the first five pages unless specifically told not to. Focus on the main character. Don’t use a lot of names it gets confusing. Don’t get into subplots.

So, what did I miss? Do you have any unusual query tips?

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