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!)