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!)


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

  1. Becky Taylor January 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    Great post.

    With my first book, one thing I really had a difficult time doing was, succinctly, saying WHAT my book was about.

    With my next book (now mercifully agented) I learned a ton about really knowing WHAT I was writing about before I started filling pages. It made writing the query so much easier. In a query, I really think agents are looking to see: main character, setting, set up, and the inciting incident that sets the conflict in motion.

  2. Misha January 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I haven’t even started with my query, but I did find the tips enlightening.

    And thanks for the link. 🙂

  3. Stina Lindenblatt January 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    I swear you’re becoming a regular feature on my Friday posts, Laura. This is another ourstanding post. I would link it now, but a number of people will miss it if I do.

    Brilliant advice as always!!!!!!

  4. Laura January 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Becky – first novels are like that! I like to go back and read my first attempts – just for fun!

    Misha – Soak in all the query tips now and when you’re ready to write one, you’ll be surprised at how much you know!

    Stina – That was my goal – to get on your Friday links! 😉

  5. anne gallagher January 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Great Post. I found after writing 10 thousand drafts of queries 1,2,& 3 I can write them with my eyes closed. Unfortunately, I think it’s my book writing that needs help. Ugh.

  6. Jennifer Hoffine January 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Great post. I see, “Too much telling or being too vague.” as the most common mistake.

    I also think voice and tone can be more of a subconscious act for some when writing, which can make it difficult to translate those things to query form. It needs to happen, but it is difficult.

  7. Susan R. Mills January 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I really had to work hard to get emotion into my query.

  8. Laura January 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Anne – Yes writing a super query first is one thing but following up with a great manuscript is totally different!

    Jennifer – I agree, sometimes the voice is more subtle. And sometimes the story is high concept enough that that is enough. It depends.

    Susan – I struggle with adding emotion too!

  9. Kris January 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Great post Laura! It’s so important to make sure your query is as strong as your book!

  10. Lisa Green January 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Great assessment. I’ll go tweet!

  11. Patti Nielson January 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Like Stina said, you’re advice is awesome and makes me want to go revisit my query.

  12. Cindy R. Wilson January 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    This post is really interesting to me because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think I have the hardest time with the showing not telling part and it makes my summary boring. In my new WIP, I’ve been reminding myself that sometimes less is more and I hope that reflects in my query with this one once I get to it.

  13. Carolyn Abiad January 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    These are great tips! I’m reworking my query right now and struggling with what to cut. In fact, it’s up on Matt Rush’s blog ( today for a critique. After spending all that time on the MS, I’m finding I need to shift gears for query writing, because it’s a completely different skill!

  14. Angela Felsted January 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    When writing a query? Ugh, I hate queries! Am I allowed to admit that? It takes me forever to write them plus, I have to throw away 99.999% of my drafts. Very frustrating.

  15. Jill Kemerer January 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Yes. All of the above! You’re so right that our query needs to reflect our voice and skill. Another important thing is to match the tone to the genre.

    • Laura January 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

      Thanks everyone for commenting. This post was not so much a result of me wanting to share my breadth of query knowledge (Ha!) It was my realization that writing in a query often does reflect the writing in our manuscript, whether we want to believe that or not. Ya know? I didn’t want to believe it. I do now.

  16. Lydia K January 28, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Such important points! I’m going to have to work on my query soon…gah. It makes me nervous.

  17. Jemi Fraser January 29, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    Great advice!! Query writing isn’t easy – but it isn’t impossible either! 🙂

  18. Kelly Polark January 29, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    Excellent advice, Laura!
    I struggled with the beginning hook the most. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of critiques on my query that have really helped a lot. I think it just might be ready. I’m going to look it over again with these suggestions. This is a really great query post!

  19. Amie Kaufman January 29, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Wow, what great advice, thank you so much! I’m wrestling with my first drafts of my query right now, I’ll be going through it with this in mind.

  20. Laura Marcella January 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    I haven’t written one yet so I’m keeping these tips for future reference!

  21. Jennifer Shirk January 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    This is an excellent reminder of what we need to showcase in our query!

    I especially loved: “If your query isn’t peppered with strong words – good chance your writing isn’t either.”

  22. Margo Berendsen January 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    I haven’t yet taken a stab at a query. And I know I should, because I do believe it helps to formulate a query before you even start (or soon after starting) a first draft because it’ll keep your writing on focus!

    Need to do this! Why do I keep putting it off? It’s only 250-300 of the most carefully picked words in the world. 🙂

  23. Sherrie Petersen January 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    These are great tips. It took me so long to write a good query. Honestly, by the time my query was good, I was on to the next book! At least for the next book, the query was better sooner 🙂

  24. Sher January 31, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    I haven’t written one yet but I’m going to bookmark this for when I do : )

  25. Julie Musil January 31, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Oh Paula, I’m in the thick of this right now. I’m tweaking and refining my query right now, and it makes me so nervous! Excellent points about using these small amount of words to pack a punch.


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