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?


35 Responses to Not your usual query tips.

  1. Rachael Harrie January 24, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Great (unusual) tips Laura. You’ve covered the bases pretty thoroughly with those I think. Can’t think of anything additional at this stage (though I’m sure I’ll kick myself later when I read your other comments) 🙂


  2. Stina Lindenblatt January 24, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    This is great, Laura. And perfect timing!

    I went to a RWA (romance writers of america) meeting last week where we critted queries. The ladies who critted mine told me to write it in first person. Huh? I gave up explaining why that was wrong. They only write in third person so what was the point?

    I’ve had two other people crit my query, but they ended up making the YA voice go adult (as my one writer friend keeps pointing out). So I’m still working on it. But I ended up doing something that you suggested here, so now I think I’m going in the right direction. 🙂

  3. Katie Anderson January 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    One time I did this query thing with Nathan Bransford, during which he posted like 100 real queries and we were only allowed to request 5 (I guess that’s the ratio of what happens in real life).

    It helped me realize the kind of pitch that got an agent’s attention. For starters, it needed to be SHORT. And I also never liked it when the bio came first, or was too long. I needed the story.

    So, I switched up my own query with a short punchy pitch in one paragraph, followed by a really short bio. And sure enough, I got almost a 100% request rate.

    GREAT tips! Very helpful 🙂

  4. Paul January 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    You’re twelve tips apply to writing the best book you can write just as much as querying. Cool!!!

  5. Angela Felsted January 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    Good query tips. It’s so much easier to mess up a query than to get it right.

    • Laura January 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      Angela – thanks. I’m no expert and still struggle but there are query writing tips that just don’t get talked about a lot.

      Paul – I agree Paul. One way to have a great query is to have an excellent high concept book. And that usually happens before the first draft.

      Katie – I love reading successful queries!

      Stina – It’s nice to have others read, but I always have to be careful not to let others write out my voice.

      Rachel – Thanks! I’m sure I missed some!

  6. Susan Kaye Quinn January 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    I love the unusual tips! 🙂 I think this is a blend of yours, but … make it exciting! You want the agent/reader to think “Whoa!” whether it’s a tragic love story, action adventure, or memoir. There has to be some punch in there somewhere. If there’s not, maybe there’s not punch in your story either, and that could be a problem.

  7. Kelly Polark January 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Very good timing on this. My query is just about done and I’ve had great critiques on it by several writers and an agent, but I still want to polish it just right! THanks!

  8. Matthew Rush January 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Love this Laura, excellent advice! I see so much of the same, vague advice that you are probably talking about. That’s why I started my series of queries by guest bloggers that actually worked. I find real world examples so much more helpful.

  9. Laura January 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Susan – That extra punch to make your query stand out is so important! Just so hard to get right!

    Kelly – Best of luck, Kelly! Sounds like you’ve had some great feedback!

    Matthew – I agree. I love reading successful queries – they teach more than a list of advice!

  10. Jennifer Hoffine January 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    Great unconventional tips, esp. 1, 8 and 12.

    On one, find ways to add the voice/tone of your work without being gimmicky.

    On eight, rewrite it all at least twenty times, aiming for shorter, stronger sentences each time.

    On twelve, don’t feel like you have to explain the ending or even the last major conflict. Hook them and leave them wanting more.

    The only one I don’t quite agree with is number eleven…most people will have doubts until the first partial requests start rolling in. Just don’t send out more than five queries at a time at first. I always sent out a fresh query to agents at varying levels on my wish list. If I got five rejections, I’d go back to the drawing board. If I got more than one request, I’d start sending more queries out from the top of my wish list down.

    Everyone has around fifty respectable agents to send to in their genre. Sometimes the only way to know if a certain query works is to take it for a spin:)

  11. Laura January 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Great points Jennifer. I guess we do all have doubts even after we press send! I guess it’s telling the difference between the self-confidence doubts and the doubts that mean something isn’t quite right!

    And I originally had twenty times to rewrite it, not ten! i didn’t want scare anyone away! 🙂 And listen to Jennifer, guys, she had an awesome query!

  12. Leigh Moore January 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Your #2 is fantastic and I totally do that now. It’s almost like making an outline before you start writing… AND making sure you actually like your story! LOL~ Thanks, girl! 😀

  13. Lisa Green January 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    I did skip that last part, ahem. But those first tips were golden. I don’t know if this is one you’ve seen a million times or not, but the one that always makes sense to me is to try to match the voice of the manuscript.

  14. Julie Musil January 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    These are awesome tips. It makes perfect sense to have the pitch done before you write the book. Wish I would have thought of that! I wrote the first draft of my query of the weekend, and thanks to some input from my critique partners, it’s taking shape. Thanks for these great reminders.

  15. angela ackerman January 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Laura, come by the blog–there’s a shiny thing waiting for you!

    Angela@ The Bookshelf Muse

  16. Jill Kemerer January 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    These are awesome tips! I also think we need to analyze what is unique about our book and find ways to bring the specifics into the blurb. Vague isn’t going to help us!

  17. Heather Sunseri January 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Excellent tips, Laura! I always write the “safe” query, then I realize I need to go back and spice it up. Safe can many times = BORING!

  18. Sherrie Petersen January 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Dude, you are on a roll!! Great tips here. And #2 really helped me when I was starting my new wip.

    • Laura January 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      Thanks everyone! And definitely try to match the voice and tone of your manuscript to your query! And try and how what is unique about our story! Awesome, everyone.

  19. Michael Di Gesu January 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    These are amazing tips Laura!

    I’ve got to cut and paste this for future reference. I will be querying my new novel soon, so these will come in handy.


  20. Rachel Harris January 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    Great tips! I agree that the tips could be used to write a great story in general–not just a great query letter 🙂 My favorite tips are #2, and #4.

    2.Write the blurb for your query before you start your first draft. And make sure you love it.

    Since I am a plotter and know where my story is going before writing, I think this would be a great idea. I did write a blurb mid-way through last time, and it did help, but once I got my really snappy blurb for my query letter, I fell in love with my story even more and saw the parts I wanted to focus on in the manuscript.

    4.Take that query blurb and write down ten different hooks, obstacles and stakes. You might just find a better story.

    Another great reason for doing so in advance of writing possibly. This is a great addition to my already huge list of planning before drafting items. But you are right–by playing around with hooks, obstacles and stakes, you might just find a story better than the one you told!

    Thanks for stopping by the blog today 🙂

  21. Abby Stevens January 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    These are great tips, Laura. It’s funny I found your blog today, because I just posted a similar blog about how all Twitter tips are the same, lol. I’m bookmarking this page. Thanks!

  22. Karen Lange January 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    Great stuff! Thanks. I should bookmark this. 🙂

  23. Anita Miller January 24, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    I think you just wrote the book on queries!

  24. Lois Moss January 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    There are some tips in there that I hadn’t already heard. Yay. Thanks for sharing them.

  25. Carolina Valdez Miller January 25, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    Finally, I get a chance to comment! I read this earlier on my phone, but it never lets me comment! Anyway…

    Great query tips! I’ve thought the same thing–that they all say the same thing. It’s hard to find tips like these for the more experienced writer/queryer (is that a word?). These are tips to bookmark!

  26. Jen Daiker January 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    I love unusual tips and you certainly nailed it!!! I always learn so much stopping by here!!! Gives me a reason to continue to come back 🙂

  27. Susan R. Mills January 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Great tips! I especially love the one about writing the query blurb before the first draft. I actually did that with my current project and it was so helpful. I can’t outline, but having that query blurb has at least kept me on track with where I want the story to go.

  28. Robert Guthrie January 26, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    I’m moving on that top 10 list.

  29. Margo Berendsen January 28, 2011 at 12:45 am #

    Loved these tips. Writing ten different versions is an absolute must! (Not there yet myself) and also I think it’s so wise to do this before you even start your first draft or at least remember to do it as soon as possible once your start the first draft.

  30. joylene January 31, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    These are wonderful. What a generous thing to do, share all this valuable information with total strangers. It’s what I love about the internet. Have a great week.

  31. Terri Tffany February 1, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    I LOVE number nine!!! Thanks!


  1. Tweets that mention Not your usual query tips. – Laura Pauling -- - January 24, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Beck McDowell and Julie Musil, Laura Pauling. Laura Pauling said: Not your usual query tips. […]

  2. And the winners are…. (And some thoughts on blogging.) – Laura Pauling - January 13, 2012

    […] one point, I was reading all about query letters. Trust me, I don’t need to read another one as long as I live. There cannot be new info on […]

Leave a Reply