QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing a Query Letter with Voice

I fell so completely in love with a post from Elana's blog, that I've decided (with her blessing) to re-post it here. Elana is our resident query guru and will be presenting at the LDStoryMakers Conference this spring, along with lots of cool writers, agents and editors.

Writing a Query Letter with Voice

Voice is one of those ever elusive topics in writing. I did a post about voice on the QT blog a while back. I've read lots of things about it, sat in on voice classes at conferences, etc.

To me, every piece of writing has a voice. My blog. Yours. Whatever. It all has voice. Some are more distinct than others, but all writing has voice.

Like I said in the QT post, you can create voice through some writing exercises. And I find myself blogging in the same voice as the novel I'm currently working on. (Remember that post? Talk about embarrassing!)

So we all have it in our novels. Which means you must maintain the same voice in your query letter. Unfortunately many of us FAIL at this.

Here's my tip for avoiding the FAIL: Write the query letter from the POV of the character.

My books are almost always first person. So guess what I did to maintain that voice?

I wrote my query letter in first person.


*whispers* Doesn't she know the rules for writing query letters???

Yes, as a matter of fact I do. They should be done in third person, present tense.

Well, how many of you have written your novel in third person, present tense? (I'm pretty sure Lisa McMann doesn't read this blog, but she could raise her hand here.)

Yeah, no one.

So I submit that this is one reason why 99% of the writing population hates writing query letters. It's not in the character's POV. It's not even in a style of writing the author is used to.

So, dude! Why torture yourself? Change it to what you ARE used to writing in. (And then change it back.)

For me, it was first person. I can do present or past tense, so that wasn't an issue. But I wrote my query in first person, from Vi's point of view. (I did the same thing with my synopsis, BTW. I highly recommend it.)

By using Vi's narrating voice, using first person, I was able to infuse the voice of my novel into my query.

Then, really, it's simply a matter of changing the pronouns to get it back to third person, right? Right. (Okay, you'll have to do a little rearranging, but not much. And you'll maintain the voice of your novel, so it's a worthwhile trade-off.)

Query for Control Issues:

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.

After committing her eighth crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands—until she demonstrates her brainwashing abilities. That earns her a one-way trip to appear before the Association of Directors.

Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She busts out of prison with sexy Bad boy Jag Barque, who also has no intention of fulfilling his lame sentence.

Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

And this is what one literary agent (who requested the full) said: "I found ... your writing/voice refreshing (it’s nice to see someone have fun with their text)."

What do you think? Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

Thanks for sharing this with us, Elana!


Katie said...

I'm having a hard time with my query right now. This sounds like a great idea! I'll definitely try it!

Portia said...

I love this advice. It completely makes sense. After all, who wants to read a perfectly bland query? Doesn't bode well for the manuscript, does it? That said, it's tricky to write a query with voice. But if you're a writer ...

Christina Lee said...

I saw this on Elena's blog (she just rocks) and she has helped me with my queries on two different manuscripts (because she's a nice bloggy friend like that). She definitely knows what she's talking about so I'd take any advice on queries she gives. Really.

Anonymous said...

Yup, great idea! Thanks!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

what a fantastic idea. I'll definitely use this for queries and synopsis (plural, anyone?)

Jemi Fraser said...

Love this. I haven't looked at my query for a week or so. Gotta try this because right now - it kinda stinks :)

Suzette Saxton said...

I would love to know how it works out! And yes, Elana is tops!

Paul W. West, Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul W. West, Author said...

Love it. When will it be published? I need to get a copy.

I love your technique too. I'm going to try it. I did that with my entire novel. It's in 3rd person past tense but I rewote it in first person then transferred it back to 3rd. It made a huge difference.

Suzette Saxton said...

Elana has a fabulous e-book about querying. There's more info available about it on her blog.

Elana Johnson said...

Aw, thanks Suz! You are the one who is tops. :)

Stina said...

I'm glad Elana allowed you to post this. It's an important element to the query, but one that is often ignored. It's also the part you have to watch out for when others crit your query. The voice usually suffers when the helpful person tries to rewrite the query--but in their voice. So your chick lit query ends up sounding high fantasy. ;)

Great post!

Amanda Gaume said...

This is so wonderful, Suzanne and Elana! I started doing this recently and found it really helps. And the last synopsis I wrote (I hate them, hate them, hate them) I wrote in my character's POV and then changed it back and it was... well... easy (ok, easier). :)

Unknown said...

I am in the process of submitting queries, but I am going to go back and look at my basic query and revamp. This is a great suggestion.