Wednesday, February 24, 2010

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.

*gasp!*
*wheeze*

*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!

86 comments:

Jen said...

What an excellent idea, that makes sense to stick with what you write, it will make it more intriguing and 'refreshing' for the agent! Go You! Way to get an full request! The book sounds so good!!

I haven't gotten to the query yet but when I do I'll keep all the info in mind! Great post!

Robyn Campbell said...

WHOA! Are you the queen or what? So it's okay to break some rules. Such as the third person present tense stupy rule.

I want to have fun with my query. Writing it, is just so nauseating, I can't. And let's not even talk about my synopsis. UGH

I'm going to play around with my query today. Wish me luck. =)

Solvang Sherrie said...

Now that's a kick ass query!

I think as my writing has improved, my queries have improved. And the more in love I am with the story, the more that translates in the query.

Excellent idea to write the query in the voice of the book. No wonder you're the query queen!

Alexis Grant said...

I think you've got a good point. Some agents say they prefer queries in the third person, but when I wrote mine in first -- matching my memoir -- it worked so much better because I could get across the voice of my book. I'm with you!

JenniferWalkup said...

Great post. I "get" voice in my writing/novels but in queries, it is damn tough. I have seen people who do it really well but I always have a tough time with it!

Jonathon Arntson said...

Elana, question: do you feel that there's a difference between picture book queries and other fiction queries?

I am ready to write a few PB q's, but I am years away from my YA q's. Your posts always make me itch.

Noelle Nolan said...

Queries terrify me. I haven't started on mine yet for my book, but I love the info you have here. My novel is written in 3rd person (mainly because the query terrified me so I changed everything from 1st to 3rd) I know it sounds silly, but I'm sure there are a lot of writers out there who have experienced the same.

Great post.

Janet Johnson said...

Why would I never have thought of this? Awesome idea!

Tamika: said...

You are the Query Queen! What excellent advice! I write in first person too, and I would love to continue that in my query.

Elana I'm bookmarking this!

lotusgirl said...

great idea. You can definitely get a feel for Vi in that query.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Palindrome said...

Mind officially blown.

Your query was great by the way.

kimberlyloomis said...

That is an awesome idea! I am totally going to work on my query letter with a new found fervor! Well, kind of... This at least makes the prospect seem fun!

Thanks, Elana!

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Makes sense how your voice would come through more powerfully that way. And what a voice you've got.

I wrote my WIP in 3rd person. Am planning my next novel to be in 1st person. I miss 1st person.

~ Wendy

Amie McCracken said...

Now I don't feel like it's a chore. I'm going to at least try a first draft of a query with this idea in mind. Thanks for the fresh perspective.

Karen said...

Great post. Great idea. And a great exercise even though I'm not ready to query yet.

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks guys! I hope you're not confused. I wrote my query in first person AND THEN CHANGED IT TO THE "ACCEPTABLE" FORMAT OF THIRD PERSON, PRESENT TENSE. Which I highly recommend since that's the standard for query letters. But writing it in a different way helped me keep the voice of my novel.

Jonathan, I don't think there's a difference between PB queries and novel queries. The best part about querying PB's is you get to include the whole book with the query -- no waiting for a full request!

Linda Kage said...

I love that advice to write the query in first person from the character's POV and then change it back. Thanks for that advice. I'll have to try it.

Linda Kage said...

I love that advice to write the query in first person from the character's POV and then change it back. Thanks for that advice. I'll have to try it.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Queries like that are why we call you The Queen! Great idea and a fabulous example - I've bookmarked and printed. :-)

lynnrush said...

Nice! I never thought of that. Loved your example too. Nice job.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great advice, Elana! Plus it helps you from accidentally switching to another character's pov without realizing it. I did that a number of times in my early drafts. Sad really since my book is in only one person's pov.

Bethany Mattingly said...

Oooo! I can't wait to try this! Great post!

foldingfields said...

Your query really inspired me to try it your way...because above all else, it's fun. It's one of those things where I want to write like that, but want someone else to do it first, so thanks! Also, I really want to read your book.

Christina Lee said...

oooh good stuff!! You smartie, you!!

Stephanie Thornton said...

This is a great way to write a query!

Pssst! Don't tell anyone, but I get a kick out of writing queries. It's like a little game to come up with the hook and condense the rest of the story into a paragraph or two.

But a synopsis? Shudder.

Liz Czukas said...

Brilliant! I'm going to try this with my next letter.

Consider yourself uptweeted and followed!

- Liz

Shelley Sly said...

Excellent post. You give such valuable advice. I'm going to try that rewrite-from-first-person-to-third-person tactic on my own query letter. Thank you!

Carolyn V. said...

I love that idea. I'm going to try it. Elana, your a genius!

Abby Annis said...

This is the main thing I struggled with in writing my query. What a fantastic idea! Thanks for the tip. I'll have to give it try. :)

Tere Kirkland said...

Brilliant, as always!

Thanks, Elana!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You rock! This was a most excellent post for me today as I wrestle with the query-pitch. Off I go to try it in first person. *waves*

Tina Lynn said...

You are so full of awesome it almost scares me. Almost.

Jessica said...

Love your query Elana! And that's great advice. ;-) I'm going to remember it for the next query I do.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Huh! Cool idea! Now why didn't I think of that lol! Sheesh no wonder why I stalk your blog. (High five)!

Mary Campbell said...

Great advice Elana and I do like your query letter a lot. I want to read the book based on that query letter alone and the voice is fantastic.

Jennie Englund said...

Incredibly valuable tips!

Have I ever said who rocks at this (besides you)?

SUZANNE YOUNG!!!

And hey, is your book sci-fi-ish?

Rebecca Knight said...

Okay... SMART. You are a smarty smarty smart pants :D! Thank you for sharing this with us!

Seriously, what a great idea. *runs off to try it*

Kayeleen said...

You rock my world! Write my query first, write in my character's voice, tweak at the end. I'm going to rock the query world in a couple months when my revisions are done. Thanks for your help. You deserve an award! (I have one for you at my blog.)

Laura Pauling said...

I think just recently that concept of adding the voice of your novel to the query whacked me over the head. I didn't write it in first person to do it, but that's a great idea.

Maryilee said...

Write it in first person first, then switch it to third to send to the agents? Just want to make sure I have that right. It sounds like a plan.

L.T. Elliot said...

I am so screwed. I'm a very formal-type person. My voice is boring. =P

Angie said...

Great suggestion! Thanks, Elana.

Crimey said...

Elana,
This is honestly some of the best recent query advice I've seen online. I'm not currently querying (I'm editing), but I have been taking a crack at my query letter (even when the book wasn't completely written), and I am definitely going to try this exercise for my query.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Hey Elana I'm back again!
There is now 16 inches of snow on the ground so it is shovel or play with my query. Query!! I wrote it a bit in first pov and found it was actually FUN doing it your way! It made it much easier to sum up, just have to change it to 3rd! So true about getting the voice in there when you put it in 1st person first.

Amazing!

Hope everyone is enjoying this months book! I'm halfway done and dying to chat about it (lips zipped for now)!

Kara said...

This is an awesome idea! Thanks for sharing:)

Melissa Sarno said...

Such a simple idea and, yet, so genius. Thanks for sharing!

KLo said...

That's GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!

When I look over my queries, I always think to myself, "Well, I wouldn't want to write something written by this blahhhhhhhhh person either", but I can't seem to make it any better, to give it that spark of voice.

Guess what I'm doing tonight :)?

Kimberly Franklin said...

Genius! Can you please remind me of this when I'm beating my head on a my desk a few months from now? Or, lets be realistic, maybe sometime next year? LOL. : D

Portia said...

I agree with others—I love this idea.

kathrynjankowski said...

Such a clever idea. Thanks!

VR Barkowski said...

Great query, I'm inspired. Okay, that's it. I'm injecting some life into my query even if it kills me...

Kelly said...

Your query rocks!

Elena said...

Absolutely!

T. Anne said...

Yes! GREAT advice! Whenever I send out queries with lots of personality I get hits. Lots of hits. I've noticed this. My next set of queries go out in just a few weeks and I'm absolutely going to keep this in mind.

Sierra Godfrey said...

On the subject of voice bleeding into other writing, like blog posts, I say that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

You may run the risk of sounding like all your characters, but I'm thinking very specifically of author Marian Keyes, whose voice is very clear on her blog, and then she turns around and puts a lot of the same words and phrases in her books. I LIKE it because I recognize her voice and follow it along. Also, her voice happens to be very funny.

I did not let myself do this until my current WIP. I always held back from letting characters use words I might use or vice versa. But this one, I let it rip and I love the result. I'm still undecided as to whether it's good thing or not, but using your "holy blazes" example, I'd say it's good. What's wrong with saying that on blog or in book? It's great.

Bish Denham said...

This is indeed a great idea! Thanks for the tip.

Maryilee said...

Okay, just tried it, then I printed it off, along with my query I've used the last half-dozen times. I gave both to a coworker who knows nothing about writing. She liked the new one best! (without knowing which was new)What was awesome, is she's not an avid reader, but even she picked up that 'sounds more like the character is talking'. I hope that's a good thing.

One thing though, can I use 'gonna' and 'bastard' in the query letter?

Sandy Shin said...

I actually do write in third person present, but I agree that this is very sound advice!

Lisa Nowak said...

Makes sense to me. :)

Niki said...

I haven't reached the query assignment in my course yet, but I'm looking forward to it with all I have learnt from you! Thanks :o)

Jemi Fraser said...

Another good idea - you are indeed the query queen!! :)

Julie said...

This is exactly what i needed at this exact moment! How did you know? What superpowers do you posses and can I buy them on Amazon? Ebay?

Thanks!

Cheree said...

I never even thought about this. Great suggestion, I'll have to try it. You rock.

SB said...

You'd make a great teacher. I love how easy you make the query writing process seem. Perfect. And done.
--SB


not too serious i hope

jessjordan said...

Definitely lots of voice in your query. I'd love to see what it looked like when it was still first person!

Lisa and Laura said...

The query ninja LIVES!!!

Amanda said...

THANK YOU for your posts on writing queries. I already have my query about halfway done and it was pretty painless while following your advice. You rock!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Oh! I have an award for you on my blog!

Sharon Mayhew said...

It totally makes sense to write your synopsis and hook in the POV you wrote the book in. Great call! Now off to revise that last query...

Amber Lynae said...

Great advice, and I love your voice coming through. I guess it would help writing it this way. That way you don't feel trapped or stifled by the rules.

Patti said...

Your voice definitely shows. What a great idea.

GutsyWriter said...

Thanks for putting me in touch with you through a brief blog visit. Love the feeling that comes through in your query, like you're speaking to me, and only to me.

Donna Hole said...

*raises hand* yeah, I write in third person limited. And my quesry is in that voice also. I don't think that was by design though; I just feel more comfortable in that POV.

You've given me a lot to think about before I send out the next round of queries (for me, thats one, two if I'm very brave).


..........dhole

Christina Farley said...

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brillant. Off to try out your brilliancy (is there such a word?).

Samantha Clark said...

Great idea. Thanks.

I've been struggling to get the right voice and tone with my query, and I write in third person. But even though I write in third person, maybe doing the query in first will help.

I'll try it.

Thanks!

Georgiana said...

I LOVE this idea! And I loathe query letters, almost as much as writing the synopsis. Lately I've been writing in 3rd person for my stories, but for the next book I'll end up going back to 1st. I miss it.

Diana Paz said...

I loved this!! Thank you for being an awesome human and sharing your query. The voice is so clear, I am definitely doing this when I get back in the query game. And this time I'm coming out with guns blazing.

Also, I loved that you started your query, 'In a world...' No joke, it gets me in a lives-are-at-stake frame of mind right off the bat.

Maryilee said...

Even if your book is in third, try this. Mine is in third, but I couldn't write the query letter with my character's voice until I did it in first person, then switched. The book was easy because in my mind, I've created his whole world, see what he sees, etc, but in the query, I didn't feel like he was grounded anywhere. The suggestion to write it from his pov in first person worked because I had him talking *to* me. (Gosh, any non-writer is going to read that and conclude I'm nuts!)

Em-Musing said...

Thank you so much. I wrote a query with "voice" but was having doubts sending it. It helps that you showed an example.

PJ Hoover said...

Writing a query with voice has to be one of the best things I ever realized I should do!

Barbara said...

Thank you so much for your idea and sharing it with us. I was stuck for weeks with my query letter and synopsis. I had it critiqued by an editor which was supposed to help me but I could not put his suggestions into writing. I have started to re-write the synopsis in the 1st person and it is working very well. I will change it to 3rd person as soon as I am happy with it. Concise, yet unique in style. What a relief! Thank you, thank you, thank you, the best advice I ever got on the Internet. Viele Grüße aus Deutschland, Barbara

Theresa Milstein said...

I just came from Jane Friedman's blog. What a great idea. I'm echoing all the comments, I know. I never thought about why I dread the query, and now maybe I won't dread it so much.

elizabeth said...

Wow, Elana! You are a master. Thank you for posting this! :)

Plamena said...

Wow, I feel like you just solved all my query problems!

chandra said...

Sheer professionalism and dedication!Thanks for the share buddy
Emails

Emily S said...

This is great advice. My crit partner did the first person and then changed the pronouns. Her voice was so on that once she started submitting her query to agents she immediately got reguests.
I tell people to do this all the time. Now I can link them to this post.

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget