Put Voice in Your Query

In order to assist prospective minions, I, Dark Brain, will begin by telling you the most important part of any query letter– voice. The pedestrians of the literary world can all give you a list of things you must include in a query letter: genre, word-count, audience, brief synopsis, short publishing history, contact information, etc. No Darkling worth her salt would forget those basic ingredients. Indeed, it can feel like you are twisting your words into pretzels to get it all on one single page. Never fear, you’ll make it happen. Above all the basics, the thing you need to shine is voice.

I won’t insult you with a long definition here. It’s enough to say it needs to sound like an interesting story. It needs to have alluring narrative. If you need more than that, you should look it up.

Getting the voice right in a query letter is an act of art. I struggled with it in draft after draft. I found for me if I reworked the sentences very much, they became mechanical and lost their style. I finally had to resign myself to writing an organic piece each time until it had the necessary parts while still retaining the narrative voice. If you think about it, it’s really the most important thing you write. It’s the first few seconds of attention from an editor. And that few seconds needs to sound like a really great story.

I don’t know if it will help you, but I’ll post the query letter I sent to Curiosity Quills myself. I took out the part of the summary that gives away surprises. And the adept Darkling will notice they don’t want publishing history. (Always follow the guidelines carefully.) Here goes:

Dear Editor,

News headlines in the future are as repetitive as today’s. Aliens bent on conquering the world are closing in on a weakened America. Epidemic alien-flu leaves people afraid to leave their homes. America, led by the Undying Emperor, is drafting people of all ages despite the plummeting world population. Nobody really cares. They live in a fantasy facilitated by computer glasses that project images right over the parts of the world they don’t like.

With a sports scholarship and an amazing new girlfriend, Jason had it all. But it all falls apart when his father reveals that he cloned Jason in a lab, which could get them both burned at the stake. Worse, his “father” wants help destroying the immortal leader.

[ C E N S O R E D ]

Theocracide is 99,000 words. It is literary science-fiction. I have an idea for a graphic framework that would dramatically improve the book in e-format as well.

Please don’t hesitate to ask for the full manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.


James Wymore

So sign up already! Go to the blog of Sharon Bayliss, post your query on your blog, and get some advice!

(No blog? No problem. Just post it in the comments here.)


9 thoughts on “Put Voice in Your Query

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I’m glad that you like the voice because when I read this post I definitely had the “Gulp!” reaction. I appreciate the advice and am looking forward to next week with first pages!
    -Minion Mara

  2. Just wanted to stop by and say thanks. After a week of tearing out my hair, I may have figured a little of this out. POV, voice, imagery, MC only, tense, short and sweet. So much to consider, but in the end it all does make sense. I hope!
    I laughed at your statement, “If you can write a book, you can do this, too!” — Has anyone figured out why ‘this’ is so hard? But as with all learning, it’s wonderful to make progress, to ‘get it’ and move forward. Sharon’s Query Formula is a jewel, all you super villains have been generous with your time and critiques. So, again. Thanks, it is so appreciated!

  3. What Talynn said…Seriously. I wrote my first versions with a LOT of voice and probably overdid it, or maybe the nuts and bolts weren’t there. Now I’ve tried to make the query clear and concise but it might just read “meh”. I don’t even know any more… BTW I like the spooky sci-fi look of your blogcraft or blogship or blogpod. Can you tell I don’t write sci-fi?

    • Thanks. It is easier to write sci-fi than you think. Join me and together we will take over the blogosphere and… Sorry, got carried away.

      I think this happens to a lot of writers. We are forever pulled between the art and the rules. Try to think of a new take on the query. Pick a new theme. You only need one or two good sentences to bring out voice. Also, don’t be afraid to leave big parts of the book out. You only have a few paragraphs. So take the gist of the story and say it in a cool or fascinating way. Start over with not a single word from the first one if you have to.

      • That’s what I’m going to do…I’m starting over, with a whole new theme. An entirely different route. I may need to buy a truck load of erasers, but hey! They will be put to good use.

        Thanks for the comments on my query. I’m ripping the old up (again) and trying for a new one. Poor River. She needs her story to be read! If I could only get her out of that memory book and back into the story where she needs to be!

  4. That’s the part I have problems with in my query. So much is said about voice, and I’m afraid that’s what my query lacks. Well, one of the things. Before, I put my voice in to reflect my characters and every critique I received said, “Remove this sentence” or “This doesn’t sound right” or “This phrase is not needed.” So I took all those things out. Now, my query is plain and simple and I am wondering what to do next. Any advice you offer will be greatly appreciated and accepted!
    thanks for participating in this writing clinic and for your willingness to let me pick your brain!
    Ink in the Book Blogspot

    • You’re not alone. I think this is the way agents and slush pile editors filter out the first 90% of their submissions. It’s really quite a trick to get all the info in the query and still have it sound organic and fresh. I’ll go look at what you have posted. In the meantime, consider writing the whole thing fresh. I wrote this query (and several others) many times. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize voice was the problem. So I submitted a lot of voiceless queries. When I figured it out, I just wrote the thing over and over. Each time I edited it until it was bland. Then I started over again. Eventually I had done it enough my brain could do both in one draft so the edits didn’t dilute it.

      If you can write a book, you can do this, too!

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