Writing Dynamic Queries

In my edits over the past year, I've noticed that the queries are getting a little flat. Seems like most of you have the basics down, the three to four paragraphs of plot/about the book, one of bio, and a polite sign off.

We're all told that voice is so important in our MSs and the same can be true for queries as well. Great voice needs natural language, sensory details, action verbs, sentence variety, and varying sentence lengths to help bring your words to life. Queries get read so quickly and it's vital to make a great first impression in a clear way.

So how do you make your query more dynamic and really stand out?

1. Natural language - I know queries are supposed to be business letters, but that doesn't mean they need to be stuffy. Using clear, natural words helps them to feel like conversations rather than legal documents. This is especially important if you've got awkward wording like fantasy names or fancy phrases. If it causes someone to stumble and have to go back and read it again, they just might not and you'll have lost them.

2. Sensory details - Using the five senses is something I harp on about all the time in full edits and the same is true in queries as well. They really help bring the story to life in an easily accessible way. When you've only got these short paragraphs to grab someone, you gotta really hold on tight! On this same note, setting the tone by using words that lend themselves to your book can help too. If it's a horror story, try mentioning fog or mist, eerie sounds--creaks, moans--and dark colors. If it's a contemporary love story maybe you'll mention hands, red or heart-shaped things, flushed cheeks, comforting things like blankets, bright colors, and kissing.

3. Action verbs - It's easy to use the cliche phrases like, Mary must discover what made her lamb bleat before it's too late but it would be more active to say something like, Mary missed the bleat of her lamb the most and she'd do just about anything to hear it again--and she just might have to.

4. Sentence variety -  While this can include varying sentence length, it also means adding in a bit of the character voice too. Say you've got a character set in 1993 that is being bothered by a boy she might not be all that attracted to. You'd probably say something like, and Derek just won't stop mentally undressing her and licking his lips all suggestively. As if! That little As if! bit is the voice. In two short words you've let the query reader know that the lewd attention is totally unwanted and that your character has opinions on the matter too.

If you'd like a sample of what I mean by adding all this stuff into a query, check out mine below. It's for my current WIP. :)

Dear [Agent name],

At the age of seventeen, all the kids in the galaxy travel across aethics of space to compete for work placement. For Coral, this means leaving the orderly and protected Wiltshire hub and traveling to the apprenticeship battleground: Bath sky hub.

Her competition and roommate is feisty Siren, who has designs on Coral's older brother Kelp. Worse, Coral becomes the unwanted recipient of affection from Siren’s repellant brother Reef. Just knowing he’s in the same skyhub activates her introvert tendencies and makes her itchy.

Coral begins to read fiction books--an unpopular pastime back home--and her imagination releases like an anti-gravity chamber. When The Great Ship Northanger docks nearby, unsettling rumors spread about it and her intense Commander Barnacle. What's even more frightening are Coral's new feelings for Barnacle's son Tidal. Her lips go numb even just thinking about kissing him.

Coral wins a coveted place on Northanger but to her horror discovers that something as black as dark matter is going on in the bowels of the ship. Only Coral can figure out what's haunting Northanger and scaring her crew--and what's keeping Tidal's sister Shore so close to home when there's a great wide universe waiting to be explored just outside the ship’s thick hull.

THE GREAT SHIP NORTHANGER is my futuristic retelling of Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY in space. It is complete at 70,000 words.

In 2008, I completed an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. I have been a freelance book editor for nine years with clients publishing at Sourcebooks Fire and HarperCollins, among others. I live in the boonies of Michigan with my dog Mollie.

Per your guidelines, please find the first [#] pages following. Thank you for your consideration.

Cassandra Brown


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