Lead With Your Voice
I'm sure by now that it's been drilled into everyone's head that queries are business letters. You start with your formal address, you make your business statement, you move on to the product that you are selling, and you wrap with your polite close and thank the reader for their time.
The thing that I *wish* that we emphasized? Voice voice voice. Because really, it makes or breaks your query.
I don't consider myself a genius of the English language. I barely know enough grammar or spelling to keep myself out of trouble. I'm pretty sure I end sentences with dangling participles and such. So I feel like I have to make people look past those sorts of things.
And to start, I'm going to show you my query letter. This is the one that landed me my agent and eventually a publishing contract.
I am seeking representation for my 98,000 word paranormal, SEX STARVED.
Jackie Brighton has died, but she hasn't gone to Heaven. Thanks to some supernatural interference, the dorky museum docent has been reborn as a succubus--a sex vampire. Now she never has to sleep, has the body of a supermodel, and must have sex every two days to feed the 'Itch' -- quite a change from her crappy old lifestyle of pointing out museum paintings to tour groups.
But Jackie learns that the eternal life of a 'Suck'...does. Literally. And it's more than just the relationship troubles that a constantly horny immortal would have. She'll do anything to skip out on having the requisite sex with strangers...but in doing so, ends up blackmailed into running errands for the Heavenly Host. All she needs to do is get her hands on a
missing halo before the vampire queen does and she'll have control of the situation (and her raging hormones). Of course, choosing sides in a celestial turf war means that she also has to make a choice between the men in her (After)life: the handsome, brooding fallen angel or the dangerous and witty vampire.
I like to think of this novel as 'Stephanie Plum meets Anita Blake', combining both a sarcastic first-person point of view and the darker, sexier elements of paranormal fiction. Would you be interested in seeing more?
Thank you for your time.
Let's dissect this puppy for a minute. I'm sure there's some grammar errors in there, and going back and re-reading makes me cringe a little. It's not the most original storyline - Yet Another Vampire Story as I've heard bandied around. That's ok. That's the story I wanted to tell.
You'll notice I had no publishing credits or endless paragraphs describing how perfect my agent is for me. At the time, I was a dumbass and didn't know much about my agent other than a friend said "OMG he's brilliant!" and the credentials that were listed on Publisher's Weekly (Note, please do more research than my ignorant slob self).
But this sort of thing should give you hope - you don't HAVE to have a great inside track sometimes. You don't have to know an editor or be previously published. And while it took me a little longer to get around the bend than say, the fabulous Mark Henry who had a book deal in a week (cough), I still got there.
I credit 100% of the success of my query letter to the voice that it's written in. I pitched it as light, funny paranormal a la Stephanie Plum but with vampires and smut. I used words like 'dorky' and 'suck' and 'horny'. Not something you'd normally see in a business letter, right?
But that's the exact same voice that my book is written in, so why wouldn't I use that same voice to pitch it?
Mind you, let's think about this for a minute. My letter isn't going to click with every agent out there. Someone's going to look at my slang and put my letter firmly in the trash. Some of you out there might be cringing at the use of 'horny' in a business letter. I'm right there with ya. But the thing is...if they don't like it in my letter, why the heck would they want to peddle a book about a goofball sex vampire?
So, let's play with the letter a little. Let's reword one of the paragraphs.
Jackie Brighton is a hard-working docent with some bad luck. She was reborn as a hot succubus and must have sex every two days thanks to her new 'masters'. Being a sexy immortal wasn't what she planned - Jackie wanted to be an archaeologist up until the day that her luck changed.
A bit of an extreme example, but the key elements of the story are still there - Jackie gets changed, she must have sex every 2 days, and she was a history nerd. So why is she suddenly so damn boring? It's all in word choice. I've sucked all the life out of the story with some poor word choice and a few vague adjectives.
Let's play with this a bit more.
Jackie Brighton dies violently in a back alley one dark night after a man takes advantage of her. Now, eternally damned to wander the earth as a succubus, awkward Jackie is devastated that she must now hunt down men to have sex.
Now we're into 'way different' story here. I like the word 'devastated' as a describer...but that's not my story at all. The Jackie of paragraph three catches my attention, but the story sounds grim and violent. Not like my slyly sarcastic dork at all. And if an agent asked to see my book based on paragraph three, they sure wouldn't understand the funny, sexy book that I sent them.
And you don't want agents to say "OMGWTFBBQ." You want "ZOMG! WANT!"