Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Archive for the ‘Queries’ Category

The Voice of a Query

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I’m not sure many people have talked about voice in a query, other than that it needs to be there. I’m no expert, but I may have a few tips to integrate your character’s voice into your query.

Falling in Love

Falling in Love

What’s the advice?

Queries need to be written in a third person subjective point of view. This means that when you write, “she fell in love with him,” you’re using the exact same words your character would use to describe her budding feelings. Would she rather say, “she fell for him. HARD,” or would she say, “her feelings for him blossomed into love.”

The trick here is to mentally write your query in first person, using your character’s voice to write it through their viewpoint. Why can’t you just write the query in first person? Because your character didn’t write your book. A query in first person can be a gimmick and I’m sure a lot of agents don’t want a gimmick.

If you’re getting a lot of critiques saying your query sounds like a synopsis or a summary, try rewriting your query in first person to get at your character’s voice and how your character feels about what’s happening. Then switch it back to third person (which is pretty easy!) and you should see a difference.

Good luck!


Written by Jessica Lei

November 30, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Queries

Pieces of Your Query: The Plot

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We’ve covered the other two main components to your query: the hook and the stakes. The last, and arguably the most important, is the inclusion of your story’s plot.

Your Story

Your Story

The problem with the plot component in your query is that it’s not a summary of what happens. If they wanted your synopsis, they’d ask for it. So, how do you summarize your plot in your query without summarizing it?

  1. Start with your hook.
  2. Mention only the key elements of your plot that directly relate to your hook and make it important. To make sure you’re avoiding blatant telling, make sure to avoid the ‘to be’ verb (was, is, had been). These plot points should show conflict and tension, and they should be the most intriguing parts of your entire story.
  3. Show who your main character is by introducing the things that they do in the story that demonstrates their personality. Stay away from “Leslie was nice” and show she’s nice: “Leslie donated half her income to charity.” (Notice the change in verbs here.)
  4. End with the stakes–why we should care about what your main character is going through and why it’s important to them.
  5. Revise. Make sure you’re using the strongest verbs and the best word choice. Most of all, make sure the voice of your main character is coming through. Your query should, for the most part, be in third person subjective point of view. Make sure to turn as many ‘was’ into stronger verbs that tell more about the characters than mere description can.

The most important part to remember about writing this part of your query is that often times a boring plot summary in a query means a boring plot. If people are wondering where the conflict is or what the stakes are, it could be that you’re either not communicating them well enough, or your story doesn’t have them.

Querying is a craft and that means you can learn it!

Written by Jessica Lei

November 16, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Queries

The Query Dilemma

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The more I read through queries, the more I notice people favoring the worst four letter word in writing. It’s becoming a horrible trend to start queries by telling. It’s a travesty really. It’s an easy way to kill a query that could easily be amazing! I think the biggest problem for new query writers is that they forget the writing rules a little. You’re introduced to the query formula* and it can be easy to let writing slip out of your mind.

If your query starts anything like this; “Jenny was happy and loved life until a mysterious guy named Eric comes into her life and turns it upside down,” –You might be in trouble. Would you ever put this in your writing? Goodness gracious, no! You would never curse yourself (or your writing) with such a Plain-Jane sentence. Your query needs to show, not tell.



The Dilemma


There are many ways you could jazz it up and show she was happy and loved life without just saying it, and I’d say it completely depend on what genre you were going for. You want to emphasize what will set your plot up better. If it’s a romance, show her lackluster or disastrous love life. With horror you could emphasize her plainness or her klutziness (very cliche, however). The possibilities are endless.

Here’s how I would fix it. “With Jenny’s new raise, she’s achieved the American Dream–a gleaming new sports car, a lofty apartment in New York and wardrobe full of designer labels. She’s finally getting used to the new, ritzy lifestyle when mysterious Eric barges into her life and destroys all that she has come to love.” –It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start. It gives a bit more of what the stakes are and helps set the tone of the rest of the query.

How would you fix this boring, little sentence?

*Note: The Query Formula is not to  be taken literally.

Written by Devin Bond

November 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

Posted in Queries

The Stakes (of a Query)

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Let’s say you wrote the best query in the world and still got a rejection. Why in the world would that happen? Besides the obvious ones like querying an agent who doesn’t represent that genre or having a story that’s already been done, it could be because you had no stakes! (Agents like stakes. Some agents also like steaks–but that’s besides the point.)


Agents like these kinds too. (Unless they're a vamp)

Hopefully your stakes are more than $1.00


When writing a query, the stakes of your story are important! It’s just as important as a good hook line–okay, maybe it’s more important. It’d be almost like selling a story with absolutely no plot. If you were a dentist, would you try to sell toothpaste without fluoride? Your plot is the driving force of the story, and stakes are the drivers behind the plot!

Stakes are the backbone to the plot, which is the meat of the story. Stakes are why we care! Ex: Jenny and Amanda fall in love. We care why? Jenny’s parents are homophobes and they’ll ship her off to some institution if they find out she’s a lesbian.

With my own stories, it’s when the query writing comes up–and when it ends up falling short–that the lack of conflict comes forth. Unfortunate truth, but that’s what happens. So take a look at yours and ask yourself: Why do we care about Suzy’s family moving? And why should we stress ourselves over Hannah’s choice between Brian and William?

We’d like to know, what are the stakes in your story? (Feel free to be vague as possible!)

Written by Devin Bond

November 2, 2010 at 5:30 am

Posted in Queries

Your Query Hook

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The hook for your query is hard to pin down, it’s true. Is it this, or that, or maybe this and that?

Here’s a list to help you figure out what your hook could be:

  • Your conflict.
  • Your climax (but not necessarily your resolution).
  • The most INTERESTING thing about your main character that sets them apart from everyone else in the world.
  • The  most INTERESTING thing in your story that we’ll be dying to read by the end of your query.
  • What your main character was doing right before the catalyst point, where things for your MC changed completely–but only if it’s INTERESTING.
  • The catalyst point for your MC, when things start to change.
  • One-half of that mystery you’re saving until the end.
  • A combination of the above.

For me, my hook could be that my MC has lived alone with her father for ten years (what happened before the catalyst point) and now the goddess of the underworld is threatening to take her father away (catalyst point).

What about you?

Just a reminder! We’re looking for queries to critique in a positive and friendly way here on our blog. We are not experts, but we have an opinion and sometimes that’s good enough. If you’re struggling and would like a friendly opinion, send it in! You can find our email on the Contact page.

Written by Jessica Lei

October 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Queries

The Perfect Writer Biography for a Query

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Your Resume. Be sure to attach it to your query.


Last week I promised the perfect biography paragraph for a query that’d incorporate the ten best things to mention about yourself in your query. I couldn’t forget the most important part of the perfect query formula, either. Well, after much editing and pizazz-ing, here you are:

My name is Jessica Lei. I turned 22 several days ago–can’t believe you missed my birthday, but I’ll forgive you. When you’re my agent, I won’t be so nice. I started writing when I was 12. I posted my work at an online community and received a lot of attention. I never finished any of it, though, but it was just kiddy stuff anyway. I’ve been writing since then but I’ve never been published. That’s probably because I haven’t tried yet. The novel I’m pitching to you now took me a month to write. Another one took me a month and a half. The one I’m working on now, the sequel to this book I’m querying you about, should be done in a week. Let me know if you want to read that, too.

I graduated high school three years ago. I’m currently attending a private university in Seattle, Washington. My book takes place in the Pacific Northwest so I know all about it and I can portray it accurately, unlike other famous authors who’ve placed their book here and didn’t actually visit until after they made a lot of money. Whatever! I’ll be graduating with a psychology major and an English minor this spring. Exciting, right? After I get out of this hellhole, I can write books a lot faster. I can make you a lot of money, I promise.

I researched a lot about my book. It’s set all over the world so I looked up pictures on Google and researched on Wikipedia. I’ve also been e-stalking you for the past few months. I know a lot about you and I’m querying you because I know you’d be my perfect agent. I also know all about your agency and your preferences, and how you’d like your submissions. I’ve included all the materials you asked for, and a bit more just in case. I like to cover my bases. This way I can assure you I’ve done my research and I’m qualified to write a book.

I’m not published or self-published or e-published. I have a blog where I’ve posted at least 15 articles on querying and getting published and writing a bestseller. I wrote several essays while I’ve been in college. My most recent was a reflection essay on substance abuse. Before that, I wrote about Shelley’s Frankenstein and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the ethics of child electroconvulsive therapy, women in Buddhist films, a research project on the effects of children on the emotion regulation of college students, and a literature review on single parenthood. I do not keep a diary, but my blog is located here: I’ve attached it all to this e-mail, including all of my blog entries, if you’d like to take a look to verify my writing abilities.

I worked for Starbucks for over 3 years but I quit to start volunteering and interning at a local research university in Seattle. I’m currently interning for [researcher, redacted] at [university department]. I do a lot of data entry, organizing, literary searches, and tracking (a form of stalking). I’ve babysat and worked at daycares as well. So, on top of the whole high school thing, I can probably write MG as well as YA. I’ve asked previous teachers, bosses, professors, and friends to write me letters of recommendation. I have attached them for your perusal.

I look forward to hearing from you! Thank you for your time and consideration.


Jessica Lei

Well, there you have it! In case you missed it, here’s the key take-away:

Make sure your author biography is longer than your book summary. You are more important than your book!

We’re also looking for a few queries to critique on the blog–no harsh words or biting criticism, we promise. We are not experts, but we have an opinion and sometimes that’s good enough. If you’re struggling and would like a friendly opinion, send it in! You can find our email on the Contact page.

Written by Jessica Lei

October 19, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Humor, Queries

10 Things to Mention About Yourself in Your Query

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

Often times I wonder why the bibliography paragraph of a query is even necessary. If I’m a psychopath but my story is absolutely addicting, would I still end up being represented? Reality is: probably not. So, the bibliography is necessary so your maybe-agents can see you’re both sane and qualified to write. Here’s what I suggest you include:

  1. Your age.
  2. The age you started writing at (the earlier, the better).
  3. The time it took you to write the novel.
  4. If you graduated high school.
  5. If you graduated from a technical or vocational school.
  6. If you graduated with any degrees from an undergraduate college or university.
  7. If you graduated with any degrees from a graduate college or university.
  8. If you researched extensively on everything pertaining to your book, yourself, the agent, how to write a query, and how to write a book.
  9. Your last 15 books (unpublished, self-published, or published), articles, essays, blog posts, and diary entries. Attach if necessary.
  10. Your resume, including all of your past job experience. Feel free to include a few recommendation letters. Attach if necessary.

A perfect biography paragraph for a query will be next week, so check back!

We’re also looking for a few queries to critique on the blog–no harsh words or biting criticism, we promise. We are not experts, but we have an opinion and sometimes that’s good enough. If you’re struggling and would like a friendly opinion, send it in! You can find our email on the Contact page.

Written by Jessica Lei

October 12, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Humor, Queries