Okay, so the title makes this sound a bit like a cereal ad. And I should probably mention that there isn’t really just ONE secret to writing a good query letter, or any letter for that matter.
But here’s one thing I can give you that is practically GUARANTEED to take your lackluster, form-rejected query to the next level.
Are you ready? Are you stoked? Here it is:
That’s right, you heard me. I’m not referring to the rhyming couplet kind, nor the iambic pentameter–though, some would agree there are specific genres and agents that could be charmed by such a departure from convention, if the verse was executed with enough panache. Those are exceptions, though, so let’s stay away from them by nature of caution. Caution and care are your friends when writing the all-important, potentially life-altering query letter.
It’s not about the rhyming, friends. Although subtle rhyming can be okay. It can capture the attention, illuminate the underlying intention of what you’re writing. (See what I did there?) Poetry isn’t just for hipster coffee shop types anymore, lovelies. It’s an innate sense of how the writing sounds, something everyone who writes should already have. The trick is, you have to pay attention. You can’t get bogged down by the technicality of it all. Technicality sucks the beauty right out of what we do.
A good query letter should tell the story of your story. But a GREAT query letter should read like a sonnet, a love letter written to your potential future agent, in your own unique and rapturous voice. Are you succinct in your writing, or languorous? Are you brash and thundering or tepid and serene? Word choice is KEY. Word choice is subtext; it tells a story about the writer all by itself.
The length of your sentences also tells a story. You can telegraph your hook in lines of short, long, short, short, long. You can elegantly scrawl your characters like they’re the lyrics to a haunting melody. You can slash violent words across an unsuspecting page. Whether you’re writing a mini-synopsis or a bio paragraph, make sure that each passage practically drips with the sound of your voice.
Just as there should always be some kind of underlying tension in a scene, your query letter shouldn’t just lie back and expect someone to fall in love with it. If you’re writing a romance, your query should seduce. If you’re writing a thriller, your query should thrill. It’s one of the most basic principles of human nature to follow our impulses. Agents are humans, too. Give them what they secretly want. Make them lust after your manuscript, or briefly consider killing to get their hands on it.
Now, here’s my shameful disclaimer: I didn’t actually use this tactic with my first query–the one that actually worked, by some incredible twist of fate. My first query was serviceable, but very barebones, very ‘by the book.’ That’s irony for you. But in later query drafts, before my agent responded to offer rep, using this tactic got me 3 full requests in less than two days. So. If you’re hitting the auto-reject wall, maybe try it out and see what happens.
Here are some query letters I found that employed this principle, and did it WELL. These letters are not mine, so all rights reserved and whatnot.
***If you still have questions or want someone to look over your query, click here.