First off, a caveat to say that this is my opinion about query letter tone, not necessary The End All and Be All, though I’ve heard other agents who share my thoughts.
Too Much Voice
I am not impressed by a query letter tone that has too much voice. Of course you want your query to have some voice, in the same way that good advertising copy has a personality. But some query letters to agents try way too hard — like the query written “by” the protagonist that “introduces” me to the protagonist’s author. It goes something like this:
Hiya! I’m 12 and my name’s Mackenzie. I’m in a story about all these crazy adventures that my friends and I go on. Even though everyone says I run the show, the gal taking it all down on paper is Jane Doe, a schoolteacher from Philadelphia who has a B.A. in Child Psychology. Whatever that means, teehee! If you want to read my story…
Your Query Letter Tone Should Be Professional
Query letters to agents are the introduction to your writing. It’s your foot forward and your first contact with an agent. It’s also a business letter. I know I’d never apply for a job by submitting an overly playful resume that’s covered in hologram stickers unless I wanted to work at a clown college (and I’m sure that even clown colleges respect a degree of professionalism). That’s gimmicky. While gimmicks sometimes pay off, more often than not, they become the stories agents tell when they’re hanging out after hours at conferences: “Did you hear the one about the guy who showed up to the pitch slam dressed as a giant baby?” (That’s a fictional example I pulled off the top of my head but, actually, I’m sure it has really happened.) Point is: your query letter tone should be professional above all else.
Don’t Be The Glitter Queen
This reminds me of that episode of Arrested Development in the third season where Tobias, a struggling actor, enlists Maeby, his daughter, who has been cutting school because she’s secretly a prominent film executive, to help him make goodie bag packages for casting directors. He stuffs them full of headshots, candy, vaguely threatening notes, and packets of glitter…all in the hope of catching their attention.
Maeby, by this point way jaded by the film biz, says, “Casting directors hate this!” Then the scene cuts to a casting director opening one of the packets, getting a shot of glitter to the face, and yelling into the phone, “The glitter queen struck again. Never hire Tobias Fünke!”
It Always Comes Back To The Manuscript
Just as I discussed in my post about social media for authors last week, there are good ways to get attention, and there are bad ways. Glitter-filled packets? Bad. Query letter tone that prioritizes being clever and “voicey”? Not my cuppa. (For more on drafting query letters to agents, check out my post on query letter POV.)
The #1 surefire super-secret can’t-fail way to impress a literary agent? Your manuscript!