Everything you’ll read about writing a good query will give you usable advice on the technical side. The wordcount you should aim for. Proper formatting. How to find an agent who represents your genre. But one aspect that’s often overlooked is how to add that extra special something to your pitch: voice.
For example, if you’re writing a comedy, you should showcase your humor in the query. Instead of just saying, “My story is a humorous look at what happens when a boy falls in love with an orc,” you can instead write a sentence that will legitimately make the agent laugh. This shows–rather than tells–that you have the skills to pull off what you’re telling the agent you’ve done. It invites them to trust you, and it gives a refreshing taste of things to come.
But how to do it? This time, I’m going to recommend that you err on the side of doing too much, going too big, and then scale it back as you continue to work with your query. Find something in your character’s voice that communicates clearly who your protagonist is and what the tone of their story is going to be.
Let’s just say for example that our hypothetical heroine Melanie is a stuffy know-it-all who feels entitled to top honors. We can communicate that in the query with just a few words, maybe something like, “The valedictorian title is hers, if she can defend it from her covetous sister.” This does double-duty by also coloring their relationship.
To show a more humorous or sarcastic story, maybe I’d write something like, “Now she just has to regain the use of her hands, master the hardest potion on record, not die in the process, and do it all before finals. No pressure.”
If Melanie is a little more blunt or brash, I might say instead, “Melanie is about to make senior year her bitch.”
One other trick that I’ve seen to get voice across clearly is to write the pitch in first-person, as if your protagonist were telling you what their story is about, and then changing it to third-person present. You’d be surprised what great imagery and turns of phrase can come out of something so simple. Give it a shot and see what flavor you can bring your your query!