Author August: Eliza Wass – 5 Query Writing Tips

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

Eliza Wass, author of In The Dark, In The Woods, gives you her top tips for querying.

  1. Don’t just read other people’s queries, read a few hundred of them, in a row

If you really want to get an idea of how your query will fare in slush pile, you need to replicate the agent experience, and to do that you need to read a 100+ queries in a single sitting. Read queries until your eyes are crying and you lose all hope (that’s what agent’s do), read queries until you NEVER WANT TO READ ANOTHER QUERY AGAIN, and then go back and read yours. If you don’t absolutely hate it, you may be on the right track.


  1. Don’t use big ideas

Big ideas like ‘love,’ ‘friendship’ and ‘mystery’ are so general that they make your book sound generic. Take for example,

Suzzie Smith must unravel a mystery, and on the way she learns about love and friendship. 

This book could be about ANYTHING. It could be a Southern Gothic Romance or a Sci Fi Gendy Bendy (I just made that up, but I really hope that’s what it is!)

If you have followed the advice in #1, and your brain is, in fact, melting, then you can see why agents aren’t going to gamble on your MS being something they want to read. They’re going to glaze over and hit ‘ADIOS.’


  1. We’re all going to die.

We all love BIG stakes- the world we’ll end, she’ll lose her sanity, THEY WILL ALL DIE! Now, this feels immediate to us – we wrote the story, we love the characters, but the bad news is, ALL the characters are going to die. Seriously, like 50%* of queries have the same stakes.

But that’s what my story’s about, you say. They’re all going to die and it’s REALLY, REALLY tragic!  Don’t worry. You can still have the same stakes; you can still use big ideas. You just need to make sure you say it differently –incorporate your voice, emphasize what’s unique.

Eliza Wass

  1. Shorter is not better

This actually surprised me. I thought I would be doing agents a favor with a short query—get straight to the point, tell them what the book is about. I also thought it might encourage them to look at the pages. But when I read short queries, my first sense was that I had been gipped. I wanted, no, I needed more, and I actually felt irritated with the author.  You have 150 words! I thought. Why don’t you use them?

That’s not to say that some people can’t pull off the short form; some great writers really nail it. But by choosing to go short, you are basically volunteering to make your job more difficult, so unless you are great and experienced (and have this validated by professionals), just don’t do it. 


  1. You need a lot more help then you think you do

In the dark, in the woodsPersonal story: For my first version of The Cresswell Plot, which was called The Swifts and was from Amity’s perspective, I had, say, 20 people review my ever-changing query. I wrote an initial query, rewrote it based on feedback from a couple people, sent the new one out to a couple more, then made changes based on their feedback, until I felt like I had incorporated all the feedback.

And my query sucked.

The query I sent to a handful of agents absolutely sucked, only I didn’t know it because I thought, I’ve workshopped my query with, like, twenty people. But, first of all, I hadn’t – because I kept changing the query, I had really only workshopped it with the last two people I sent it to. 

Also, let’s be honest, a lot of critiques aren’t honest. People don’t want to hurt your feelings, or they’ve had a bad experience with an honest review in the past, or they don’t think it’s their place to say, etc. So, right off the bat, you can say that 50%* of critiques are lies, sweet lies. So I had workshopped it with maybe 1 person –and even they were pretty *shrug* about it. Total Query Fail. 

The best advice I know of is to take your query to the happiest place on earth, misleadingly titled Query Letter Hell on Absolute Write. Post your query, get as much feedback as you can, sit on it and then post again. Repeat the process ad naseum, FOREVER. While doing this, you should also be working with your CPs, and doing swaps with as many good, talented writers as you can.

It may not seem possible at first, and while you can never make EVERYBODY happy, eventually you will get to the point where a lot of people will tell you it’s a good query, and have no advice to offer other than obscure grammatical considerations. 

Once you have achieved this impossible feat, congratulate yourself, and then let it go (Let it Go!) This is the end of the line, you’ve done everything you can for your little book baby; it’s time to see if she can stand up on her own.


*Credit the I Pulled This Number Out Of My Ar*e Report

**See Above

***Final note: As with all things, use this advice in moderation. You still will probably need to use the words ‘die’ ‘love’ ‘mystery’ because otherwise you’re book is not going to sound like a book, it will sound like this:

Suzzie Smith gathers the unknown in her hands and deconstructs it, and inside she finds overflowing endorphins and the comfort of mutual obligation.

and you will possibly fry some poor agent’s mind (and your own). Be unique, but don’t be too unique.

My personal thanks to Eliza for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

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