Tag Archives: query letters

Fluffing up yourself: scholarships and query letters

Dear Daughter has been working on scholarships recently, which has meant a lot of essays.

“I can’t write about myself,” she wails. “It seems so pompous and uppity.”

Yeah, making yourself look good on paper can feel a bit like you’re patting your own back. The trick is doing it in a way that highlights your accomplishments, passions and future plans without sounding like a one-upper.

How is this possible?

VERBS. Your verb choice is your best friend. Consider a line from one of Dear Daughter’s application.

I got first place at speech subsections.

True, but got isn’t her best option.

Received. A better choice by far, but still doesn’t reference the hard work that went into that First Place win.

Her final version: I earned a First Place medal at speech subsections.

All of those versions mean basically the same thing: she came home from a tournament with a first place. However, the connotations behind them morph her from a passive recipient to a hard-working, motivated medalist.

SPECIFICS. Adding the right details can also go a long way in making you sound like a great candidate without fluffing up your feathers. The simple addition of “medal” in the above statement makes Dear Daughter’s accomplishment feel more robust and prestigious.

CONSISTENCY. Far too often, we write as we speak. This can land us in a world of inconsistent patterns that are not noticeable when talking, but can be extremely distracting on paper. Punctuation and sentence structure while discussing similar ideas or listing activities or skills is super important. A comma here a semi-colon there. Added up, they prove you have no attention to detail–a desirable trait in writers, employees and scholarship recipients. Show your attention to detail by how you present your information, as this is far more impressive than reading the line, “I am detail oriented.”

TASK TALK, NOT BRAGGING RIGHTS. My daughter could easily say, “I’m one of the best students in my class,” or “I’m smart,” or “I rock at speech.” If she used these or similar phrases, she would just as easily turn off every committee considering her for scholarships.

Instead, she–and we–need to focus on what she’s learned or what she’s accomplished. For instance: “I rank in the top ten percent of my class.” Or, “Speech has provided me with strong communication skills as demonstrated by my various medals and honors over the past three years.”

So, while puffing up your chest on paper might feel awkward at first, concentrating on what you did (not who you think you are or want to be) and presenting it in a concise manner will help you remain in the running for top jobs, scholarships and book deals.

What other resume, scholarship or query writing tips do you have to make yourself stand out as a viable candidate, not a bragster?

Curious minds want to know.

Query Letter Face Lift

I’m not so concerned with aging that I’m willing to augment my smaller parts and suction my bigger ones.  I haven’t bought into botulism injections, nor have I chemically peeled my face.  I wear my wrinkles–each earned through loving my four children and all that they bring into my life–with pride.

Except when they get caught in a snapshot.  Frozen for all eternity.  I’ll admit, though not proudly, that I photo-shopped my crow’s feet out of our Christmas card this year.

It’s a simple fix, photo-shopping is.  It allows me to remain who I am every day–flawed, experienced, time-worn and uniquely me–yet do it gracefully in those moments of close-up scrutiny.

I’m sure those who know me by now get the correlation that’s coming.  Our manuscripts are the natural us.  They are robust and filled with character.  They are living, breathing entities that impact the lives of those who dare to read them.

Query letters are snapshots.  They show the flaws, the eye-baggage and gray hairs.  They can appear tired and worn-out.  And yet, this is the very image we send off to agents and editors in hopes that they will be so wowed with what they see they will beg us to come to dinner.

So, do yourself a favor and photo-shop your query letters.  Smooth out the wrinkles, augment what needs bigger and suction out the parts that over-power.   Don’t be afraid to tease out the inner beauty.

Cat’s Guide to Query Letter Face Lifts

  1.  Whiten that Smile: smiles can invite others into our world.  They encourage connection.  Frowns do the exact opposite.  In the same way, your hook entices or warns away your readers.
  2. Make Your Eyes Pop: the old window to the soul cliché is never more important to keep in mind than now.  Eyes can exude warmth, dance with humor, spark with anger or shimmer.  The eyes, my friends, is voice.  It is the tone of your query.  The personality.
  3. Clip Your Nose Hairs: gross, I know, but who can concentrate on a conversation when a black hair woodles in and out with every inhalation and exhalation?  Yeah, didn’t think so.  Cut the distracting subplots.  Limit your character count.  Instead, focus only on the most compelling points of your story.  Anything else is a distraction that can kill an otherwise great query.
  4. Smooth the Wrinkles: query letters are short, but they need to flow.  Word choice is of the utmost importance in creating a cohesive, yet lyrical piece of work.  The style your query letter is written in should reflect the style of your manuscript.  If your sentences ramble, an agent will assume your manuscript also rambles.  If your query is tight and evocative, so should your manuscript be.
  5. Get Out the Zit Stick: as a finishing touch, cover your blemishes.  At all costs, your query must not have typos or silly grammatical mistakes.

So, how do you fare in the query letter department?  How do you photo-shop your words to make the best impression? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS.  Hope your Valentine’s Muse is good to you today!

Dessert Disappointments: false advertising in writing

Have you ever noticed that the beautiful, glossy pics advertising scrumptious desserts rarely portray the messy, pasty, cardboardish lump the waiter plops down in front of you?

“Why,” you ask, “is it so hard to actually put whipped cream on mine and top it with a cherry instead of a whole can of chocolate Hershey ice cream sauce?”

And, “Why, oh why, does my brownie taste like left-over birthday cake that’s been frozen for a month and nuked on high?”

The answer is simple.  They could hardly advertise the truth or it would never sell.

Left-Over Birthday Cake Surprise: this frozen puck of a brownie has been over-nuked, leaving it hard and tasteless.  However, we have since drowned it in chocolate sauce to rehydrate it and added a dab of faux whipped cream for color.  And forget the cherry.  You had one in your Shirley Temple.

Query letters can also be dessert disappointments.

Writers advertise the heck out of their novels with beautiful words and promises of exciting things.  But somewhere along the way, they serve up a tasteless, cardboard lump. 

We get excited about finishing our WIP and forget that writing an enticing query letter is not enough to get our manuscripts on the bookshelves.  We must deliver what we promise.

So, the next time you’re tempted to shoot your query letter into the literary world of waiting customers, remember that you must have a product worth eating reading.

To find out if you’re ready, head over to A Steampunk Reverie.  Calista Taylor has a great list of questions to help you decide if you can deliver what you advertise.

Happy Writing!