1. Show, don’t tell.
This creative writing workshop maxim also applies to your query letter. Sure, a query letter mini-synopsis requires lots of telling and summary, but when possible, add in concrete details. Instead of, “After hearing her dog died, Lara was sad.” Try “After hearing her dog died, Lara bought herself a pint of ice cream and headed to the dog park.”
2. The specific always trumps the general.
Rather than saying “Defeated once again, Robert went home.” Try “Defeated once again, Robert skulked back to his basement apartment.” Or, rather than saying your character wore magical shoes, say she wore ruby slippers (or steam-punk style hovercraft Keds).
3. Set the mood.
Mood is a key ingredient that is missing from many query letters. Sure, you can tell a story, but are you using language to evoke a certain mood—and all the emotions that go with that mood? Investigate your own choice of adjectives and adverbs and see if they’re doing a good job of evoking the right tone. Think of the difference between sad and forlorn. Between glad and ebullient. What mood are you evoking with your word choices?
4. Use your setting.
Before you launch into your story, consider taking a moment to illuminate your story’s setting. Why? Fiction is all about the five senses, and when you offer a little bit of strong, compelling description, you give your readers something concrete to latch on to (and become immersed in) right away.
5. Focus on high stakes.
Now that you’ve got the tools to hook your reader with emotion, it’s time to focus on the story itself. Think of your protagonist. What’s the worst thing that will happen if he/she doesn’t succeed? That’s what’s going to make your reader feel an emotional investment in your character. You don’t want to give away your ending in your query letter (save that for your long synopsis), but you do want to hint that it will be meaningful and full of momentum.