Monday, September 30, 2013

Query bitchin'....

Yeah, I'm going to bitch about query letters more. It's a thing I do, fixate on something that I either bitch or rave about. Sorry.

Because, you see, I feel as though I've hit upon my primary issue with writing query letters: I don't like the diction in which they are typically written.

"When Protagonist has X thing happen to him/her, he/she must then Y if the world is to be saved!"

Crappy example, I know. And more of a log line, I guess, than a query. Query letters are evidently supposed to be around 250 words (a single page, anyway, not more than one). You're supposed to have
The Hook - logline
The Book - A paragraph or two about your book
The Cook - a bit about you 
to quote Pam van Hylckama Vlieg's post on an "Ask the Agent" Absolute Write (isn't her name just awesome? Her web site is here, and she's an agent at Foreword Literary [who are, by the way, closed to queries in November and December. If you wondered. Up to the minute news, that's me.)

Of course, sometimes there's an unusual query that just rocks everybody's socks. The query for Premeditated, by Josin L. Mcquein is such an animal, and you can read it at Query Shark (run by Janet Reid, who if you don't know [I didn't used to], is an agent with FinePrint Literary Management). I read the query, and went "GIVE ME THIS BOOK NOW WHERE CAN I BUY IT?????" (the publication date is October 8 2013).

So, when I think about a query letter, before I even sit down to write (type) one, I try to think of the Premeditated query. I read a bunch of jacket copy, and think about why I like them, and why I don't. I think one of my hangups is writing in the present tense; I rarely do so on purpose, and rarely read books written in the present tense. On its own, it isn't enough to make me put a book down, but it's a strike against, certainly. I also once put a book down because it referred to a person as having been "hung" in the very first sentence (it's "hanged").

 Also, "stakes". I know I need to show what's "at stake". I know the stakes need to be apparent. Etc. Etc. But mostly, the "stakes" I'm interested in are the homonym, steaks, which come from moo cows. It's just one of those words. I don't like it, and I feel it's a word people will frequently trot out when they're critiquing queries but don't have anything else to say about it. Granted, I also feel people critiquing queries are being deliberately oblique, in a manner that has me talking to my computer screen in a "COME ON, what do you mean you don't know what that means?" kind of way. Not my own queries; I've only ever posted one, and everybody's comments were (mostly) spot on. I knew it was bad. But there are others I peruse on Absolute Write in which I understand the words the author is saying, but nobody else seems to.

And you know, I get it. A query needs to be good. Stand out. Be that flag that gets your book pulled out of the slush while others are left behind. However, when writing a query, there's so much at stake (amIright?) that it's hard to just relax and let the magic happen. It's more like agonizing over your tax return.

 Have you queried agents or publishers with your novels? Successfully? Unsuccessfully? What did you feel worked best for you?



  1. I hate writing queries. It feels so artificial to me. The present tense part doesn't bother me. It's forcing myself to stop thinking like a novelist and start thinking like a marketer--not at all my natural approach. I think my queries have been workable but not sparkling.

    1. Yes, very artificial. Stilted. Other negative things along those lines. This isn't to say I haven't read a good query; I just don't know how to make one sing.

  2. I agonized over the query for my first novel. Didn't know much about the 'correct' way to write one but I automatically included the hook, the book and the cook. Seemed logical. I think the worst part for me is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Once a novel is written there's just so much to choose from. With my current WIP I've written the query before I finish the novel. That has kept the through plot the focus of my query. Not so much agony this time. I hope.:)

    1. Yes, it is hard to pick what to include! I think part of my problem is because the book is so very much in my head ,and my head in the book, I'm looking at the whole thing, and not the pertinent driving high points.

      I've heard about writing the query even before starting the novel, and haven't tried it myself, though I could see how it could be very useful as a focusing device.

  3. I've written a couple and, like you, I hated the process. A lot of e-publishers have stopped requiring query letters, and I am THRILLED.

    1. Oh have they now? That's kind of exciting.

      (maybe that's how I'll try to publish the books I don't necessarily want my grandmother reading ;) Though with my luck, she'll buy a Kindle for that purpose!)