Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Question: but no, really, my gimmick will work! Really! Won't it?

I know the "gimmick query" is a bad idea, which in theory renders the rest of my question unnecessary. However, there is the occasional non-formulaic query that is exceptionally effective, as in the case of Josin McQuein's query for Premeditated.
The novel I'll be querying is an urban fantasy rewrite of a Greek myth, and as I've wrestled with the query, it occurred to me that it could be really fun to write it as an invocation of the Muse. I obviously don't want to burn bridges before I build any by querying agents with a gimmick that just won't work, no matter how clever I may think I am. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

You're conflating "gimmick" and "non-formulaic" to come up with what we like to call a rationalization. And you know this cause you're asking if it's ok.

Josin McQuein's query on QueryShark was NOT a gimmick. It was exactly what you want a query letter to be: enticing.


If you can write an invocation to the muse that is enticing, more power to you.

However.

I STRONGLY urge you to rethink this.  When you look at Josin's query you see that all the plain ordinary fundamentals are there:  name of the protagonist, name of the antagonist, what choice the main character has to make, or is making.  It starts at the right place: the fork in the road. We have a sense of urgency and tension.

All those are the fundamentals of a good query. That she wrote it in short sharp sentences that lend themselves to a poem is just amazing style.  You can be stylish in your query, you can't be gimmicky.  Knowing the difference isn't a piece of cake but the more you read flap copy, the more you'll be able to evaluate what works and what doesn't.  (Flap copy is the description of the book on the front flap of the book)

8 comments:

french sojourn said...

I can't believe it's been three years since that incredible query. I think it was the Query that grabbed me and shook me up.
Then I rewrote my query eighty odd times and it redefined the voice of my story.
I just got it out to my beta's....thanks Josin...and Janet.

This query and your Flash Fiction have helped myself, and I would guess so many others.
It was nice to see it again. Cheers Hank

Ashley Whitt said...

That query was legendary.

One thing I've learned from editing my novel is that whenever you have to ask someone 'is this okay?', it's worth evaluating whether you already know the answer.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Of course I'm asking if it's okay, you're one of the ones who'll answer! Thank you for being so willing to answer questions and shedding some much-needed light on things like the querying process.

I frequently have an idea I think is dreadfully clever, and then have to be reminded by somebody close to me that "jokes are for other people". As you've already said, this is pretty much guaranteed to be one of those instances.

donnaeverhart.com said...

I remembered this query too. It was so compelling, I took my then WIP and tried to make that style fit that. (it didn't) Still it opened my eyes to the way a query ought to work. And I remembered your reaction because mine was similar - but more like Lord have mercy - somebody publish that thing so I can read it!

Always something to learn out here in Sharklandia.

Janet Reid said...

Donna, PREMEDITATED is pubbed. I'm looking at a copy of it right now.

smoketree said...

This reminds me of high school English lessons about the relationship between form and content in poetry. Maybe a useful question to ask when considering an unusual query format is whether it actually adds to the description of your story, or whether you're mainly doing it for the same reason teenagers like to write haiku or form poems for their poetry assignments--it seems easier.

Stephanie Faris said...

I like it. I've seen plenty of book jacket covers (especially suspense) that use that style, so why not? Isn't the old adage that you learn all the rules so you'll know when to break them?!

Sunny Acres said...

Okay, here's a case in point. I was struggling with my query for a novel about barbarians finding themselves in China. Everything I wrote seemed flat and boring. So suddenly the query started coming to me as lyrics to "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme song. You know: barbarians coming to Hollywood. Licketysplit, I had me a song -- maybe even a hit!

I got to thinking that maybe agents get bored with the same old format, so gee, wouldn't this let them sing a song and have a laugh or two? In this case, the form and content fit and all the query elements seemed to be there too.

The euphoria of creation all but had its way. But after Janet's rather timely comments, I've hastened to abandon my folly, despite the fun of creating it. It's just too dang risky.