Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Query Question: can I lie about the book in my query?

How close must the query match the manuscript? I know this must seem like a stupid question, but I've been receiving query assistance from a literary intern (1), and he gave advice that I haven't seen elsewhere. I need to confirm it before I start sending out my query.

My manuscript mostly stands alone, but is the first of a potential series. Because of this, the plot of the sequel is *vaguely* hinted at in the stakes of the query. I asked the intern if an agent would be PO'd if something I mention in the query doesn't show up in the manuscript. He told me that things can be fudged in a query,(2)  and mentioned that one thing in his own query was an outright lie(3). He had revised and didn't bother to fix the query to match (he was signed by an agent). He said if the query is good and clearly for the same book, and if the book is good and similar to the query, no one cares about specifics. I'm hoping his advice is correct.

Can you "fudge" a few specifics in a query?

you can do anything you want in a query up to and including query for a fiction novel. The real question is what's at stake when you do something idiotic like...lie?

The purpose of a query is to entice the agent to read the manuscript. If an agent reads the manuscript thinking one thing is going to happen, and it doesn't, that's a pretty big thud.  Is that something you want to risk?

On the other hand why are you vaguely hinting about anything in a query? The stakes in your query are the stakes in this novel, the one you're querying. Not any other.

If you think you need to fudge a few specifics in your query, you need to fix the novel or the query or both. 

And I've got a few questions for you:

(1) what the hell is a literary intern? An intern at a literary agency?  This is the least informed and experienced person at an agency. I'm pretty sure it's the least right person to be asking for advice.

(2) Unless he's making the decisons on what's signed to the agent's list, he's not in a positiion to tell you this.

(3) oh great. Insert image of eye-roll here.  Even if this is true, it's absolutey TERRIBLE advice. He's mistaking HIS experience for the universal norm.  Well, that's typical of interns which is why (see #1)


french sojourn said...

What if it's like a "fictional" lie?


Cheers Hank

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My literary interns were overworked, underpaid (if paid) indispensable workers, which were exceptionally well-read.
They always gave accurate and spot-on advice in - retail.

Colin Smith said...

Ummm... and what about personal integrity? If you would lie about your novel in a query to get it read, what would you do to get it published? (I'm sure that's a story idea in itself...)

Come on people--have some self-respect! What was that tag Janet had on the blog for a while about writers NOT being the beggars at the publishing banquet, or something like that...?

KariV said...

When querying an agent, keep in mind you're not asking them to pretty please do you a favor. You're asking them to enter in to a business relationship with you. Would you "fudge" details on your resume just to get an interview? Maybe, but if it comes up that it's a lie, you probably won't get the job. Better to play it safe and keep the details accurate. It helps you to start off on the right foot if you do happen to get signed.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

For me, if a book does not read the way its blurb and/or cover promises, I'm angry, not just disappointed. I will not finish it. I will hesitate before returning to that same author.

Movies, I've come to expect the preview to tell a story different from what the movie actually is. Sometimes the difference is more hilarious than others.

Liz Blocker said...

Sigh. Is it terribly rude to sigh? I think we're all trying so hard to write THE query and be successful that we can tend to overlook important truth. Thanks, as always, for bringing us back to earth.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

"Can" I lie in my query? Sure! It's easy. But "should" I lie about my book in the query? What part of "should I lie" sounds like a good idea?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

In movie trailers, a point raised above by Jennifer D., the reason that often happens is because the trailer is almost always made before the edit of the movie is finished, sometimes long before. And it's often made by someone other than the director or editor is finished making the final decisions about what the movie is about. It's a system that almost begs for two different versions of the story - the movie and the marketing tool. But an author has presumably finished the final draft before writing the query, and ought to have some idea what the darn thing is about.

LynnRodz said...

What next? People lie about their age. (Not me!) Isn't it better to say your age and people tell you, "Wow, you don't look it at all!" rather than lie and take 10 years off and people are thinking, "Oh my God, she looks really bad for her age!"?

People lie about their weight. (Who me?) Okay, sometimes, when I put on a pound or two and I have to lay off the wine/champagne calories until that darn kilo comes off!

So, now we've got lies on a query! Why do you feel the need to include the plot of your sequel in your query? Hasn't the QS said, over and over, to query one book at a time?

(I just looked at my watch and I think it's time for a glass of wine!)

Eileen said...

Just chiming in to KariV's comment. You'r bang on that lying to someone you want to have a business relationship with is not a great start. However, an agent isn't doing you a favour by repping you and you don't work for them.

To be clear I think agents are awesome and I wouldn't want to navigate this business without them so it isn't a slam on them, just a clarification that they aren't doing this to be nice and that they need us as the writers.

Elissa M said...

Like everyone else here, I'm a bit flummoxed by this question. A query is supposed to tell an agent what the book is about, in a way that excites the agent's interest. It's not a bait-and-switch con.

I agree with everything everyone else said. Stop taking advice from that intern.

Lance said...

After you have loitered around the convention hotel lobby long enough (it can take hours) to get in the same elevator with your prospective agent, you're not going to lie to her face to face during your elevator pitch, so why lie in your query?

Ed Varga said...

I wanna be a literary intern! (hilarious)

Kitty said...

I submitted this question (sorry, forgot to include the word 'agency' between literary & intern. I was sleep-deprived when I composed it. :P ).

I wanted the advice from the intern to be true, but my spidey sense was tingling, which is why it was important to hear the truth from the Shark's mouth.

As mentioned, it wasn't so much a lie as it was a small hint of what was to come in the sequel, but I've now removed the hint. Thanks, Janet. I'm much obliged.

DLM said...

@Jennifer R. Donohue, YESSSSSS. Oh my aching head, why is it so common, too, for blurbs to just be dead wrong? It does make me *angry* rather than merely disappointed or bewildered. Truth in advertising -and paying attention in advertising too. Anything teaser-like meant to draw me in, which misses MOST of a book's point or focuses on the wrong plot points/characters/whatever, is exactly like a "THIS PILL WILL CURE EVERY PAIN IN THE WORLD" come-on in an ad, and even without ever taking the pills those still get me ranty.

However, I was going to point out what Kitty has said - that *she* is not the person who came up with the idea to "fudge" (I don't like to use the word lie on her; it feels like that ascribes intention, and she clearly had good intentions).

Unfortunately, we know what good intentions are used for. :)

Good luck, Kitty - you were smart to come to The Wise Shark with your tingling. I think a LOT of people would have just gone with the fudging.

furrykef said...

I can't even imagine any reason to lie in a query. If you're lying about the content of your book, that means you think your lie makes for a better story than what you actually wrote. So, um... why not update your manuscript to match?

And if you lie about anything else, it certainly won't look good when the agent finds out about it.

Disclaimer: I'm neither an agent nor a published author, just somebody with an ounce of common sense. (Probably not more than that, but...)

french sojourn said...

You definitely chose the right place to ask the question. And it was actually a good multi-question.

I wonder if after the query there would be a line independent stating that it could be stand alone or the first of...

I asked about Querying in a Maine accent...upon reflection it was an obvious answer..ayuh! At least that was the conscientious amoungst the replies. .( more importantly by QOTKU) but I toyed with it internally long enough for it to be valid to me.

I wrote another query for mine that featured a great character, to the point that I rewrote the story to give him more face time, partially to reflect the query...cart vs. horse Hank??