Thursday, February 26, 2015

Query Question: questions in a query

is it okay to ask a question in a query?
I've just read this brief on the movie American Psycho
"Patrick Bateman is young, white, beautiful, ivy leagued, and indistinguishable from his Wall Street colleagues. Shielded by conformity, privilege, and wealth, Bateman is also the ultimate serial killer, roaming freely and fearlessly. His murderous impulses are fueled by zealous materialism and piercing envy when he discovers someone else has acquired more than he has. After a colleague presents a business card superior in ink and paper to his, Bateman's blood thirst sharpens, and he steps up his homicidal activities to a frenzied pitch. Hatchets fly, butcher knives chop, chainsaws rip, and surgical instruments mutilate-how far will Bateman go? How much can he get away with?


I began to ponder if someone could write something like this as a query, with those two questions at the end?

It's ok to ask questions in a query if it works. This works, which is not surprising since it's a pitch for a movie and people spend a lot of time and money making sure those pitches entice movie viewers.

What you want to avoid in a query are rhetorical questions:  what would you do if? Have you always wanted to do X?

Things that assume a mind-set of the reader are dangerous because agents on the whole are a caustic, jaded lot and we would simply prefer you tell us about the book, and leave the other stuff on the cutting room floor.



42 comments:

Kitty said...

Someday I may need to query an agent. Should that time come, I can see myself plagued with all these questions, and I'll know right where to find the answers. In the meantime, I'm fascinated with the questions which plague other writers.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Agents are a caustic, jaded lot?
I thought you were talking about writers, Politians and Goldilocks.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

"Have you ever wondered...."

Nope.

Though I guess I'm trained. I read too many agent blogs ;)

I think interesting questions asked well could work, as Ms. Reid says. And in my experience at the library with the reading public, sometimes even when you spell things out for them, you sometimes need to go back and spell it again just a little bit differently.

MB Owen said...

...dangerous because agents on the whole are a caustic, jaded lot.

Query Widely.

Colin Smith said...

I guess the question works if it helps to highlight the story's crisis: "Will Dorothy reach the Emerald City before the Wicked Witch kills her, her friends, and her little dog too?" "Will Minion and her Xacto knife get to Agent Shark before the mad writer and his bowl of lima beans?"

The bottom line, as Janet says, to this and other similar questions is does it work? Does whatever you're trying to do convey the voice of the novel and entice the reader to request pages?

2Ns: Goldilocks jaded? I don't know about jaded. A picky, self-centered prima donna more like. Why couldn't she be satisfied with cold porridge and a hard bed? Stealing from a child just to satisfy her own comfort. I bet she had a good meal waiting for her at home, too! :)

Ardenwolfe said...

As long as it's not rhetorical, I think you could get away with it. But, personally, I wouldn't.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Have you always wanted to fill that chip on your shoulder? Someone bit you? Was it a jade shark?

The amazing lima bean-bag wrapped in kale is for you. It fills any hole, and can be moulded to any shape.

Heat it in the micorwave for cold feet. In spring, water it and throw it in the pan. Voila! Dinner's on!

The lima bean-bag wrapped in kale is a great cat toy and can soothe rejection dejection. Mould it to your cheek and use it as a pillow, lay your head on it instead of your writing desk.

Marketed by FBE (Felix Buttonweaver Entreprises).

Disclaimer: This marketing campaing does not suggest said writer has SCD (shoulder chip disfunction).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

For all you demented lima bean lovers here's an address to fulfill your L-bean dreams. me it's a nightmare.


http://www.nytimes.com/1988/10/19/garden/a-town-celebrates-the-lowly-lima-bean.html

Susan Bonifant said...

It might be a mistake, but I try to imagine the query I would want to read myself. With little time (or patience) to discern the yes/no fate of a query, I think I'd find gimmicky questions tedious. On the other hand, a clean, professional, and as-compelling-as-possible-in-250 words-or-less query would at least start things off on the right foot.

That said, Colin has a point about the framing of a question. One rising naturally from the conflict of the character, rather than one aimed at the agent's personal curiosity seems workable to me.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: Interesting article. Should New Jersey make the lima bean the state vegetable? Now there's a question for the ages. Probably not one for a query, though. ;)

Susan: "One rising naturally from the conflict of the character, rather than one aimed at the agent's personal curiosity seems workable to me." Well put. :)

donnaeverhart.com said...

For me, this is sort of like prologues. (I love to dredge up the unsavory topics du jour don't I?)


I've read some books where that sense of urgency for a character is clarified with a back of the book description that asks a question or two, similar to the American Psycho movie description. I was okay with that.

On the other hand, I can see how agents might execute a dramatic eyeroll if a query started off or ended with questions. A query's job is to present to potential reader what the story is about and what's at stake. Sure, a question or two CAN do that, (Colin's example) but so can simply stating it.

"Dorothy must reach the Emerald City before the Wicked Witch kills her, her friends, and her little dog too." "Minion and her Xacto knife must get to Agent Shark before the mad writer and his bowl of lima beans."

I say if QOTKU advises against it, do you really want to take a chance on getting a request for a partial/full or an eyeroll/pass?

That's the only question you want to ask. :)


Craig said...

Dear Prudence

It is time. They had languished in obscurity for too long. It was all because of their putrid cousin and it was time to take him down. He had begun to pit the masses against each other.

He seemed to enjoy the fact that it was an even split of those who loved him and those who hated him. The lines drawn could threaten the whole world.

Can Speckle and Calico bring down their cousin? Can they create a harmonious world where everyone loves Lima Beans for their diversity?

BEAN WARS is a 52000 word thriller and a continuation of the Garden Gnomes series

Kelsey Hutton said...

I also think it's important that the questions in the example aren't Yes/No questions.

I read a lot of queries on QueryShark and Evil Editor, and I find questions that boil down to "Will Jane Smith save the day??" get rather tiresome, since, after all, readers usually expect the hero to end up saving the day. There's no tension there; I already know the answer.

"How far will Jane Smith go to save the day?" is a far more interesting question to me.

Then it's not about the what, it's about the how--and that's where a great writer can throw in some real surprises without sacrificing a well-earned happy ending.

Colin Smith said...

Good point, Kelsey! The yes/no can draw attention to the crisis, but questions that focus on the how are definitely better. Most novels resolve in the protagonist's favor, and we as readers know that. This means the drama is often not in whether the protagonist succeeds, but in how much that success costs him/her, and what s/he has to sacrifice to achieve the desired goal.

Kelsey Hutton said...

Zactly!

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Nathan Bransford used to write about this a lot.

"Have you ever wondered [insert question like "if Felix Buttonweezer can find personalized cufflinks?"

begs the answer, "NO." (Although I think enquiring minds would want to know about Felix.)

And that the last thing you want in a query is a neat cut-off NO in your query.

A friend of mine self-pubbed several series of contemporary romances that were moderately explicit. On one she kept getting these weird negative reviews about "I was expecting Christian fiction and this was disgusting."

No one could figure out why. And then looked at her blurb again. It was rife with gauzy rhetoricals like, "Will Felixia find the true love denied to so many?" and other word-bombs that were sending the wrong signal. Once cleaned up, the bad reviews did as well.

Her Sharkiness hit the key thing, does it work? I'd say that it is a strong spice to be used sparingly.

Terri

Christina Seine said...

As daughter of the village’s best soup maker, Goldilocks has been born into wealth and privilege. She’s also got a keen eye for trouble. Forced into doing community service work delivering soup to forest dwellers following a conviction of hate crimes against wolves, Goldilocks stumbles upon the home of an innocent bear family. While the bears are away, she vandalizes their home, destroying furniture and demolishing the bear’s winter supply of food – their precious lima beans. By chance she stumbles upon Papa Bear’s stash of fine scotch and Doritos, and in an alcoholic, Dorito-induced stupor, she passes out in the nursery.
Can Mama Bear’s compassion prevent Papa Bear from giving Goldilocks the smack-down she deserves? Can Grandma convince Goldilocks to finally join a 12-step program? And is this the last straw for Jack the woodsman,Goldilock's fiancee, who’s already been seen about the village with a mysterious girl in a red cape?

Colin Smith said...

Christina: LOL. And because there are two sides to every story:

Agent Goldie Lox had only been in the program three months and already she was staking out the humble home base of the feared Bear Family. Suspecting they had hijacked the village's much-needed supply of lima beans to sell on the black market, she tears the place apart looking for evidence. However, she is seduced by Mama Bear's intoxicating porridge, and falls unconscious just as The Bears return.

Meanwhile, her hapless companion, Woodman "Woody" Cutter is investigating Lox's disappearance. But his is more than a quest of duty. He gave his heart to Lox when they were in the Academy together, though he hasn't yet revealed the truth of his feelings for her.

Does Cutter have enough courage to take on the Bears and declare his love for Agent Lox, whatever the cost?

LOX AND THE LIMA BEAN CONSPIRACY is a 70,000 word suspense fiction novel. It's truly amazing. Really.

Christina Seine said...

Haha! Colin, love it!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Should lima beans be the New Jersey state vegetable? No. What's wrong with you people? I don't dislike lima beans by any means, but they don't begin to approach tomatoes for me (....though aren't tomatoes a fruit, actually? So shouldn't it be a battle between fruits, like tomatoes and cranberries? I'd still vote tomatoes; we never grew cranberries in my NJ childhood backyards).

But anyway. Mulling this over further throughout the day, adding a question in a query can be kind of ham handed, can't it? I mean, you want to reader to ask that specific question when they read the pitch/synopsis/hook/whateverthehell, but if you have to feed them the question to ask as well....is it as effective?

Colin Smith said...

Why thank you, Christina!

Hmmm... I noticed a big problem with that query, one that I'm sure QOTKU would be all over. Aside from the obvious things ("fiction novel" and "It's really amazing"), anyone want to see if they spot the same issue I did? :)

Amy Schaefer said...

Let's see... dangers of yes/no rhetoricals - check. Stronger to rephrase question as a statement - check. Yep, my points were already covered. Back to coughing my lungs out.

donnaeverhart.com said...

Dear Readers of QOTKU blog,

Touche. You've proven clarifying story stakes within queries can work with these well thought out query questions.

Sort of.

I'm sorry, but, as QOTKU's Ass-istant, which is a position, she has stated has less value than her Minion..., what? Uh, okay, less value than the paint on her office walls..., no? Oh, all right, all right, less value than her empty scotch bottle, I must point out that the questions you left dangling like participles have unfortunately caused her a fit of eye rolling I fear cannot be stopped. She's now complaining of vertigo (That might really have something to do with that empty scotch bottle, if you ask me)

But, please do reconsider your approach, as I can guarantee (I've seen it) that even a dizzy Shark will be able to effectively send out form rejections with utmost speed and efficiency - much like her drinking habits.

Yours in misery,

Teddie Finkleweezer

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The Milagro Beanfield War, The Beans of Egypt Maine, Orson Bean, Freebie and the Bean, Mr. Bean, The Bean Counters of Lima, Ohio, (I made the last one up). Let me, here and now, apologize to the one and only sleek-skinned-beady eye, for bringing to this illustrious table the lowly Lima Bean. That’s it folks, I’m done, I am now hating turnips. They match my mood regarding query rejections, bitter.

If I were stranded on an island with nothing but, Moxie, lima beans, turnips, kale and roast-duck I would die of starvation.
But…
I would still query by placing my one pager in an empty Moxie bottle and pitching it in the ocean. Do sharks like moxie? News at 11.

Craig said...

What about turnip greens? If I cain't get collards a mess of turnip greens'll do fine.

donnaeverhart.com said...

Craig, I've admitted before, and I'll admit it againg. I love lima beans, and ALL greens actually - even kale, but I, being southerner am partial to collards and turnip greens - oh, and mustard greens too.

What's that? Oh. The sound of commenters sobbing

Now you've done it.

donnaeverhart.com said...

"again."

That other word I mistyped almost resembled aging. Which I'm sure Ms. Janet feels she is doing as she reads these comments.

Uhkay. Stopping now.

Oh. Wait. Where the hell is Julie???

Sam Hawke said...

You guys are too funny. Every time I try to get over my natural inclination to lurk only, I find you've already commented 50 times with hilarious and/or insightful things, and I'm left with no original lima bean jokes!

Colin Smith said...

Hello, Sam! Welcome out from the shadows. Have a lima bean! :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Wonderful queries and questions and comments to come home to between my meetings. The poor maligned lima bean and kale, tsk, tsk, tsk.

And here's my question..yes, where is Julie?

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm running on little sleep. Sick grandson. However, I had to stop by and wow, have y'all been busy. *Waves at Donna* I was actually going to sit this one out, but it reminded me of a story. Yeah, you knew that was coming.

Kelsey, hit the nail on the head, methinks.

I'm pretty good at avoiding rhetorical questions, but, boy howdy, what great timing. We were having a discussion on B&W about whether someone should use a question in a pitch or query.

I thought you could if it was pertinent, just avoid rhetorical questions. Others had varying opinions, of course.

I avoid them pretty much all the time unless I'm goofing around because of Grandma Robinson, who was my stepdad's mother.

I adored her and Grandpa Robinson. She was a typical little Russian lady nearly as wide as she was tall and, even though she wasn't very tall, that's pretty wide.

One day Bud came home from the one room schoolhouse and told her a joke he'd heard at school from some older boys. "Mom, what are the three most important parts of a stove?"

"I don't know, Bud, what are they?"

"Lifter, leg, and poker." Then he made the appropriate crude motion with his pelvis. Of course, he had no idea of the innuendo, but it wasn't lost on Grandma who led a sheltered, but not virginal life.

Bud, being wise in the ways of Mother Fury, took off running and climbed the tree near the chicken coops to get away from her. She ran after him screaming at him to come back.

Finally, she huffed and puffed her way to the tree and threatened him some more. These dire threats of bodily harm are always conducive to getting someone to do something you want. Finally, she pulled out the ultimate threat.

"Do you want me to come up in that tree after you?"

Bud looked down at her. "Yes."

She stayed out by the tree for the rest of the afternoon and Bud stayed as treed as a raccoon with a pack of hounds below. Finally, Grandpa rode in and asked what the heck she was doing sitting under the tree.

She explained what Bud had done and Grandpa warned him to get down right then or his hiding was going to be twice as bad.

I remembered the story, as Grandma used to tell it often, and took note. Never ask your kids if they want a beating, they want you to come after them, or any other stupid rhetorical question because they may say, "Sure."

I sort of have the same rule with agents.

Julie Weathers said...

Y'all are hilarious, but dang, those poor lima beans.

Thanks for so many laughs. I haven't had this much fun in a long time. What a crew you are.

Julie with one L

donnaeverhart.com said...

Awww, I'm sorry your grandson is sick Julie. I hope he feels better soon...!

Don't even think of sitting these out. I think we'd all agree out here, our day here wouldn't be complete without a Julie story.

We're hilarious? With the stove story and the ensuing rage of Grandma Robinson, I think got that one hands down.

Colin Smith said...

Hey Julie!! Sorry about the sick grandson. Hope he's well soon. :)

And thanks for telling the story. Very apropos to the topic today.

DLM said...

My query has no questions in it, but it does have a beg-a-question of a sort. "He forged his legacy in conquest, in diplomacy--and, finally, deception and murder. In the end (so history has said ...) he was isolated by his power."

The "so history has said" is pretty cheesy snark, but what agents HAVE requested reads (ugh, it's been a month and five days since my last request - not that I'm counting) are pretty high caliber folks overall. So I really hope it works - and begs the question, 'Can I see the full?' and then 'Is Diane Major there? I'd like to speak with her about representation.'

This querying grind is getting old. Almost as fast as I am.

Julie Weathers said...

Diane,

You're getting requests, which is fantastic. A month really isn't that long. Find another project to bury yourself in and keep the light on for the right agent.

Julie

Colin Smith said...

Diane: Like Julie said, a month is no time. If you're getting requests, then your query's doing its job. No worries!

And totally off topic, but I just found out that Stephanie Jaye Evans will be at Bouchercon!! And did I see Jessica Faust's name on the attendees list too? Folks, friends, people--if you live remotely near NC, you really ought to check this out. I'd love to see you there too! :)

http://www.bouchercon2015.org/

DLM said...

I definitely need to be better about researching on the WIP that really isn't P-ing (hee) enough.

It doesn't help that there's been yet *another* birthday lately, and winter is lasting too long, and in the past nine days I've been snowed in twice. And wah, wah, pitiful me.

DLM said...

More wah-ing. I can't afford to go to Boucheron and meet all these wonderful people! *Gnashing teeth, rending garments, pouring ashes on my head*

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...I haven't had this much fun in a long time. What a crew you are.

Hey Julie, grab an oar and start rowing because you're part of the crew.

Isn't it the pits when your grandchild is sick? Hope he gets better soon.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

BTW Julie it's okay if you only have one L. We can't all be perfect.

Julie Weathers said...

Ah, Carolynn, so sweet.

"BTW Julie it's okay if you only have one L. We can't all be perfect."

Poor Will, my son. The baby had an ear ache Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Logan has been throwing up the last three days. Will skipped school Tuesday, but couldn't afford to miss more, so I've been pulling extra Grandma duty.

Like many men, he gags at these smells, so it's been tough on him, single parent daddy.

Anyway, baby is getting better. Hopefully Logan will be better soon.

I appreciate all the well wishes. There's nothing more miserable than having sick babies.