Saturday, August 26, 2017

Follow ups to yesterday's questions

The comment section brought up some good questions on Monday's and yesterday's posts

Laura Mary
I have a question prompted by Monday’s post where you complained about people not sending pages…
So agents like to keep us on our toes, some like a synopsis, some like a query, some like a belly rub, some are strictly scratch behind the ears only. Some ask for pages, some don’t…
Would it be a really bad idea to just always send pages? If you’re sending 100% of the correct information asked for, is it a terrible, terrible thing to send extra? Are you saving time if they want to read more, or are you showing that you can’t follow rules and shooting yourself in the foot?
Now that I’ve written this out, I suspect there is no real answer, it will just depend on the agent, and how good or bad a day they’re having!

You're right. It's impossible to know the answer. I think agents who discard queries that don't follow guidelines to the nth degree are missing some good stuff, but I throw out stuff that has a synopsis rather than pages, so there's that.

I think pages are always a good idea, but some agents are hugely prickly about sending only what is asked for.

If an agent doesn't ask for pages, and you just have to send pages, at the very least, put them at the BOTTOM of the email. And leave out "I know you didn't ask for it but here are pages" cause that just alerts me to the fact you KNOW what I want and don't care.

If someone is sending me a synopsis (which I don't ask for) and it's the first thing I see after the query, well, sayonara baby, it's a pass.

If someone sends me a synopsis AFTER the pages, I don't read it, but I do read the pages.

There are ways to break the rules without shooting yourself in the foot.

As for #2: Wow! Why would anyone ever, ever comment on someone's photo? As a lady person, this would cause me to press to reject button, no matter how excellent the query.

You are so so right. When this query got passed around, you could hear the ice forming on keyboards and strangled yelps of outrage.

My best guess is this query writer thought he (of course it was a he) was being folksy and charming. What lady doesn't like being told she's attractive? In other words, he's tone-deaf, and clueless. Just exactly what I'm NOT looking for in an author (or anyone actually.)  If you are a gentleman and worried about sounding clueless and tone-deaf, you're probably fine. The C and TD are noted for being oblivious, not worried.

When writing the story portion of the query letter, is it wrong to treat it as if you're writing a back-of-book blurb in that you want to entice the agent the same as if you'd want to entice the reader? Or are there more elements to consider in the query (not including the word count, comps, and bio)?

The reason I don't say "use the back of a book cover, or flap copy,  as a model" is that often they  sound like reviews.

This is Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

 Notice the "transport you" and "one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature." Neither of those are things you want to include in a query.

This is Jilo by JD Horn

Everything's jake until that last paragraph.

Both examples are very well-written jacket copy.
They're just not the best thing to say in a query.

Mark Ellis
If your novel is high-concept, is having the query/pitch/idea on public display problematic? 
You have seen it for yourself here on the blog: five prompt words and not a single story is duplicated.
Authors worry about this a lot because they think it's the concept that sells the book.
It's the concept that gets me to READ the book.
How you develop that concept, write your characters, get plot on the page, surprise me: that's how I sell the book.

I could hold a flash fiction contest with a very good high concept idea, and I'll bet you painting my apartment for me that no two entries would be similar enough to look plagiarized.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah ha.
It's been awhile but finally Janet's buddies, Sherwin-William's and Benjamin Moore have shown up. Two multi-color characters I adore, as does our Queen.
Light, bright, or demure and dark, they harken to the day when all you need is love, a roller, tray-liners, and a sash brush.
As to the topic at hand, of wait, was there a topic.
I'm bad.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Two more weeks and my library writing workshop starts again! Why do I bring this up, you ask? Well, I've been gathering paint chips to use once or twice as writing prompts. They're called the most delightful things!

For all my synopsis whining, I try very hard to follow submission guidelines, be it for queries or short story submissions. In a way, I think about Van Halen asking for "no brown M&M's in their rider. It's a fussy thing to ask, but there's a broader reason (and actually, that was in the 80's, when there were two brown M&M you think they meant both or just the dark ones?)

RKeelan said...


Notice the "transport you" and "one of the most beautiful and estraordinary stories of American literature." Neither of those are things you want to include in a query.

Karen McCoy said...

Authors...think it's the concept that sells the book. It's the concept that gets me to READ the book.
How you develop that concept, write your characters, get plot on the page, surprise me

This is the best writing advice I've heard in a while. I had this misconception for a long time. Concepts are the easy part for me. It's the delivery I continually strive for.

2Ns: I always like what you have to say, especially when it's OT.

Jennifer: I hope you have an excellent workshop!

AJ Blythe said...

And yet I've read on other agents' blogs that query = blurb.

If only agent's would work together and establish one set of rules for querying...query letter a la QueryShark rules, first 5 pages (minus prologue), no synopsis. Send as part of email, no attachments (okay, so as per Janet's rules - she is QOTKU after all).

Then our rodent wheels could focus on more important things, like "I sent Agent Awesome my dino-porn and now their #MSWL doesn't say dino-porn".

Kregger said...

Ms. Reid,

I never point out typos, because they are--dear God--typos.

But I plan to add "estraordinary" to my list of words I shall use forever.

It is serendipity at it's finest.

Unless you wrote that on purpose, in which case, I ask you permission to steal it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Gee, Karen today and yesterday, thanks for the kind words.
OT again, thinking about Texas this morning.
While we are all sitting at our computers kibitzing and drinking coffee they're up to their asses in HTO and wind.
Okay, sympathetic feelings over, so what do think about those damn Yankees? Please don't answer because I'm a Red Socks fan. I was only trying to be funny.
Hear that click? It was Janet validating my ticket to Carkoon. I wonder if Harvey is headed there. Got my flippers and my facemask.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I meant to highlight Susan's name from yesterday.
Now I need more coffee.
I'm outta here, have a nice day.

french sojourn said...

Kregger; my thoughts esactially.

BJ Muntain said...

AJ: When agents say query = blurb, I think they're being too simplistic. Because not all blurbs are alike - as Janet points out. And I think it's also misleading, because writers often get blurbs mixed up with other things. I've seen query/synopsis/blurb and more mixed up to mean the same thing. And many of the 'blurbs' I've seen for query letters are not query material because writers don't understand.

Perhaps it's best to think of it as "a query is similar to a blurb", not "query = blurb".

Mark Ellis said...

Ms. Reid, I would be thrilled to paint your apartment. Just please make sure you've settled on a color before we start. Thanks!

Karen McCoy said...

Ha, 2Ns. Yeah, I'm more of a lurker during the work week these days; new contract position is pretty demanding. But I'm loving the work.

CynthiaMc said...

I'm not painting, but I did work on the garage, where I found a gorgeous basket I forgot I had and a bunch of colored pens, composition books, post it tape flags, and index cards just as I was about to go buy all of the above.

I know that's a long sentence but I had a good night's sleep and I'm a singer so I did say it aloud in one breath. Ta da!

Checked in on my Texas cousins yesterday. They were busy opening their homes to coastal friends, family, and critters. One moved to Texas from Mississippi after Katrina and swears hurricanes are stalking her. One says Rock You Like a Hurricane is her new theme song. I promised them if they get blown to Florida I'll have gumbo waiting.

Have an estraordinary weekend, everyone. Stay safe.

Steve Stubbs said...

It seems the simplest and broadest answer to #2 (now that you have explained it - thank you) is to say that a business letter should be BUSINESS-LIKE.

(1) Address a complete stranger by title and surname (i.e., Ms. Reid instead of Janet) unless you have permission to be more familiar. Starting a first letter to a stranger with "Yo, Mama" is risky. Anyone is free to address me any way they want.

(2) Address people the way they want to be addressed. If the agent's name is Jerome, don't write Hieronymus. Likewise don't address Michael as Mike, Janet as Jan, Eliezar as Lazarus or Schmuel as Samuel or Sam. No no no.

(3) Sign off with "Sincerely," not "Warmly," or "Love and Kisses." "Regards" should be OK but not "Warm Regards" or "Kind Regards." I find "Very Truly Yours" to be risky and do not use it. I got a threatening letter many years ago from soneone I can't stand that ended with "Very Truly Yours." It gave me the creeps.

(4) Leave the personal crap out. I critted a query for a woman I know some time ago that contained all sorts of stuff about how she loved the publishing company she was querying. I told her my suspicion was nobody cares and that it distracted from what she was selling (which was fatally weak anyway, but I did not say that.) A business letter is not personal.

(5) Assume the recipient is a homosexual. It is probably true, but even if it is not, that assumption will keep you safe. If you like to wear your religion on your sleeve, don't introduce yourself as a Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson admirer or cheer on Donald Trump or crit a woman's appearance. (Even if you are a woman, the lady on the other end may be straight and not want that kind of attention from another woman.) If you are Megan Fox or Anna Paquin and you have a crush on Jenna Jameson, leave it unmentioned. That kind of crap is going to offend someone no matter what you say.

kathy joyce said...

Steve, what?? I was with you until #5. "Assume the recipient is a homosexual"? What the f*ck is that??

Lynne Main said...

Well, I can see in the examples why blurbs don't work for queries. But as B.J. said, I also have seen agents wanting the blurb method in the query. As for me, I'm sticking to the Query Shark method of writing queries.

With point #2 (from yesterday), thanks for the clarification, Janet. I actually thought the querier was on a revenge thing with the agent--as in, "You rejected my super fabulous query? I'll show you," and then said all kinds of derogatory things about the agent. No matter what, the guy was acting inappropriately.

And making it easier for all of us here in the Reef--who follow the rules--to land an agent.

Hope everyone in southern Texas and surrounding areas are holding up under the abysmal conditions from Harvey. The devastation down there is just horrible. Prayers to all.

AJ Blythe said...

BJ, totally agree with you. In essence you need to write the query without thought to the blurb. But those agents I've seen say they like to take the blurb from the query letter (and I know quite a few published authors who say they've had that happen). I don't think it's the best approach (as Janet demonstrated), but it happens.

Lynne Main said...

Whoops! Got my initials mixed up! I meant AJ not BJ when I made my above comments. Sorry 'bout that...

Waverly said...

I had an agent recently ask me to submit the "back cover blurb" with my manuscript. Then she complained because the manuscript didn't match the back cover blurb. I'm obviously not very good at writing copy designed to promote my own book. I think (hope?) I'm better at writing queries than blurbs.

And isn't a blurb different than back cover copy? I think of blurbs as quotes about the book from famous authors or prestigious magazines or newspapers.

JD Horn said...

LOL. If someone had told me 10 years ago when I first started reading Query Shark that I'd live to see the cover of one of my books posted here, I wouldn't have believed it possible. :)

John Davis Frain said...

That's music to my ears, JD, because right now I'm thinking the same thing.

Wait, lemme try math to my ears instead of music. I was thinking the same thing 5 years ago, JD!

There, I'm just cut my journey to success by 50%. I'm feeling so much more efficient.

By the way, JD, nice cover on your newest book too.

Dani Nosek said...

Kathy What I think he was trying to say is that if you are a male submitting to a female, if you just assume they're not going to be interested in you no matter how charming/good looking/wealthy you are, then you'll be less likely to make an ass of yourself. I think it should be worded as "just assume they're not into you." Because, you know, professionalism and all that jazz.

JD Horn said...

Thanks, John Davis Frain. I have my fingers crossed that the book will live up to the cover. :)

Steve Stubbs said...

Hi Kathy,

If you make certain assumptions, whether they are true or not, you will keep yourself safe. People have all kinds of tripwires and buttons you know nothing about. When you are writing a complete stranger you are ballet dancing in a minefield.

In the movie CASINO someone addressed de Niro's character as "Sam" and "Sam" told him, "That's Mr. Rothstein." He said on voice over he had fun firing the fellow the next day. The story is true, and Frank Rosenthal, De Niro's character in real life, was not humble to a fault. I have met people like that in real life more than once. It does not cost anything to be polite.

I have absolutely zero interest in men, and about the only thing in the world that offends me is if someone else says he does, and - guess what? - I'm the one he is interested in. (It has happened.) I don't dwell on it for any length of time and do not retaliate but it does offend me. I am not politically correct, in other words. So I can certainly empathize with women who do not appreciate men expressing an interest in them. I know how that feels. If any women out there want to say they think my picture is "cute" I would question their eyesight or maybe their sanity, but would find it otherwise amusing. I do like women and they get a lot more indulgence around here than men do. If men assume (whether it is true or not) that the stranger they are addressing is not interested in them and may even find their existence offensive, they will instinctively avoid mistakes they might otherwise make. The assumption may be right or it may not, but their behavior will be correct. It is called strategy.

Kelsey Hutton said...

OK, I'm saying something. Steve, please be more careful with your words. There are people who do read this blog who are LGBTQ*, and when you say things like "a homosexual" (as if a person is "a chair" or "a table") and then say that "the only thing in the world that offends you" that is someone mistaking you for being gay--this is hurtful. It makes this blog comment space suddenly an unsafe space, especially if no one speaks up, because that sends the message that everyone else in this community is OK with those words.

I am just one person across the great swath of the Internet, and I don't expect to change your attitude on homosexuality. But it is an act of kindness to think about the other people participating in this blog community, and how they may be different from you, before you post--not just as a "strategy" but as a sign of respect. I think this is actually the gist of what you're trying to say, except for the words you chose to say them with.

One last thing: I am a woman. When men in professional settings make comments about my appearance, I'm not offended because I'm not into them. I'm offended because of the sexist assumption that as a woman I'm going to be swayed into doing something I otherwise wouldn't professionally because I'm so flattered the other person likes how I look.

Thank you Steve for listening, and take care.

kathy joyce said...

Steve, no need for strategy. Agents (and everyone else) are looking for respect, politeness, and professionalism. Your point #5 displayed none of those characteristics. I understand your point, but the words you used to explain it were not appropriate. This is not about political correctness. It is about treating others respectfully. In trying to make that point yourself, you did otherwise. Please read Kelsey's comments with an open mind and heart.

Colin Smith said...

I've been otherwise occupied for much of the weekend, so I haven't had a chance to respond. And it seems the only response I feel like making is to Steve, though I think Kelsey and Kathy said much of it. Steve, you might think your comment was fairly innocuous, and perhaps even humorous. As one who quite unashamedly wears his faith on his sleeve, and yet has no time for Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell (though they would probably consider me a fellow "Evangelical"), and wouldn't have voted for Donald Trump if you paid me, I thought your comment was, to be kind, ignorant. And ignorance is the surest path to offense.

Of course, I'm just another voice in the crowd here, but I too would like to think this is a place where we can talk about writing, publishing, and have a bit of fun, without running rough-shod over people's convictions, whether religious, political, or otherwise. Perhaps if we just apply a simple principle, we won't need any special strategy to avoid offense: "Think of others as better than yourself."

'Nuff said?

Megan V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Megan V said...

I'm just getting around to today's post and comments and I wanted to shout from the cyber rooftops hear hear Kelsey Kathy and Colin, but especially Kelsey!