Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hogwash versus Wilbur in the buttermilk

A previous post ranted on (and on!) about effusive and ineffective compliments in a query letter.

Some commenters interpreted that to mean you should not make any kind of complimentary statement, including how the agent was located.

No no.

As in all things, sincerity counts. I can tell the difference between hogwash and a lovely illustration of Wilbur in the buttermilk.**

If you say "you're one of the top agents in New York City", that's hogwash. (UTTER hogwash.)

If you say "my book is similar in tone and style to Jeff Somers' kick ass and takes names noir thriller Digital Plague" that's not hogwash (until you fail to live up to your own comparison, but that dreadful knowledge comes after the query letter.)

If you say, "I see you represent the incredibly talented Jeff Somers" that's not hogwash. Jeff is incredibly talented and I do represent him to my everlasting pride.

If you say "your reputation as an agent is revered by all", that's hogwash. I can't even type it with a straight face. My MOTHER couldn't type it with a straight face.

If however you say "I attended your class at Surrey and got a lot out of it" that's not hogwash.

You'll notice the difference is in the specificity of the compliment. "You helped me figure out how to write a query letter on QueryShark" is sincere. "Your blog is just the coolest thing since central air conditioning" isn't.

I can tell the difference. So can you. You don't need to invent compliments to get me to read your work. I WANT to read your work.

** (and if you don't get this reference, stop reading at once, and go get Charlotte's Web by EB White....NOW)


Sarah Jensen said...

I love Charlotte's web. And okay, point well taken. I do see the hogwash as annoying. But since you're the best thing since sliced bread...Yeah, couldn't finish that.

Sage Ravenwood said...

You know what they say, be careful what you want/wish for. I have no doubt the queries are as varied and different as the individual writers. I do believe that's what should come across, how they're offering something that stands above the rest. Some days I think there is a hidden author in us all, or not as may be the case.

Charlotte's Web is a childhood favorite of mine. (Hugs)Indigo

Nancy Coffelt said...

I just finished a lovely reread of Charlotte's Web. Still cried over one of the saddest ever lines in children's literature - "No one was with her when she died."

Sarah said...

Makes sense. I wondered about your earlier post till I reread the compliments.

I need to read Charlotte's Web again. Two years ago, I picked it up in Barnes and Noble and reread the end. I sat there- blinking crazily, biting the inside of my cheek- and hoped no one would notice me. But I still finished it. (Nancy, the line you mentioned just about finished me.)

I've been trying to think of a horribly effusive compliment- one that would make you reach for your boots, but no joy.

froggfeathers said...

I get these by rss feed, so here I am at 8pm my time picking through my reader when blog scud one zings by. "Hmmm," I say. (After working 14 hours "Hmmm" is all I have left.)

I click the next post and scud two then three are fired in quick succession. I say again, "Hmmm."

Guess you had a bad day too? Thanks though for making me smile.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Thanks for the clarification Janet.

Most helpful as I'm busy with query letters now (to send off when we get back from the bush at the end of next week) I had mentioned that I read some blogs but took out that line after reading your last post. Will now reconsider.

Sadly, I won't be querying you or Colleen as I don't write crime or sci-fi.

Stacia said...

But your blog is just the coolest thing since central air conditioning.

(Heh, my verif word is "Noscors".)

Jonathan E. Quist said...

I am led to wonder what Strunk thought of Wilbur...

Loren said...

This is good advice. This blog is helpful to me. Thanks

Susan Adrian said...

Well, good, since I DID have a compliment in my query letter. A sincere one, natch. :)

Haste yee back ;-) said...

J. Quist,

Strunk approved.

Charlotte did all the writing. She was precise, used simple direct sentences, kept to the familiar - what more could he ask?


(As to the Hogwash suckin' up of queriers. I was gonna lob a round across the bow of the ships of sycophancy frequenting the numerous agent blogs - but I shall hold my tongue. It's only one man's opinion, veracity of which is questionable anyway. It's not my style, but each to his own)!

Haste yee back ;-)

ryan field said...

Got it. When I was querying, I always kept a distance from all compliments so I wouldn't make a mistake that sounded like hogwash.

But its a good thing I'm not an agent, because I would so love the hogwash :)

L.A. Cone said...

Damnit,I had three pages of sucking up. What a waste. By time you finished reading them, you would have had to chapstick your ass. Oh well back to the drawing board.

Jeffrey L Riffe said...

Ok, since hogwash is off the list of suitable Query filler...

Hypothetically speaking; what if a well written query showed up and in lieu of unpalatable flattery, it came wrapped around a bottle of Glenmorangie? ;)

Anonymous said...

"Hogwash" is a strange word. I wonder about its origins.

Anyway, for giggles, I'm curious to know if you've ever received a query that was rife with brassy insults.

And would you share it on your blog? I think it would be hilarious.

BJ said...

Don't know about the origins, but I imagine what gets washed off pigs can be very similar to other words meaning b.s.

Julie Weathers said...

I think hogwash refers more to swill fed to pigs, which is usually a mixture of garbage or slop.

BJ said...

Yep, you're right:


c.1440, from hog + wash; originally "slops fed to pigs;" extended to "cheap liquor" (1712) then to "inferior writing" (1773).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper