Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dispatches from the query queue

Don't joke around at the start of your query

By this I mean don't start with something that is "obviously" funny or not to be taken seriously, then say "oops, let's try again" and start over.

Here's why: I never assume you're joking. When you start out with "my memoir as Felix Buttonweezer's gun moll is 300,000 words in the second person" my first thought is NOT "oh this is clearly a joke."

I stop reading and send the "not for me" form rejection.

The only reason I noticed what might be a joke in the query that prompted this post was I paused before replying to swill some shark brew and got to the "oh I'm kidding" part of the morning's entertainment.

What's obviously outlandish to you is stuff I've seen in my queries for real.

You simply can NOT make up something that is "worse" than what I've already seen. And please, do not take that as a challenge.

Leave your hilarity to the comments column of the blog and the flash fiction writing contests.


french sojourn said...

Nice Query, Bettywith2TT's !!

I had nothing to do with this query, and it was 295,000 words in the future past tense anyway.

P.S. game on!

Cheers Hank.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Can we see some of those outlandish query bloopers? They sound painfully entertaining. Especially so because your highness beleives we are incapable of creating worse.

We might learn something. Fear, fret, wring my hands.

Anonymous said...

Your query letter checklist states 7 very simple steps. Nowhere does it say, "feel free to amuse me with your wit and charm before you get serious."

Seems like maybe the querier figured with all the shenanigans that go on within the blog, you are tolerant to this sort of thing within a query. I cringed for them and would have hated being on the receiving end of your reply. That's a big OOPS moment and regrettable.

You don't say if you rejected the query - given the initial misstep.

Elissa M said...

It's truly reassuring to know this. When the Shark gets down to business, she means business. No more fun and games. There's a reason sharks have multiple rows of teeth, after all, and they're not for smiling.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dear Ms. Jenny Reed,
Did you know that there are 440 known species of sharks? My non-fiction reference teaching tool profiles the 441st, discovered off the coast of France. The Great White Hankster is actually related to the Spielberg Bruce Species of Martha’s Vineyard. He eats boats. My tome is 365,000 words, yes I write daily and have not swum in decades. A full (of-it) is available for you perusal.
Yours very truly,
PS H - Your turn

Colin Smith said...

You don't want wit and humor in a query? No fear of that from me. I haven't been funny for over 40 years, and I'm not about to start now! ;)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I wonder sometimes how a book like Catch-22 was queried. Because that book is so funny, so darkly funny, and heartbreaking and frustrating and all the things I wanted from it. But how do you put that in a query?

Then I realize the industry now is not what it was then, and Joseph Heller probably just got on the horn with somebody and said "Hey, I wrote a thing". Or had it already written and literally pitched the manuscript at somebody. Or something.

french sojourn said...

JRD I would love to see that query, I would imagine it was voice.
Totally voice, like that classic "5 seconds" query on MME. Sharque's other endevour.'s Vinylhaven not Martha's Stewart Island. vineyard...wait...what?...365K..way to go.

Alejandra Ramos said...

Clearly the best response to this would be to request a full, followed quickly with a "Just kidding!"

Lizzie said...

I'm glad you're addressing this. I was looking at a PM profile of an agent who requests a laugh, or rather gives those queries extra attention. So I assumed something witty in the first paragraph would show I'd personalized my query? But doing so felt forced, and going forward I'll assume as I always do that agents will take my words at face value.

Michael Seese said...

Ummm. Ooops!

DLM said...

To my knowledge, the only extras a Shark likes to see in a query are inline photos of kittens. Yummy, delicious kittens.

AJ Blythe said...

Dear Ms JR

My book gives an insight into the fascinating dynamics of the life of a pilchard.

Mr Donohue Pilchard that is. When the dishonorably discharged special forces officer stumbles across a plot by the mullet mafia to corner the world's shrimp market he has to face his demons to ensure the hundreds of weddings relying on the ocean delicacy are able to go ahead.

The book is complete at 48,000 words.

Just like The Shaw-Shark Redemption, Shark Trek and Noah's Shark the movie of my novel will be the next big thing.

Waiting to be rich and famous

Janet Reid said...

Bill, there's a HUGE difference between making me laugh in a query, and starting with something ridiculous followed by "just kidding."

The former is great. The latter is what I'm yammering about here.

Lizzie said...

Okay, that makes sense. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well, it seems WordPress has been eating all my lovely comments. That's what I get for not paying attention. I had the secret to solving something important three days ago. Alas, it is gone forever.

I've read a lot of query letters that make me laugh. Many of them appear in the Miss Snark, Query Shark or Evil Editor archives. I prowl all of them regularly. Unfortunately, most of those weren't meant to be funny. I just have a warped sense of humor and imagine bizarre scenes in my fevered brain.

I'm not a query diva either. I spent one entire writer's conference on bended knee, begging forgiveness from Her Sharkiness for missing a query writing workshop. 'Tis a story for another day. I angst over query letters like everyone else does. In a former life I made every mistake there is to make. Thank all that is holy, agents are flooded with queries and don't remember one name from umpteen years ago.

That being said, I cringed when I read this. Does that querier even have a clue how dangerous that is? I have some friends who write long books. One of them is huge, G.R.R Martin huge, and she has a great agent. Her saving grace is her writing is luscious and the story is a genuine page-turner. She queried two agents, one reps someone like Martin, and equally successful, and both offered representation.

However, how often does that happen?

I'm positive agents get outlandish queries for real projects all the time.

I have a line in my present query letter that I've been told is funny. I didn't start off trying to write it that way, I think the character just expressed his very odd view on life. Normally, even if an agent says they like humor, I let the writing do the talking.

Anyway, keep up the good work. I love starting my day with the shark.


Anonymous said...

Just following up on Bill's question and your response - I've read many agents say that if you're querying a humor book, well the query better be funny. But since humor is subjective is it safer just to describe the book? I want to show a spark, but don't want someone to be turned off instantly.