Thursday, February 05, 2015

Query Question: Query POV

Is it acceptable to write a query using two different POVS? I wrote a novel about a serial killer in the time of Jim Crow. The way the novel works is that it flips back and forth between the killer on the hunt and the detectives trying to catch him. Originally, when I wrote the novel, I wrote it in 3rd person, but then when I placed the novel on the writer's blogs, readers have commented that it would flow better if I wrote the killer's part in 1st person. So now the way the novel works is that the killer's part is in 1st while the part of the detectives is in 3rd. I wonder if I could write the query the same way. I was thinking about using this as a query.

And NO, you can't write a query in ANY POV other than your own. Therefore, that means you can NOT write a query in two different POVs unless you (plural) are Siamese twins or un-integrated multiple personalities, each contributing to the book.

A query is about the book. It's not the book.

Thus you will talk about your characters and what's at stake for them, rather than having the characters speak at all.

Do NOT try to be clever or gimmicky in a query.

Do NOT fall prey to the siren call of "I bet agents see that same stuff all the time, I'll be DIFFERENT."

I'll tell you what we don't see nearly often enough: a concise, enticing description of the main character and what's at stake for him/her as the plot unfolds.

Dare to be good, not clever.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Should I or shouldn’t I?
Janet said,
Do not be gimmicky.
Do not be different.
Dare to be good, not clever.

Janet’s log line for queries, “…a concise, enticing description of the main character and what's at stake for him/her as the plot unfolds.

That was Janet being good.

Shouting may get someone’s attention, singing will hold it.

That was me trying to be clever.

Where's my paint and roller. I need to sniff my Kilim Beige.

Kitty said...

When writing the query, do you mention the two different POVs?

Susan Bonifant said...

Rex, the dinosaur in Toy Story: "I'm going for fearsome here, but I just don't feel it. I think I'm just coming off as annoying."

It's already the hardest thing to write a cogent synopsis without feeling you've removed limbs from your story. It's even harder to abandon your creative voice for a business writer's tone.

But counter-intuitive as it is, that 250 word who-what-why format is what keeps us from becoming Rex.

Nobody wants to be Rex.

Colin Smith said...

As with all such questions, I would expect the usual "But so-and-so did this, and such-and-such did that..." But the exceptions here don't make the rule. Sometimes people write 1st person POV queries that work. Or they write multiple POV queries that work. But as I recall what made them stand out wasn't that they were different, but the fact that they worked. They did the job of telling the agent what the novel's about and they did it succinctly and compellingly. But you don't have to be "different" to do that. From what I've seen on QueryShark (and elsewhere), most queries keep to the traditional 3rd Person formula. And those queries get read and some prompt a request for more.

Take heed what Janet says. The query is merely a means to your novel. You want the agent to be wowed by your story concept, your voice, and your writing. Not by how unusual or creative your query is. You don't want agents to be looking forward to your next query. You want them to read your novel.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

How I read this is "Dear Janet, can I write my query in the voice of a serial killer?"

Now, I like reading serial killer books (fiction and non fiction) and I'll watch serial killer shows (fiction and non fiction), but getting a letter written like that? I think it might stand out in the wrong way.

It might be an interesting thought experiment in one's lengthy query drafting process, though.

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: Your comment reminded me of this 100 word flash piece I wrote last year. It's called Query. :)

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Short answer – A query is a query. It's not a story, not a gimmick, not a synopsis, not a puzzle. It's a query, and those are the rules that apply.

LD Masterson said...

Thank you. The lure to be clever in order to get noticed can be very strong sometimes. A nice clear "don't" is very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's the way to start off my day before I've had my oatmeal.

Janet already said it all and said it beautifully. I've been reading a LOT of queries lately because I'm entered in various contest and they are part of the submission packet.

So, we read each others material and comment. Every time I see a query written in the character's POV, I almost lose my southern charm and attack them with Gay Abandon, and she can be a vicious heifer. Instead, I retire to my fainting couch, fan in hand, and say, "Well, bless your heart." Then I try to politely explain this isn't a good idea.

I have five POV characters in Far Rider. I know, don't judge me. I don't even mention them all in the query and most get a passing nod.

Jenz said...

I have seen some talk on a writing forum about romance novels queries being written in two points of view. But I also noticed that--like Colin said--it's a lot harder to pull that off well.

Colin Smith said...

Sorry, I know I've already commented a gazillion times, but I thought of a good analogy.

Remember the cat wrangling Super Bowl commercial from years ago? I'm sure it's on YouTube, but without looking it up, do you remember what it was advertising? I don't. It was a great piece of television. But for me it completely failed as an advertisement.

The query is an advertisement for your novel. If the query is more enticing than your novel, the query has failed, no matter how "different" or "original" it is.

D. B. Bates said...

"Dare to be good, not clever."

All writers should be required, by law, to have this statement embroidered and hung above their computer monitors. Below it should be the line from This Is Spinal Tap: "It's such a fine line between clever and stupid."

Erica Eliza said...

Wouldn't it be awful to have a Siamese twin who's a writer? All of those hours stuck at a computer watching someone else type-type-backspace-type-delete-type.

Anonymous said...


It was advertising EDS.
It's one of my favorite commercials of all time. I have it on my favored list just to watch it when I need a smile. The youtube of it's been watched several million times. One post of it was at 5 million.

You might not remember the name of the company, because something has to be repeated x number of times for it to stick in your head. I can't remember now what the magic number is. That's why commercials repeat the phone number umpteen times. Then you have to use it. How many times have you needed an information technology company lately?

I don't even drink whiskey anymore, but I would William Lawsons Scotch for some reason I haven't discerned. *Watches video on youtube again.*

However, your point stands. Being clever isn't always a good thing and it's never desirable when clever bleeds into gimmicky in a query.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to ponder Scotch...and stuff.

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, Julie! I have seen the commercial more than once, but the commercial itself stuck in my head more than the company/service it was advertising. For me, it failed. Possibly there are many others who remembered/took note of the company.

Perhaps that's why it's good to query widely. ;)

But yes, the larger point is still valid, I think. The query should shine a light on the novel, not itself.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So, dressing up in a gorilla costume and hand delivering my query cleverly is not a good idea. Dame, now I have to return the stupid thing.

Anonymous said...

Julie, being of the south as well, you nabbed the perfect phrase, "well, bless your heart."
Any of us born below the Mason Dixon line know you can say almost anything, then end it with that, and immediately, it makes just about anything one says okay. It's a GREAT verbal tool to have in one's back pocket. I highly recommend it.

Anyhoo, the first question that popped into my head? Has the questioner read Query Shark examples - at all?

Or, maybe they have, and maybe they had some sort of epiphany with regard to trying to stand out - except it might go over like they got up one morning and forgot their pants. Which wouldn't have the desired effect, I wouldn't think. Unless you're into that sort of thing.

I like what "Ol Chumbucket" said. "A query is a query."

To write it outside of the parameters of what an agent would expect might come off like not being able to follow some pretty straight forward guidelines, or directions. Especially when there are scads of examples and advice to read.

I think writers sometimes feel they have no voice outside of their characters, and want to do something in the query to prove they have it. I think we all know from reading comments out here, that we know better.

Colin Smith said...

@Donna: Our local newspaper has (or at least had) a "Bless Your Heart" column. The intention is for people to write in and thank someone who did them a good turn, or has blessed them in some way that week. Invariably, the column ends up being filled with letters of the "I just want to say 'Bless Your Heart' to the jerk who cut me off the other day and nearly made me spill my latte" sort. There are some of the former, but more often than not the "Bless Your Heart" is tongue-in-cheek.

Anonymous said...

Colin, ha! That's funny. Our local paper here isn't as charming. There's a section called "Sound Off" where people can call a number and leave anonymous complaints. It is hilarious because the transcript is typed exactly like they say it.

"I'm just a wantin' ya'll to know it ain't gon do no one no damn good, pardon my French, to make them there lights on 421 all green so them crazy darn fools can jes go faster. I'm tellin' ya. The PO-lease got themselves 'nough to do as 'tis. Ain't that the truth? Have a good day. Amen."

Bless their hearts. It's my favorite column.

Anonymous said...


I have listened to this phone call, which went viral, several times and laugh each time I do.

A woman in North Dakota calls a radio station to complain about deer crossing signs.

“I’ve even seen [the signs] on the interstate,” Donna said on the Fargo-area radio station, Y94 Playhouse. “Why are we encouraging deer to cross at the interstate?”

But her questioning didn’t end there.

“It seems to me that it’s so irresponsible of us to allow these deer crossings to be in an area where these deer are so likely to be struck by oncoming traffic,” she said. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

The show’s hosts found it hard to interject seriously, realizing just how dimwitted Donna was acting.

“The government can direct the deer population anywhere they want to,” she added. “All they have to do is move that deer crossing sign.”

Well, bless her heart. What she should have added is that deer are native and only read Lakota, not English.

Anonymous said...


Yep. Bless your heart can be, "Well, bless her heart, she was born in New Jersey and doesn't realize you only serve dollops of real mayonnaise on your Jell-o salad, not that Miracle Whip stuff."

Or genuine concern: "Well, bless your heart. I can't believe Jimmy Don ran off with that floozy. Let me get you some sweet tea and we'll plot his death."

Michael Seese said...

Technically, shouldn't the plural of POV be PsOV?

Kregger said...

I ask my grandchildren the age old question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"
I get blank stares.
"To move the deer crossing sign to a safer spot," I tell them.
Crickets, every time.
Maybe I should learn to speak Lakota.

Colin Smith said...

@Michael: And technically, shouldn't it be PoV? Which then means technically the plural is PsoV. :)

Anonymous said...

Julie! OMG. Was my namesake with the deer sign thing drunk? High on crack?

Please say yes - either or is fine.

And agree, that bless your heart is the catch-all for real worry, or disguised jackassery.

Whichever we choose. Which is why I love it.

Anonymous said...


It's hilarious to listen to.

DLM said...

Reasons I love reading Julie's comments, #73: "I almost lose my southern charm and attack them with Gay Abandon, and she can be a vicious heifer."

Y'all are missing the scathing "bless your heart" wherein it is the only response to a fool without direct insult. But it is insult ... I actually had two guys I worked with, one I called Eeyore and one I referred to as "My Bless-Your-Heart." I loved the guy, but I can't say I admired his fretfulness ...

Bless my heart, I shore do trah.

Colin Smith said...


It's amazing that Donna the Deer Lady has been heard by over 1.6 million people--and that's the first time I've heard it! I need to get out more, clearly. :)

Anonymous said...


One video has 13 million views. I wonder if she ever wised up.

Amazing stuff.


Anonymous said...

Good grief. I've listened to this twice and all I'll say is I'm glad - for once - this wasn't someone in Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia...


Anonymous said...


Yep, it's good to spread the stupid out. Someday I'll round up my story about The Great North Dakota Zap In. That was amusing.