Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ten Red Flags in ANY Query

1. The first sentence has more than 25 words.

2. The first sentence has more than two clauses.

3. The author refers to himself/herself by name (rather than "I")

4. The bio section refers to a recent retirement that now allows time to write.

5. The phrase "film potential" is present.

6. The words "beta readers" are present.

7. The words "why this book will be successful" appear in the query

8. The phrase "my name is"** appears

9. Love for the written word is professed.

10. Instructions for pronounciation of any name is included.

Any questions?

**and is  not followed by "Inigo Montoya"


Donnaeve said...

Ta DA!

Donnaeve said...

As to that list..., it seems you may be getting queried in such a manner? It's still hard to believe after the effort and YEARS of Query Shark, and advice here on this blog, the no no's on the list still happen.

It's sort of reminds me however, of an author who achieves bestseller status - and I've never heard of them. The collective gasp that will follow this next statement will be heard exponentially by the publishing world, but I think this has everything to do with...dare I say it... people who don't KNOW about Query Shark, this blog, or how you work.

Just a few weeks ago, I heard about Lisa Jackson. Big writer. Lots of books. Bestselling author. Never heard of her.

The cosmos just tilted, I think.

french sojourn said...

Great post, I was so worried that my lead off sentence for my query might be a candidate.

It was Felix Buttonweezer's intent to present this manuscript to "your name here" for your enjoyment and thusly give "your name here" first rights to represent this future classic." (29 words; thrifty)

Felix Buttonweezer.

Sam Hawke said...

When you hang out in places like this, where you assume most people know their stuff, it's sometimes handy to remember that a big chunk of your competition for agents' attention do stuff like this...

Ellipsis Flood said...

So if Inigo Montoya queried his memoires, you'd be sold?

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Bah! And Heidi-come-lately was hoping to score top comment.

Laura Mary said...

One of my guilty pleasures is Slush Pile Hell - it is FULL of insane queries along the lines of 'This book will blow your mind! Everyone who has read it says it will sell at least 7 million copies! Ready to get rich, future agent?'

I knew *nothing* about how to query when I started writing (it's different in the UK too- you send a 50 word pitch and a 2 page synopsis) and might well have fallen into the let-me-tell-you-why-I-love-books trap, but I didn't, because before I got anywhere near agents websites, I found a multitude of blogs like this!

On the one hand it does seem a little harsh to be so hard on people for their naiveté, however, there is so much information out there, that there is little excuse for not knowing the basics at least!

DeadSpiderEye said...

'Ready to get rich' I think I might be using that, or perhaps: seriously, you have won the jackpot, I selected you from thousands...

Unknown said...

Nope, no questions here. Unless...and let me be the first to go off do those darn animators make a cartoon horse looks so believably disgusted? Hats off to them, they've come a long way since the mouse.

DLM said...

Laura May, I would love Slush Pile Hell more if it were updated more than once every year or two. Right now, the "Agent Beloved" crash and burn has been up for months. It's been seasons since the last new post.

I get a bit queasy too about how people basically publicly shame others for blunders made in ignorance. I know often there is arrogance in play, but the online pile-on ends up making me feel dirty and sad. ("And not in a good way!" *rimshot!*)

DLM said...

Laura Mary, my apologies for getting your name wrong; dyslexia and a lack of spectacles are no excuse for careless personal address.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Points noted. Particularly the ears pointed in two different directions combined with narrowed eyes.

(and so very glad a cp pointed out one of those no-no's in my draft)

Do writers get lazy in summer? Or do lengthy summer vacations create a particular type of 'write it right quick' authors who think penning a novel is more hobby than profession and therefore do not research how to write a query letter? I saw a comment on another blog about an agent receiving some horrible query letters lately.

Or maybe there's some bad advice out there again for newbie writers.

It is interesting, to pick up from a comment that Colin made yesterday, that some writers have not figured out the query is similar to a cover letter and resume/cv for any other type of a job. Although an agent doesn't give us a job (via a published book) but becomes our professional partner as we search and work together to get the baby published.

It takes a village to grow a published book. Whether traditional or self-pubbed.

Donnaeve said...

Heeee, Diane. I also called her the VERY same name just a while ago, in the comments from yesterday's post.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Felix is a retired lima bean farmer whose beta readers loved the first of his trilogy, a historical fantasy, and know you will too : How Button, the Scowling Horse, Ate His Through Briar Patch to Save His Master.

At each thundering footstep, Button’s sentient hooves discover their individual talents including but not limited to dowsing (You know those forked sticks that jerk in your hands).

A guaranteed pageturner similar to Fifty Shades of Divertente sure to win the next Poolicker prize.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I love hearing about how other people query, good and bad.

The AMAZING queries make me feel bad, sure, but also make me reach harder.

The TURRIBLE (not a typo) queries make me feel better about myself.

I'm happy to leave a bio out of a query letter, especially if a bio is not requested in the guidelines. There's only so clever I can feel at this point about saying things about how I use my psychology degree to train my dog (I mean, I do, I don't work in my field unless "working with the public at the library" counts [it kinda counts])

Oh, and my last name is pronounced "Donna-hoo". "Donna-hue" is for lace curtain Irish; apparently we were shanty Irish (this is what my grandfather says, and he sheds no other light on our Irish roots.)

Beth H. said...

A lot of these also apply to cover letters for job applications. I was completely put off by one candidate when I realized that the average number of words per sentence was over 30. This position involved writing, so I was sure that she wasn't the right fit.

Anonymous said...

Books and Writer is ever a source of amusement for me. Someone made a post about the science of purple prose and how it's important to writing. I struggled to get through the article and did on the fourth attempt.

The posting author posting wasn't impressed with my Hemingway quote that applied to purple prose, but seriously, a 100-word sentence?

I'm safe on the first one, I think.

Having said that, I sense challenges today.

2. Oh dear. Me and clauses. I suppose this goes back to the don't name too many characters. *deletes cousin Claus from the Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg story that fateful Christmas when they discussed their plan while watching children play with Santa Claus.

3. Sometimes I think I'm beside myself with joy. Then I just realize I've put on weight. Even so, I normally refer to myself as I, unless it's one of the "special" days when the queen is visiting. Then I am Highness, but Her Highness isn't given to writing much. She has people that do that for her, mostly me. I'm getting better, and so am I.

4. What if the author is someone like a top spy who wants to get her story out before something happens to her? Or George Clooney?

5. Deletes film potential from query about that which shall not be named as it causes flutters.

6. *Ponders how to tell my story about the grade school for fishes if I can't mention beta readers.*

7. *Deletes this book will be successful because I'm a damned good writer.*

8. Changes name to Inigo Montoya

9. *Deletes wedding picture with Written Word*

10. If you insist, but most people pay big money to learn Klingon.

I clearly need to work on this query thing a bit.

DLM said...

Donna, it was reading your comment yesterday that opened my blind eyes. I have *always* mis-read Laura Mary's name, and I hereby hang my head in slightly-amused-with-myself shame.

This is not the first time. I began reading Mary Stewart's Arthurian novels when I was fourteen, and re-read them from time to time for many many years. I think I was in my twenties when I realized that a main character I had always "read" (hah) as Ambriosus (it looks so weird to me now!) was Ambrosius. I was not, in my youth, what you'd call estimably familiar with Roman names. Le sigh!

Now, if any of our Brits (or anyone) can help me figure out the pronunciation of the Bretwalda's name, Ceawlin, one of my many lifelong word/name quests will be fulfilled ... :)

Amanda, I remember seeing a discussion in an documentary somewhere, pointing out the insouciant angle of Wile E. Coyote's nose, and how important a visual cue it was to his character. His nose bespoke of hope springing eternal, but quivering in every inevitable defeat.

My dog has EXACTLY that nose. If she weren't such a total Penelope, and if the name didn't mean so much to me to boot, she might have ended up being a Wile E.

Colin and Beth - it's just commonsense professional communication. Business letters needn't be pointlessly stiff, but good gravy, the rules do help. (See also, my blog post this week that Colin so kindly commented on, about PowerPoint ... yeesh!)

Shutting up now.

For a minute anyway.

Colin Smith said...

Did I get LAST comment on yesterday's post? :)

Donnaeve said...

I've been called Donna-hoo before. As in, Donna..., who we all know is full of it.

Colin Smith said...

On Topic: The point on the list that made me pause was #4. Is it a bad thing that one waits until retirement before taking up writing, or is it a bad thing to mention the fact in a query bio? I'm hoping just the latter since I'm sure some very good published authors have taken the opportunity of retirement to indulge that life-long dream.

Donna & Diane: I think your Laura Mary/Laura May confusion comes from the fact that both you lovely ladies are from the South (or have been living in the South long enough that you are now adopted natives). Laura May flows much more naturally off the Southern tongue than Laura Mary. Say the former with a good Southern drawl, and the latter with your best BBC, and you'll see (hear?) what I mean. :)

Beth H. said...

I've been reading Laura Mary as Laura May, too! If Colin's right, perhaps I've become more acclimated to the South than I realized.

DLM said...

Colin, I think you do have the last word on yesterday's post.

However, as to my Southerninity - I do think it's just my eyes in this case. I don't drawl, and Laura May is not a name I've ever encountered (around here, you get mother's-maiden-name as a middle name for double-named folks, so you see Ann Douglas or Ann Carter for instance). I just don't usually read with my glasses on; I wear them when I'm actually composing, or reading a hard copy, but online much less so. I also rarely read Janet's posts and the comments out loud, so there's little flowing off the tongue. :)

Though born and raised here on the good, red clay of the Old Dominion, I also have never been a fan of iced tea, sweet or otherwise. The only tea I ever really warmed to (hah) was a beautiful cup of rose tea my mom gave me one time. It was marvelous tasting, soothing, and meant very much to me because that moment was one when my mamma was very much taking care of me, so the quaff was all the sweeter.

(I like my purple prose, parentheses, and overabundant clause-ery ...)

LynnRodz said...

Yes, all of us are informed and wouldn't make any of those mistakes, right? But when we started on this journey, I'm sure there would've been one or two of these red flags that might've slipped through simply because we didn't know any better. The only difference from those who do make these mistakes is, we decided to become knowledgeable about the industry before knocking on any doors.

Totally off topic, I had a crazy dream this morning. I was with Patrick Swayze while he was looking to buy a mansion. I think I was there for moral support. The real estate agent was showing us around (marble fireplaces, winding staircases, the whole 9 yards). She offered us a glass of champagne and everything was going well until we got to the kitchen. It looked like it belonged in a shack rather than a beautiful mansion. There's definitely a symbolic meaning there.

DLM said...

LynnR, I love the way you dream, though! Who needs a kitchen with Patrick Swayze and a mansion?

Aww. Patrick Swayze.

I had fewer dreams than Irritating Wakeful Thoughts, myself. My prescription coverage is all but a contradiction in terms, and my dermatologist's solution to my stated problem that the current meds I was using were over $200 was to give me a prescription for a maintenance option that is nearly $600 for a month's supply. I suspect she did not understand that my problem was NOT that the Rx was not pricey enough. (Holy cats, if I swallowed a price tag like that, it'd put paid to my ever getting any work done on my house. Geez oh PETE.)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

LynnRodz: according to my dreambook (doesn't everyone have one of those?) a kitchen is the place where you're cooking up plans and schemes, preparing to nurture, a work area. That's one interpretation.'s the writing going? : ) Don't be too hard on yourself.

Donnaeve said...

Colin, you could be right, but like Diane, I am southern born, and I've never seen/heard of a Laura May down here. I have heard of Lucy May, Linda May, and on and on. And like Diane points out, maiden names are used as middle names a LOT. Next door, the kids are "Tilghman" for the grandmother's maiden name, and Mary-Myres for a great grandmother's maiden name...and on it goes.

I kinda like Laura May, only I'd have to spell it Laura-May.

Laura Mary said...

I forgive you all for the name slip, I believe it was Queen Sharkyness herself who first dropped the r in the weekly round up, and who argues with a shark?

Diane - It's pronounced See-aw-lin ('aw' as in 'law' not 'awwww, cute kitty!')

Colin Smith said...

Diane: Accent is a funny thing. Even without speaking aloud, I think in accents. What's most frustrating is when I'm writing an American character, my brain will give him an English accent. Vice versa happens too. I have to force my head to get in line, otherwise my Americans come out with very uncharacteristic turns of phrase (and vice versa)! Perhaps my brain is trying to tell me something...?

LynnRodz: I think your subconscious was wanting you and Mr. Swayze to eat out a lot. :)

Irene Troy said...

Beta-readers? I thought using beta-readers was a good idea and one welcomed by agents. Or, am I being a bit dense and you mean don't include something such as: My beta readers loved this fiction novel? Or (Saw this yesterday on another blog) "I used beta readers to edit my memoir novel and they found all the typos and other errors. You will find this a clean manuscript.?"

Ashes said...

I completely agree with Beth. I was recently revamping my CV because we're moving across the country on Sunday (5,500 KM, yikes!), and I was pleasantly surprised to find how much about query writing I could apply to letter writing in general.

Colin Smith said...

Donna/Diane: Laura May sounds soooo Southern to me. In my head, though, the accent is more Georgian than Virginian or Carolinian. Maybe it's a Georgia thing. After all, names can be regional. Any Georgians in the crowd willing to chime in? :) The maiden-name-as-middle-name is definitely a Southern tradition. My wife effectively lost her original middle name when she married me, and her maiden name became her middle name. An interesting tradition. :)

Anonymous said...


YES! You want to use good beta readers. Probably more than once. What you don't want to say is, "My beta readers loved my book and so will you!"

The agent doesn't care what your beta readers or your mother thinks of your book. The agent will assume if you're a pro you had beta readers and they helped you get it in good shape.

Susan Bonifant said...

I always feel like such a professional when I read things like this. But really? Only twenty-five?

Please check again, maybe in a folder called "LOL" or "WTF" or something like that, for letters that have:

1. Suggested who should star in the movie
2. Included pictures of themselves dressed as character (my personal favorite)
3. Asked who else they should contact if you turn them down
4. Explained that it's your lucky day, now that they've queried you
5. Opened with a question like: "ever wondered who you'd be if you were the person you wanted to be before you were you and wanted to be someone else?"

I know they're there somewhere.

Theresa said...

Although the Shark's personality is very strong, I keep hearing this list in David Letterman's voice.

DLM said...

Laura Mary, you have NO idea how much that pronunciation guide means to me! I first read Joan Wolf's Ceawlin novel, Born of the Sun, close to 30 years ago probably, and have NEVER known for sure. But inside my head I always "pronounced" it exactly that way! Hooray!!!! However: for me, law and aww rhyme exactly. So I may have that finer distinction off by a bit ...

Colin, you bring up one of those points my brain is going to go at like a puppy worrying a toy. I think of my writing as accentless, which of course means it's written in my own accent; what ancient Franks and Ostrogoths, circa 500 AD, would have sounded like becomes all but irrelevant given 1500 years of linguistic evolution and the fact that the very brains of my characters were built unlike my own. None of them is naming their daughter Beth Ann nor serving sweet tea, but I can still only write with my own wee and paltry brain.

If I were writing contemporary fiction, though, it would be very different. I have a highly attuned ear for accents, and am good with them in other languages as well; my German, when I was using it much, was fairly Bavarian, but impeccably pronounced. I actually find it baffling when I hear Americans unable to pronounce foreign words as they are meant to be spoken. Mispronunciations, to me, always have a feel both of ignorance AND disrespect (which is why I am so abashed to have Laura Mary's name wrong!).

Irene Troy, yes: THAT! As Janet often says, there's such limited space in a query that stating the dreadfully obvious (an agent will assume you had beta readers and crits on the novel; there is zero payoff in explaining that) is not merely tedious but wasteful.

Unknown said...

I am guilty of having professed my love for the written word, however it was done so in conjunction with mentioning my 17 years as a bookseller so does that make it ok? No? Ok. Nevermind.

Julie: A middle grade novel about a school for beta fish. Hmmmmm......

Anonymous said...

Ha! Diane, I have the same problem! I've read SO MANY books where I discover, years later, that I've been reading the name wrong :D I have huge problems with writing words scrambled, letters back to front, and words smudged into the ones after them...
Dyslexia is not a fun thing to live with. With writing, I've found that typing rather than handwriting is the best for me (though when I'm tired all bets are off). With reading, there isn't really much I can do but hope for a clear font :D

But remember, dyslexics are teeple poo!

DLM said...

W. R.:


Colin Smith said...

Diane: I agree--lack of regard for pronunciation, or even attempting correct pronunciation, is, I think, at best lazy, and at worst, disrespect. (Woah, look who hit the comma jackpot!) I'm not bad at hearing accents, and when I reign my brain in, I can usually pull off relatively convincing dialog on the page (I think, anyway). My Asiaphile daughter has certainly inherited that in spades. Which is very useful given that she's learning Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Thai. She went to China not long after she had started learning the language, and the natives there were complementing her accent. :) <--- proud Daddy smile.

Anonymous said...

At last, we can wake over the torld!

Colin Smith said...

Diane: I was going to add that "Dyslexics of the world untie"--but I think WR's is better. Teeple poo... LOL :)

Though not as good as my favorite joke--the one about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who was awake all night wondering if there was a dog... :)

Elissa M said...

I just want to know who's been coming over and snapping pictures of my horse when I'm trying to sneak up on him with the deworming paste.

DLM said...

Colin, my favorite joke:

How many Virginians does it take to screw in a light bulb?


One to do the actual changing of the bulb.

Two more to stand to one side of the ladder as if they are innocent bystanders, but definitely close enough for their whispers to be heard, TSK-TSK-ing about how much better the old bulb was, and how worried they are about what the new bulb will mean for future generations.

And two more, to write the history of the original bulb with Civil War maps illustrating its tactical prominence and a family tree.

LynnRodz said...

Diane, you're right. That was my thought, who needs a kitchen with Patrick Swayze, but it seemed a little strange since he's no longer with us.

It's insane how much they charge in the States for medicine or medical care. It's crazy. When I went to the ER last year and spent a night in the hospital and they took me in an ambulance to another hospital to have a CAT scan, etc. When the bill came for everything, it was a whopping 18€ ($20). I don't even want to imagine how much it would have cost in the States. The same medications you get, as we get here in France, by the same pharmaceutical companies charge ten times more there. Why? Because they can. Medical care in the US is a scam.

Lisa, yeah I have no less than ten dream books, but they all say different things. LOL. Maybe it means I need to drink less and get that kitchen area up to snuff with the rest of the house. Sounds like a plan!

Colin, I think you're right. That's why I don't do the cooking at home. Or maybe it means I should go out dancing more.

Donnaeve said...


Diane, W.R., Colin, STAAAAAWWWWWP!


Teeple poo!

Wake over the torld! (What does it mean if I read Take Over The World instead of...?)

Colin's joke!!!

Hmmm. When Mom and I play Scrabble (every Monday) she has a habit of twisting words. TURN becomes TRUN, and BRAIN is BRIAN, (BS, don't get any ideas)...I don't say anything, MOST of the time. Although, every now and then I look at what she's doing and go "huh?" Or is that "huh?" in dyslexia eyes? :)

Diane - as a side note, when I read your comments, I hear Miss Manners.

Kitty said...

1. The first sentence has more than 25 words.

I hate-hate-HATED geography when I was in 9th grade. That's what they called it back then, geography as opposed to history, which was a separate subject. I liked my teacher, Mrs. Wallace, and couldn't understand how such a nice woman could be so interested in geography that she wanted to put herself through the rigors of becoming a certified geography teacher. Not even Mrs. Wallace could make the subject interesting.

When we were studying Africa, Mrs. Wallace assigned every student an African country. We were to write a report, which we would have to read out loud to the class. My country was Malawi. This was back when not every home had an encyclopedia, and nobody had a computer. The school's library had 3 sentences' worth of information on the country. Where was I going to get more information on Malawi?

As it happened, one of my mother's friends from "her Wellesley days" was Jane, a Bohemian sort who had lived in Malawi for a while with her husband and their children. So my mother called Jane and told her my assignment and could she jot down some information for my report? I'll get right on it! said Jane.

A long letter arrived from Jane, just in time for my report. I told Mrs. Wallace about the letter and she said I could read it as my report. Yeah, me...right?

I should have read the letter first, because as I began to read, I realized Jane didn't like punctuation. She had crammed at least 500 words in the first typed-written, single-spaced page and just two periods with no other 'breather punctuation.' I spent half of the class period plowing through that blasted letter, which contained just five sentences. By the time I had finished reading, nobody knew anything new about Malawi, and nobody cared. Mrs. Wallace took pity on me and gave me an "A."

DLM said...

LynnR, I can tell you more and more American physicians (even here in conservative VA) are putting a finger beside their noses and telling patients to go Canadian for prescriptions. The last doctor I went to, when I described the above situation, stated baldly, "That is unsustainable." Yeah, no kidding.

Donna ... wow! I adore Judith Martin. Have hardly been able to read the column since her son took over; it lacks not only in its content, but turribly (hee) in its voice. She was an extraordinary writer; I used to love it when she'd put snotty people in their place. That woman could b*tchsmack a puffed up troglodyte with a maximum of grace and style. Miss Manners Mach I and Roger Ebert were two of my favorite writers!

Kitty: aww. I love Miss Wallace! But Jane must've taken her educational skills from Tarzan (cinema, not the literate character from Burroughs' novels).

Anonymous said...


"I have a highly attuned ear for accents, and am good with them in other languages as well; my German, when I was using it much, was fairly Bavarian, but impeccably pronounced. I actually find it baffling when I hear Americans unable to pronounce foreign words as they are meant to be spoken. Mispronunciations, to me, always have a feel both of ignorance AND disrespect "

Not everyone is as gifted as you, unfortunately. My cousin speaks seven languages fluently thanks to the military. I barely speak English.

This article was published some time ago and I always found the part about accents amusing.

For those who don't want to read it, the French soldier says: "They have a terribly strong American accent - from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever State they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other."

Anonymous said...

Donnaeve- neither. It's ¿huh


REJourneys said...

Colin, I agree with your pause on number 4. I believe the mention of "I'm retired so I have time to write" in a query is the turn off. Can't blame people for where they are in life, but there is no need to mention it in the query (like others have said, that's what the author interviews are for). Wasn't there a commercial saying "retirement is paying yourself for what you want to do" or something like that?

I guess it would lend way to "why waste the words, I don't care. I want more story," since being retired has nothing to do with your credentials on the story - unless it's about someone retiring and their perils. Of course, then there is no need to mention "now I have time to write," since it's clear as there is a query and a (better be) polished full MS.

I could be totally wrong on all points.

Sorry, this sounded lecture-y and dull. I need a nap.

Megan V said...

Re: Susan's #2 "Included pictures of themselves dressed as character..."

I read somewhere on querytracker that a writer sent a query containing nude photos of themselves to an agent. Now I wonder if they were dressed as a character. And I also wonder if the QOTKU has a WTF folder.

In any case, photographs are probably a big no-no in a query.

Craig F said...

Is this just the first ten? It seems like quite a few are missing. Things like log-lines.

I still don't truly understand the need for a biography. If anything it should just be housekeeping and not part of the body of the query. That is in fiction at least. Non fiction and Memoirs are a different kettle of rules though.

I have gotten some really interesting remarks when I tell someone that they have fatal flaws in their queries. It is nice to to have the Queen in my corner.

Please excuse me today but I just spent three hours trying to get my account with straightened out. My brain is in tatters.

Colin Smith said...

Megan V: Wow! Not that I condone such behavior, but if a writer is so confident that their naked bod is something people will want to ogle, then perhaps they should consider a more lucrative career in a very different industry...??

Anonymous said...


I was getting ready to worm the kids' ponies one day when Will, who was four, decided to try the dewormer paste. Brandon, who was fiercely protective of his little brother ten years his junior, despised me for feeding the child raw eggs and warm salt water. Up came the wormer and everything else and Brandon rocked his baby brother and glared at me.

The ponies got a little less wormer, which they loved. The secret is to put molasses on the worming tube.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Love the 'shame on me for being so naive list'.

DLM said...

Hi, Julie! Hah - your French soldier is perhaps a bit self-superior, but not wrong! To clarify, I scarcely speak anything but English myself (I was once very promising in German, but not having been able to speak/use it for decades now, it's atrophied beyond rehabilitation I fear).

Of course not all foreign (or English - see also NEW-cu-lur) words are easy, but I once knew a man named Prasoon, and several people simply pronounced it Parsoon. That's not merely mispronunciation, it's editing and revision, and it takes no gift to get it right. Likewise, I knew a French Algerian named Karim. Growing up familiar with a certain Mr. Jabbar, I knew the pronunciation - but, again, he was almost always called k'RIM (short I, swallowed first syllable). A retail owner named Adib I know was forced to grow up as Eddie, because his four-letter-long, phonetically intelligible name was "too hard" for his American classmates.

To get these things right doesn't take exceptional linguistic gifts, and to get them wrong is in some cases insulting.

I don't think people have to practice foreign diction in order to be acceptable communicators, I don't have aspirations to be a language snob. But I am confused as to what is thought to be difficult in pronouncing simple words and names, many of which are far from uncommon. I have spent all my life fighting against the preconception that Southern = stupid/uneducated, and the refusal to get simple things like that right grates on me like women putting on makeup in their cars. It gives me a bad name by proxy, and it ticks me off because, especially with words we hear every day on the news or people we see every day in our offices or schools, there is no way to excuse it by feigning unfamiliarity.

Megan V, I met a guy at a conference once, wearing a tee with a ... notably pneumatic but not very notably clothed woman on the front. He enthused to every person he could that this was his main character. And he came off as super creepy. Hah, Colin's right about Nudey McNuderstein, though. Clearly the cover letters got switched on their app to Madame Fleshy's House of Skin and the literary agent ...

Craig, I don't have a bio in my own query. There's one on my site, and I did include it with those agencies that include one in their requirements, but honestly, getting into "and my middle name is Louise, which is a derivative name of the character's name, so that's why I wrote this" seems not only schmoopy but beyond repair. Hope your woes are in shape.

Unknown said...

Laura Mary, out of curiosity, which syllable has the emphasis in See-aw-lin? I never feel like I have a true grasp of a word until I have that part down (which drives me crazy in French, since en français every syllable is equally stressed.)

Also... maybe it's just my Canadianism, or I'm just that dense: but how is "aw" in "law" different than "aww a kitty"? To me those sound exactly the same...


Donnaeve said...

Diane, I know what you mean, I used to read Miss Manners (Judith Martin) religiously, and you're right. She could put someone in their place post haste and they would just be left standing there looking stoopid.

Julie - I read the article. It just about brought me to tears. I am SO proud of the men and women who serve. The fact it was written by a French soldier makes it even more special. I too, liked the part about the accents! I mean, even here in NC, different parts of the state pronounce certain words differently, or have a different word for it altogether.

Example - my brother-in-law is from Gates County. He calls the trunk of a car "the boot." He calls the glove compartment, the glove box. He refers to his head as an "onion," but pronounces it onyon. I think I've mentioned him before.

Then there was my Dad. He had what was known as an "old" Raleigh accent. A certain turn of phrase or pronunciation that has become virtually extinct. An study was done on it years ago, and I can't find it now.

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: I wonder if it's to do with the shape of the mouth. At least when I say the words, "law" has an O-shape, whereas "awwww" is more smiley-faced, which makes for a bit of a brighter vowel sound.

OK... where else on the internet does a literary agent's blog post about query no-nos generate conversation about linguistics, dyslexia, and horse de-worming?

Love this place!! :)

Anonymous said...


" A retail owner named Adib I know was forced to grow up as Eddie, because his four-letter-long, phonetically intelligible name was "too hard" for his American classmates."

Your friend may have been "forced" to grow up as Eddie, but a lot of children, especially immigrants adapt their names to more Anglo sounding names themselves. I've known many. Working in the gaming industry, you run across a lot of this.

Unknown said...

I recently learned that "parkade," a word I thought was common across the English-speaking world, is actually a Canadianism. (Apparently everyone else says "parking garage"?)

Also, that two terms I never thought to question are actually unique to my home province: "back lane" and "huck". You know, back lane as in the lane that's behind your house (full of potholes in the summer, cement-hard packed snow in the winter) that you have to drive through to get to the nearest residential street. And "huck" as in throw or toss with little regard for accuracy, i.e. "he hucked the pop at her across the back lane and nearly hit her in the head."

I may have to plead guilty to charge #9.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Having lived in Raleigh for 10 years, and now Eastern NC for nearly 13 years, I can heartily agree with you about the different accents and turns of phrase within the same State. There is an underlying "Southern" to both types of accent, but to the attentive listener there are distinctive differences.

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: Parkade and Huck are new to me. I almost want to create a Canadian character now just to use them... :)

Tony Clavelli said...

1 and 2. Aw man. And I was feeling really responsible (is that the right word?) with my querying. Now I see that I'm violating the first two rules right off the bat. Not like smashing them to pieces, but also not like I'd be let off with a warning either. I've got 35-words and 3 clauses.

To take that "any questions" literally (but to expand it outward to the comments land--Oh please find a way to stop with asides and extra clauses), are your opening sentences short? I saw some people saying theirs weren't, but I just want to hear other opinions. If my query does a faceplant off the starting blocks, I'd be willing to part with a sentence I like.

Regarding the comments above about accents--pronunciation is hard. Mouths don't all work the same way. Neither do ears. When my students can't hear the difference between two sounds, they certainly can't say them. It takes a lot of experience and is far more complicated than something you can write off as ignorance. Sure--sometimes people are lazy, but I think it's deeper than that. It's really not fun when someone is unwilling to hear their language spoken in a way different from what's standard.

Jenz said...

Oi, Colin! I would like to be added to the blog list please! I'm requesting here because I was afraid you might not go back to the previous post.

Thank you!

Colin Smith said...

Tony: Are you teaching English in Korea? If so, we should talk. That's what my daughter wants to do--although at the moment she's more interested in teaching in China. But teaching English to Asians is what she would love to spend her life doing. From what she tells me, I can understand how difficult English is for many Asians, especially if they don't have English relatives. And we smile at their attempts to make sounds that are foreign to their tongues, but at the same time, we admire their effort to get it right and be understood. That's what matters, I think.

Adib Khorram said...

It's really freaking me out seeing my name popping up in posts and it not referring to me. In all my life I have only ever met one other person named Adib.

I WISH someone had given me the idea to Anglicize my name while I was in elementary school. It would have saved me a ton of teasing.

Incidentally, my first few query letters were horrible: 3-page monstrosities that deserved to be burned. There is a LOT of bad advice out there, most of which I managed to find LONG before I found QueryShark. I don't even remember the circuitous path I took to finding those sites, either. I must not have Googled "query" because the hits for that are a lot better. Unless Google's heuristics corrected themselves AFTER I found QueryShark.

Unknown said...

Colin: Any time you want, I will begrudgingly drop every single one of my very important projects to help you create said character. However, I cannot accept less than 25% of the profits.

(Or, in Canadian, Let's giver!)

Anonymous said...


"I read somewhere on querytracker that a writer sent a query containing nude photos of themselves to an agent. Now I wonder if they were dressed as a character. And I also wonder if the QOTKU has a WTF folder."

I've heard of this before. I'm wondering if I say, "If you don't accept this I will send nude photos" might work.

Regarding #8 It reminded me of an interview with Garth Brooks when he first cracked out. They asked him how he arrived at the name for his debut album which was simply, "Garth Brooks". He said, "Well, I wanted to call it 'Randy Travis', but they said no."

I guess the power of a name really is perspective. Spending an afternoon fishing sounds great unless you're the worm.

Colin Smith said...

Jenz! :D I'll get to it as soon as I can. I'm at work, so I can't edit the page from here, but I will get to your request (and Ms. Kneale's--email request) ASAP. :)

Mark Anthony Songer said...

Well, I HAD a question, but the horse intimidated me so much I'm just going to keep it to myself. Maybe I'll go write a children's book about how cartoon horses scare me. Was that random? I may have forgotten my meds today. I should take them. But what if I did take them and I double dose? I have coffee. Maybe they don't work any more and if I take them again they will work twice as less. I read stream of consciousness writing is supposed to be a helpful tool in the writers block breaking process but honestly it's starting to scare me a little bit. Cartoon horses don't really scare me but now I forgot my question. Sharks don't scare me either. At least not the ones in aquariums. Then again, on my bad days when my PTSD kicks in pretty much everything scares me. Including sharks. But maybe not cartoon horses. Death scares me, though. Maybe I'll write a children's book on the Grim Reaper. Why do I feel like I am channeling my inner 14 year old girl? I need more coffee. 'kbye!

Oh yeah, nice list, by the way. My next batch of queries will definitely begin "'allo. My name is Mark Anthony Songer. You read my query. Prepare to sign."

DLM said...

Kelsey, "en français every syllable is equally stressed"? It's odd, because when I hear French spoken, I hear strong emphasis. An interpretive language? :)

Julie, Anglicization has a great and often proud heritage and history in our country. It's a big part of the American Dream for a lot of people. But I was just talking about pronunciation. Adib doesn't complain, but I don't call him Eddie, either.

Adib, my apologies! :) Every time I see you here I half want to buy a beautiful antique lamp from you. Adib has a GREAT shop ...

Mark Anthony Songer, magnifique! Please to be giving me ze pen ... ?

Laura Mary said...

Kelsey - I'm pretty sure the emphasis is on the second syllable - See-AW-lin. It's not that common a name at all, the only way I know it is because Lord Weymouth, heir to the 7th Marquees of Bath is a Ceawlin.
BTW the current Marquees is well worth googling!

I really didn't take accents into account earlier when I tried to explain pronunciation! I would say 'law' as 'lor' whereas 'Awww' is 'oww'? More emphasis on the 'w' I guess!

Donnaeve said...

I'll have some of what Mark's having. A double puleeze.

(Mark - you are absolutely heee-larious!)

Phew. And tomorrow I'll be wondering why my stomach muscles hurt.

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey/Diane: From what I recall when we were studying French in school, every student was equally stressed... ;)

Unknown said...

DLM, I'm not a native French speaker so maybe our painter friend Angie can give us the low-down, but while there's certainly a lot of rhythm and stress between French sentences, individual words less so. If you think of the name "Natalie" said in North American English, for example, vs. in French you can hear the difference. In NA English the first syllable is clearly the most emphasized, and everything else is kind of swallowed: the t turns into a d, the "alie" part said almost as if it were one syllable when it's actually two. But in French, each syllable is clearly differentiated into Na-ta-lie, with each consonant enunciated and very soft pauses between syllables.

At least that's how I hear it. And people do hear things differently.

(As a side note, when I was a kid in Brazil I had a name no one could easily pronounce. A few weeks in I decided to change my name to one they COULD say. Best decision I could have made. Watching people struggle to wrap their tongue around a sound that just didn't exist in their own language was not fun.)

Unknown said...

Colin - there's a young man in town, Ryan Abella, who spent a year in South Korea teaching English to middle schoolers. He's a wonderful person, who loves sharing and teaching. I'm sure he'd love to hear from you and your daughter.

LynnRodz said...

Julie, could you please translate your worming paragraph, I didn't understand any of it!

Kelsey, I think you're thinking of high school French. Here in France there are as many different accents as there are regions. To hear someone speak French in Paris is quite different than someone from Marseille or from Cherbourg. As in any language, the spoken language of a native speaker is different than a foreigner. A very simple example is, you learn in school, je ne sais pas, but more often than not it's spoken here as chais pas. So much for stressing each syllable.

Ardenwolfe said...

Love it.

Dena Pawling said...

Angie your sample query is lol.

I would love to even be able to say I'd retired to have more time to write. Unfortunately retirement isn't in my near future. One of my CPs is retiring next year June so she can write. I'm sooooo jealous.

I looked over my query and was very relieved to note I hadn't made the "ten worst list". Well, not THIS ten worst list anyway.

Unknown said...

Hey Lynn, it's definitely possible. And Franco-Manitoban French is different from Quebecois French which is different from Parisian French. But I was thinking specifically of stressing syllables evenly within 1 multisyllabic word, rather than which words within a sentence get emphasized (or mushed together).

Je ne sais pas are all words with only one syllable. I was thinking along the lines of a 3-syllable word like rendezvous. Slang might make it run together with other words if you said it in a sentence but INSIDE the word it's not RON-dayvoo it's more like Ron-Day-Voo (fairly equal stress on each syllable).

Kinda like the difference between blackbird and black bird in English. The way I hear French (and again, maybe it's just me), multisyllabic words are usually pronounced like "black bird" whereas in English they'd be "blackbird."

Good thing we're all writers here, so a very detailed conversation about other language's stress syllables isn't TOO crazy and boring...right? : P

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: As long as they're not sentient stress syllables, we're okay. :)

Donnaeve said...

Julie - I hope you don't mind me jumping in since my name's not Julie (many days I wish it were) to answer Lynn's question.

Lynn - Julie's making a Julie'ism. I.e. would you want to be the WORM? Having that hook stuck through your middle while you try to wiggle away to no avail, and then suddenly, you're flung at warp speed into icy cold water only to find you're being gobbled down a "fish hatch."

That noise you hear as the line zips out is actually the worm screaming bloody murder.

And now? We're on worms.

S.D.King said...

One of my favorite fictional characters is Myfanwy Thomas in the Daniel O'Malley book "The Rook". Pronounced like Tiffany with an M.

Love that book. And Colin, I think any Dr. Who fan would love it. Sort of an MI5 / Torchwood / evil underworld mashup.

So wishing he would get the sequel finished!

Unknown said...

I would love to see the kind of havoc wreaked by sentient stress syllables! : )

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, it's nice to see what the competition is doing. Of course, I can't really talk. I got a great lesson by Ms Shark in person. If you ever have a chance to take a query workshop from Janet, do so. But then, I'm preaching to the choir...

DSE: And make sure the 'To' line of your e-mail contains hundreds of names. :)

Lisa: Your comment about an agent being our 'professional partner' made me think. In the IT world (and several others, I'm sure) there are companies whose business is to contract work out other companies looking for talent. Yes, you have to send your resume/CV to them and yes, there is an interview.

Perhaps an agent is like a contracting company, looking for work for you on a contract basis. They take a cut, of course - they have to make money somehow - but you get a good job (or a good publishing deal), so it's definitely worth it.

Jennifer: With a degree in the social sciences - like psychology (you) or anthropology (me) - pretty much any job you do is going to be 'working in your field'. Unless you're a farm hand. Then you're working in someone else's field. *badum kshhh*

Regarding the retirement statement, beta readers, love of books and the written word - those are all wonderful things, but they don't have any place in a query letter.

Biography? Me? I never know what to say. If I *have* to include a biography, I sometimes put in that I wrote for a living (in communications and the technical arena). Or that I have a degree in anthropology, which is very useful when creating cultures but is otherwise kind of 'oh. that'-ish.

That's one area where writing business letters fails me. In a resume cover letter, I can say "I'm the best person for this job because I did much the same thing blah blah blah", but how does a fiction writer explain how they're the one to write their book? As someone said here a few weeks ago, "Because it came from my head"?

Tony: When I took the query letter workshop from Janet, she gave us an exercise, part of which was to make the sentences under 10 words. I guess I did it quite well. I still use the paragraph I wrote for that exercise (with minor editing for flow) as my first paragraph in the query letter.

Mark: 'My next batch of queries will definitely begin "'allo. My name is Mark Anthony Songer. You read my query. Prepare to sign."'

Laughing out loud. So loud it deserves to be spelled out.

Anonymous said...

And because I'm too longwinded to put it in one post:

Regarding accents in the English language:

I'm pretty good at deciphering accents. I grew up among the children and grandchildren of Russian, Ukrainian, and German immigrants. But there are a few American accents I have problems with - mostly because it seems the accent itself is a mumble. I'm 50. My hearing isn't what it used to be (a hearing specialist told me so), so I cannot understand mumble. And Americans who mumble their accent get frustrated because I can't understand them and keep asking, "I'm sorry. Can you please repeat that?"

My niece's boyfriend is a Russian immigrant. He's so afraid of people hearing his accent that he mumbles. But he has a beautiful accent when you can actually hear what he says.

The 'aw' sound - there are several. And I think every accent uses it differently. As Colin noted, the shape of the mouth changes the pronunciation. So does the way you hold your tongue. Seriously. Front or back of mouth? Different sounds, ranging from practically straight short 'a' to longer, rounder 'oo'-ish. (I'm sure 'oo'-ish is a term.)

There's a lot of talk about how Canadians say 'aboot' instead of 'about'. We don't really say 'aboot'. We just say it in a different part of the mouth - farther back, which makes it a different diphthong. And if someone grows up not hearing a certain diphthong, they don't realize they're not hearing it correctly when the do hear it. It takes work to learn new diphthongs when you're no longer a child.

Kelsey: I was raised mostly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We used 'back alley' instead of 'back lane'. We also use 'huck'. And only in Saskatchewan would you ever find something called a 'bunny hug' - basically, a pull-over hoodie.

And if you ask me, Parkade is the *real* way to say 'parking garage'... though I think originally that was a brand name that got generalized.

As for French: Not only does the French we learn in high school differ from France French, it's even more different from Canadian French. And there are different types of Canadian French, too - Quebec is one. There's Fransaskois, which is spoken by the descendents of French immigrants to Saskatchewan. If my memory is correct, in Canada 'je ne sais pas' is more often pronounced 'je's' pas'. Even 'oui' can be pronounced differently. Quebec French is much more nasal than French from other places. It sounds kind of like a duck call.

Most (all?) languages have dialects - usually regional in nature. Often, the dialects are understandable amongst speakers of the same language, but not always. There's a Dutch dialect that can almost be understood by English speakers who don't speak Dutch, while I'm sure there are many English dialects in English and the UK that are incomprehensible to most English speakers.

I love languages.

Anonymous said...

And that should have been: many English dialects in North America and the UK... I was stuck on the word 'English'. Sorry about that.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Stephen Kozeniewski doesn't know how to feel about this.

LynnRodz said...

Kelsey, yeah, after I wrote that I thought, those aren't syllables those are words, so not a good example. LOL. The first word that comes to mind is pardon which is used quite often, especially down in the métro. The par is emphasized where you would say, PARdon. French is a very lyrical language. For example very often bonjour is sung, so it comes out bon-JOOUUR. But in general (I had to turn the TV on because I just take it for granted) and yes, most often each syllable is emphasized equally.

Tony, after I read your comment, I looked at my first sentence and I hate to admit it, but it clocked in at 30. I changed it, the first sentence is now 12 words long and the second is 17 and guess what? It sounds better.

Karen McCoy said...

Had to:
My name is Inigo Montoya

Unknown said...

Oh, languages! So much fun.

When I was in Brazil I went a local school. In our English classes we were taught that the word "cow" was pronounced so that it rhymed with "row your boat" and with the 't' pronounced on "ballet dancer." I politely tried to tell my (Brazilian) English teacher that neither of these was correct. I did not succeed in convincing her. After that I learned to just shut up and ace the tests, which at least were written.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Innocent on all counts, Your Universal Majesty*, though Number 2 sent me scurrying off for a check - phew! But I have my Carkoon backpack all ready to go, just in case.

"Any questions" ??? What, is that all? No internet-livening adjectives?

Bonnie (BON-knee)

* Hey, can you declare Pluto a planet again, please?

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: I'm sure there's a regional English accent that pronounces "cow" that way--perhaps your English teacher was instructed by someone with that accent? My daughter is not ashamed of her accent, but she does want to be able to use as "vanilla" an accent as possible when she eventually heads out East to teach English. I suppose that's why school-room French (to use an example given already) is different from the French spoken in Paris and Quebec. The point is to teach the language in its plainest form, and allow the student to adopt regional variations depending on where they end up using it. Whether or not that's the best approach is open to question, but at least I can understand the motive.

Unknown said...

Colin: Teaching another language is definitely a tough gig. Good luck to her daughter! I'm in awe that she's learning so many different languages and can keep them straight in her head. That's no small feat.

Unknown said...

*YOUR daughter, sorry.

Colin Smith said...

Kelsey: She's passionate about it, and that makes a big difference. In fact, this whole language discussion would fascinate her. She's also been dabbling in Russian, but I've tried to encourage her to focus on those languages that will be directly useful to her in what she's wanting to do. Not that she shouldn't try to pick up as many as possible, but she should aim for fluency in her core languages, and do as well as she can in others.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've had friends who have taught English in Japan, China, and Korea. One is in Taiwan right now, where his brother also now lives.

I very much admire multi-language speakers. I had French in elementary school, with a gap starting in 5th grade, and then more French in high school. I wish I'd kept at it, so I'd have grasp of at least one language other than English. I do remember a fair amount, but have forgotten most of it.

I do, however, have good language recognition. I can look at a written language and guess pretty accurately what it is (I was even, from a reusable shopping bag, able to tell the difference between Dutch and Afrikaans, to the amazement of the library patron, since I speak neither. The bag was in Afrikaans, which I've...I won't stay "studied", per se, but looked at for the purposes of my steampunk). Accents I love, though can't replicate very many with any level of accuracy, unless I hardcore rote listen-and-practice (which I've done for games a couple of times).

Dena Pawling said...

My navy son speaks English, Spanish, German, and Russian. The navy has been sending him on deployments which take advantage of his language skills. He says there's still a learning curve between how he speaks and how the locals speak, but so far he's picking it up well.

I'm just glad he doesn't speak languages in the active war zones. He hasn't been deployed there (yet).

Irene Troy said...

Thanks Julie - I do know beta-readers are a good idea. I did wonder, for a second, if Janet was saying we should rely instead on a pro editor, but hoped I was misunderstanding. I used beta-readers for the memoir I'm trying to find a home for and they helped me tremendously. I have pride in my work, but I am no fool. I can't spell to save my life and my punctuation can be a bit odd. I've spent years working on my book, spending a few more weeks/months with well-schooled beta readers is well worth the time. What gets me sometimes is how some writers new to the the game think all they need is to have friends and/or family read their work. Someone in my local writers group became very angry when an agent rejected her query. Note I said AN agent, as in singular. She turned around and wrote the agent back saying the agent knew nothing because her beta-readers loved the book. She also told the agent she would be sorry when the book was published, turned into a movie and then made her and another agent millions. Okay, one foot shot to hell.

Colin Smith said...

Dena: See, your son, like my daughter, is into languages that have modern application. While I would love to be fluent in many languages, my linguistic interests tend toward the archaic (Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Syriac, Gothic, Coptic, etc.). Unfortunately, Rosetta Stone has yet to come out with a series on Conversational Ugaritic. :)

Colin Smith said...

Irene: Unfortunately, when you treat one agent like that, you actually make it harder to find another agent. Agents talk, and they share, and writers with a bad attitude can get a bad reputation. Not good.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

While I've been busting my butt earning chump change, you guys have had all the fun. I scrolled, WORMS, you were discussing worms and I wasn't in on it, I'm deeepressed now. Some days peanuts and some days shells. Today I'm crackin'I guess. Back to mines. Bye.

Donnaeve said...

BJ, interestingly (or not) my grandfather was French Canadian. I think his family migrated into Maine from the Quebec area. Not sure, I'll have to defer to Mom's Good Old Family Album. (that thing is huge)

Anyway, the point being, his name last name was Fournier. And when I talked about the mash-up with my parents (Dad = south/Mom = north) a further confusing mash-up from my childhood aside from the fact of Mom not knowing how to fix sweet tea, was eating croton. And toutierre's. And New England boiled dinner. And grits WITH SUGAR AND MILK instead of red-eye gravy, or eggs mashed into them with salt and pepper. (and ketchup) Pass?

Donnaeve said...

Oh, and one other thing...when diphthongs go sentient, we are in trouble - language wise, that is.

Anonymous said...

DonnaEve: There were also French-speakers in the Maritime provinces, and since those are closer to Maine, I'd hazard a guess that your ancestors came from there.

You see, waaaaay back in Canadian history, the French settled here. I won't say first, because there's evidence of Vikings, but they had settlements before the British did. A number of them were deported when the British took over, and some wound up in the Louisiana area. Once called Acadians (since that part of maritime Canada was called Acadia), their decendents became Cajuns.

But some parts of the Maritimes still speak French. New Brunswick is a bilingual province, with French having as much emphasis (at least at the government level) as English.

Although today, 'French Canadian' generally means from Quebec, there were many different settlements of French (and British, and eastern European), many originating in different parts of the world.

I used to love tourtierre (hard to find gluten-free tourtierre now, so can't love it as much). I've got a really great recipe for a cranberry chutney that goes amazingly well with it.

History is so darn cool. Almost as cool as the languages that define it.

Anonymous said...

Ohmgosh, Donna speaks perfect Julie. I have found my translator!

BJ, I've heard Canadians say they don't say aboot before and get quite fired up about it. I used to run with some Canadian chariot and chuck wagon racers and they certainly did.

Irene, that person probably had their name passed around and I doubt it was the only time she flew off the handle. Her writing career will at least be mercifully short.

I was reading comments in query tracker the other day and someone said, "It's plain this agent doesn't have a clue what she's doing. I would recommend no one submit to her." This was posted after the person got a rejection. Others asked the person to explain why the agent doesn't have a clue what she's doing, but he wouldn't elaborate, so the theory is the agent was stupid enough to reject him therefore she doesn't have a clue.

Thankfully, when people post bad reviews of agents on QueryTracker, others aks them to offer proof.

Julie said...

Please forgive me.
This is from yesterday - things have been... er... let's just call it "Me" and leave it at that.

What the heck does "skullduggery" mean?

It's one of those words that I have just made up as I read it, rather like "meow" in "SuperTroopers."

I let it mean whatever I wantmeow.

It can mean: "Pass me a skullduggerymeow."

It can mean: "Boy, did I have a crummy skullduggerymeow."

Or possibly, "My skullduggerymeow turned yellow today, and so I sought out a good mechanic."

I have really no real idea what it means, except that now Janet cares, and therefore, since I have tossed myself down this rabbit-hole-skullduggerymeow-of-a-life-meow, I had better gosh darn care, because it's probably absolutely critical to the entire process.

So. As My Name Is Julia Hoover, and I love the written word, and I retired now, so I have some free time for lots of things like writing (and some other random stuff), and my betas all agree that my multiple genre books (plus some that have new, emerging genres),...

What was I saying?

Oh, yeah.

What does it mean, again, meow?



Donnaeve said...

Haha Julie, anytime you need me, I'll just step right on in (it)

BJ, interesting, although I'm pretty sure Mom said Quebec. I'll have to check. Which makes me want to ask now, is it Kebeck? Or Kwebek? I was told it's Kebeck, and for anyone with Ukraine/Russian speaking background is Kiev Kyev, or Keev? I was told Keev.

And last, but not least, I think I've chirped here before about that Canadian "aboot." There is a subtlety there, and maybe aboot doesn't quite catch it...maybe it's more like... "aboat."

It's aboat time I finish cleaning. I should a been done hours ago.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

BJ: and if I remember right, from 2006 when I spent a brief week in N'Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (working via church with Habitat for Humanity), one of the idiosyncrasies of the written French language there is the addition of "x" to the end of their names or words.

I tried to look that up online, as I'm not sure I'm remembering correctly. Interesting. Wikipedia says that Cajun is the English mispronunciation of Cadien, a shortened form of Acadians

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Kelsy, Lynn is probably better at French. I do notice the Parisians chop off of endings. Computer is ordinateur but they call it ordi.

When you add gesticulations and body language to accents, speaking thickens.

Last year I took a TEFL course and so to fill in the cracks, I teach English to French, both kids and adults. English is required in school but the French are far behind the Asian countries so they learn it as adults. I guess they think theit kids don't need it but every French person I know uses English at work. Perhaps they expect the world to return to French as the international language. I was surprised by kids asking me, "Why do you pronounce the letters differently?" They have to learn how to spell their names and it's a start on phonetics. When I told a mother what I was doing she said, ,"Why, that's stupid." Then went on to racount her stupid faux pas during a skype business conference where an English colleague asked her to spell something and she couldn't.

The French have a glorious past and a fantastic socialized medical system. They're unique. They even invented a car with three bolts on a tire. What happens when you lose one? If there are four, well, three can still hold the wheel to the frame. But two? So, don't listen to that French soldier.

Last week I went on vacation somewhere about 3 hours from Paris. Someone travelling with me was Canadian. The rental owner couldn't believe that Canadians speak English or that Americans can speak French. <0-0>

When I was in Italy most Italians couldn't pronounce Angie. They automatically called me Jenny.

Number 4. I'll never retire. It's part of being a self employed creative and obsessed.

Colin Smith said...

Of course the French would only learn English as a last resort. There's history there, you know. ;)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

their kids, with phonetics, Oh, my typos, oh, my dyslexia.

Julie, The Parisians regularly deworm their kids. If you want parasites come to Paris.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Colin, When I went to Yorkshire with French hubby we were invited to lunch at a friend's house whose father was in the Royal airforce. He made sure we saw a coffee table book entitled Waterloo.

Colin Smith said...

Angie: LOL. I tell ya... I'm not sure the English have truly forgiven the French for 1066... even though, technically, that was Scandinavian in-fighting (Anglo-Saxons were of Scandinavian descent, as were the Normans--"Norse-men"). ;)

Anonymous said...


Why would I not listen to the French soldier? It's a damn sight better than listening to people bitching about our soldiers non-stop for a change.

When Will went to his first logistics meeting it was headed by a Brit female general. She went down the list of who all was in theater and what they could expect from each of the NATO allies. "Here's the US. You're pulling the heavy load." She went down the list with the Brits, Aussies, Germans (she warned the Americans not to expect much out of them. They would not set foot off a road even if someone was being attacked.) Down the list to the Portuguese who had contributed 28 soldiers. "Basically, they sent us a soccer team."

Will said the Aussies were great, the Brits were right on up there. Canadians were great. Other than that you were pretty much on your own if you were in a bind.

Mark Anthony Songer said...

"Meow," said my cat, Skullduggery.

"Bonjour, mon petite femme."

"Why do you talk to the cat that way and just yell at me?"

"Ze chat, it gives me non of ze crap unlike some animals in le chapeau."

"Yeah, speaking of crap you shouldn't have hit the snooze this morning, buddy, so you might want to watch your step in the living room. Oh, and you're out of coffee."

"Oh vous stupide chien!"

"Hey, do you mind? I'm doing the crossword."



Julie said...

@Mark Anthony Songer - Meow, mon petit chou!

Mark Anthony Songer said...

Good to know, thank you! What little Francois I know is from researching for a character of French upbringing in my current LFA (Looking for Agent) book.

Christina Seine said...

Oh you guys, you're killing me. I've been gone for a few days - we're at the river fishing. It's subsistence fishing, so we set up a camp (in the rain), go out in the boat (in the rain), hold our nets in the water (in the rain) and they swim right in. (Fish don't mind rain). Then we stand for hours (in the rain) cleaning fish. Then we cook dinner (wetly) and fall into our sleeping bags (in the tent- we do have the sense to come out of the rain, eventually). Oh yes, the whole thing is much more funner than it sounds, even. I needed a break (and a shark fix) so we headed into the nearby town for a burger. It's still raining, but wee in the nice warm car. Yay!

This post is somewhat reassuring, because knowing that I've been trained by the best blog around not to make these kinds of mistakes, I feel one step ahead of the game.

Also, I've been reading y'all's comments to my kids in the car with me. My teenager just laughed so hard that she choked on her food, accidentally hit the open-window button on the car door, and the window went down and just let in a bunch of rain. So we are eating wet food after all, lol.

Im starting to believe success in the writing word is 50% good writing, 50% studying the industry, 50% perseverance and maybe a pinch of good luck.

A sense of humor doesn't hurt.

Notice I did not say good math skills.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Angie: LOL, the Waterloo coffee table book for your French husband. But, if your friend would have lived north of Hadrian's wall, might it have been a bit of a different reaction?

Colin: I have generally associated Normandy with Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland (although I know those rascally Vikings colonized much of the Northern and Western Scottish Isles and that northwest tip of France) because they're the last outposts of the Celtic language that they all shared. Ah, I'm just looking at a map of France. I am lumping Normandy and Brittany together.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

First line read; scrambles to query letter!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Mark, love your Franglais.

Yes, lump it all together. When I first moved here, which was after Lynn and probalby Hank, (where are you?) I made the mistake of telling some French that the Italians boast a wider variety of vegetables. I know it's true, you can't name some of the things you see on the markets in Italy. Unless you go to the Parisian China town it's mostly imported from Spain and Morocco. Sounds bizarre, Parisian China Town, more like quartier chinois.

A while back France unified its dialects to a Modern French. Accents differ but the petit pois (green peas) not so much.

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: Historically, Normandy was Norse country, but by the time of Hastings, they were about as kin to the Anglo-Saxons as the Chinese. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point. :)

DLM said...

Irene, it looks like that querier had better get one HELL of an offer on their very second query ever, because otherwise there'll be a distressing lack of feet to shoot thereafter ...

Christina, welcome back! :) I disappeared for like a week and a half and nobody noticed. Wah!

Colin Smith said...

FYI: Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale, and Jenz have both been added to the Carkoon's Most Wanted list. If anyone else would like to join them, just let me know and I'll be happy to add you! :) NOTE: Exile on Carkoon is not required to be included.

Donnaeve said...

Diane, I was gone for longer and NOBODY noticed either - double WAH!!! Well. One person noticed, but only after I'd re-surfaced.

AND I noticed you weren't around - I said so on your blog. (the "we miss you" comment - maybe you didn't see it)

Christina! You are a better sport than I am! Here's to the weather drying out for the rest of your river fishing. (honestly? Things in the water creep me out - I must tell my SHARK Story one day...and my water skiing story.)

Scott Sloan said...

A bit late to the party today, and since I don't have any TEFL stories, or any language abilities beyond the ability to tell a Virginian from a Georgian from a Texican, I don't really know what I can add to the discussion…

Oh, what the heck.
That's never stopped me before!

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Let's see how many rules I can break with the following:

The chocolate-chip cookies were the first to attack; ripping through the expensive crepe-paper decorations and the crystal chandelier like the latest in advanced weaponry from the Betty Crocker Munitions factory. Blueberry stains mixed with the pigments of shattered punch bowls and horderves plates… and with hues of a more personal nature.

Studdly McMuffintops watched the carnage from his seat at the Judges Table, casually flicking aside a soufflé intent upon inflicting grievous bodily harm with a baking sheet he caught up from in front of him.
It’d take more than these terroristic tarts to sway him from his sworn mission – to protect the ravishing contestant Becky Bundt-Cake with his very life; and his mother’s biscuit recipe, if necessary.

Coming this summer, to a bookstore near you – Pastries of Passion, a lusty tale of baking – and baking (if you get my drift), a story of spatulas, and spanking, and of the most forbidden passion of all…
Pastries of Passion, the latest installment in the international best-selling Finger-foods of Fantasy series, by the author of Strudels of Sensuousness and Baklavas of Bondage.

I suppose – technically speaking – I didn't break a single rule with that query.
'Technically' speaking, that is.

Awww, ding-dang it…
Now I'm all hungry…

Anonymous said...

We miss everyone who drops away, even temporarily. There is a feed in the comments thread that isn't there. Even if we don't say anything, we do notice that something (someone) is missing...

Christina Seine said...

Thanks DLM! Donna, I don't really have a choice, lol, as we eat off the salmon we catch all year. It's just a thing that needs to be done. I'm about as tough as a marshmallow - much happier in the tent with a good book than out having adventures.

As a matter of fact, last time I went fishing I *was* reading. I brought a book with me because - well duh, I guess. But my book got all wet, which felt, in a weird way, like child abuse. *hugs book*

Donnaeve said...

Scott. ROFL. Becky Bundtcake? Baklavas of Bondage?

Stand aside E.L. James.

Donnaeve said...

Christina, I have to tell you, we've been watching that show THE LAST ALASKANS. You're right about that - I'd say if it's anything remotely like that, you're the hardest marshmallow I've ever encountered.

BJ - awwww. ((((hugs)))

Anonymous said...

Scott, when you mentioned protecting the contestant with his mother's biscuit recipe... Have you ever read Terry Pratchett's Discworld series?

Dwarf bread is more than a food (which you only eat if you really, really, really have nothing else, and even then...) - it's a weapon.

That's where my mind went. Now I see Studdly McMuffintops as one of the Discworld Dwarfs...

And what does ReCaptcha ask me to choose? Bread. It's a sign, Scott. It's a sign.

Anonymous said...

(((hugs))) back to Donna :)

LynnRodz said...

Donna, thanks for the translation, but am I missing something here? You got all that from ponies, raw eggs, warm salt water, dewormer paste and Julie's sons? You should be an interpreter at the UN! The world would be in a better place, that's for sure. You could tell everyone to go fishing. LOL!

Call me "slow" tonight, but I honestly think I'm in some parallel universe here, especially after reading Mark Anthony's comment. As Angie would say, Mamma mia!

Lance said...

You have 250 words to tell her about your story. That's it. Don't waste them.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, I missed a whole bunch of stuff. I'm sorry. I will try to address stuff now...

Regarding the Canadian pronunciation of 'about':

"The answer to this isn’t in the mouths of Canadians; it’s in the brains of the non-Canadians who hear them, and it’s a thing called categorical perception."

Read the full article here:

How Canadians really pronounce 'about' - on Grammar Girl's blog

Donna - regarding the pronunciation of Quebec - it kind of depends. English speakers will sometimes pronounce it Kwe-beck, but if they're sensitive to French preferences, then it's Kee-beck. The French pronounce it Kee-beck.

For Kiev - I've always heard it pronounced Kee-ef, where the first syllable is a long 'ee' (technically, a long i, but that's confuzzling the matter), and the second syllable is more a schwa. However, most of the original eastern European settlers from Kiev are no longer around (they started coming here in 1895.) So things have changed. Much as English pronunciation has changed in the US as separate from England.

Lisa: Regarding Acadians - yes. Cajun is a shortened form of Acadian. That's where they came from - Atlantic Canada. They're mostly of French background, but probably have some aboriginal background in there, too.

The 'x' at the end of a French word generally means a plural. So if the word is 'chateau', then the plural would be 'chateaux'. In technically correct French, it's only used for words that end in 'eau' (sounding like 'o'). As I understand it, the Cajuns have taken complete control of their own language, and I can see the name endings being twisted a bit as part of that.

Anonymous said...

(Although, sometimes Quebec is pronounced 'Ke-beck', where the first 'e' is a schwa and the emphasis is on the second syllable.)

(And as for the 'x' - I missed a few words. As in, I meant 'If I remember correctly, in technically correct French...' It's been a few decades since I've taken French in high school and university.)

Finally ReCaptcha gives me drinks. I could really use one right now...

Unknown said...

bjmuntain, thank you for that very helpful article! I always wondered how there could be such a debate over one sound, but now it makes much more sense.

RE: Acadia, yep, those Cajuns came from the Maritimes. But don't forget the indigenous people who settled Atlantic Canada before and after those tall blond Vikings! I think it was mostly Algonquin-speaking nations in the Maritimes. The Iroquois confederacy was in Ke-bek. I believe they were the ones who told those 13 colonies in the south to hurry up and unite already : ) (It was better for trade.)

Anonymous said...

That's what I thought, too, Kelsey, about that article. I know I'm not saying 'aboot', but many Americans think I am. So looking at it from a truly linguistic perspective really clears the matter as to what's going on.

Yup. Aboriginal peoples made up a good part of the beginning of our country. I think for any Canadian whose family has been in North America for over a couple hundred years, you're going to find some aboriginal blood there. The article I read said there may have been some Metis in the Cajuns... but the Metis are a very specific type of people with aboriginal ancestry, centering on the Winnipeg area (as you probably know.) I wouldn't doubt there was a fair amount of Canadian aboriginal background in the Cajuns. I also believe there is a lot of local (as in, Louisianan) background there, now. That is one group of people who are obviously their own people.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hello gang. Just jumping on because the fam came over and you are up to 140 comments. Jeez Louise what you all been talking about. Passion pastries ? Man what a day to miss.

Hey Donna we watched one episode of the Last Alaskans. They are tough bunnies.
One thought just hit me. How did you all go from worms to sexy sugar cookies?

Megan V said...

Colin- Valid point. I don't want anyone taking pictures of my face let alone my body (covered or not). Is anyone else round here camera shy?

Diane— if "Madame Fleshy's House of Skin" isn't a real name, it definitely should be. Or at least someone needs to put that in a manuscript.

Julie- "I'm wondering if I say, 'If you don't accept this I will send nude photos' might work." Probably not the best theory to try out. Now, that story about lady bronc riders might not require such a disclaimer. Just saying:)

CAPTCHA made me pick pizza. How can a person pick just one or two pizzas? I want them all!

Anonymous said...

2Ns: It's my fault. I'm talking too much. But such cool topics!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yeah, worms and loving (and I mean loving) your bakery products sound sooooooo interesting. Right up my pantry.

Unknown said...

I am quite familiar with the Métis! Especially on my mom's side.

And clearly this was a golden retriever kind of day.

Anonymous said...

Then you know why I thought that article might have it wrong. :)

Golden retrievers are beautiful dogs.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I tried to comment using my phone earlier and it didn't work. Dastardly device....

Anyway. The first time I heard of "Kiev" was in the first Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie (which I still really like; I rewatched it recently) and they said "Kee-ev", and that's just what it'll be in my head for the rest of my days.

BJ: I most certainly use my social sciences degree in the course of my day! Granted, my first job out of college was actually in my field, but compassion fatigue is real, y'all. So now I work at the library, and indeed put that psychology to work when handling folks (social engineering is also real, y'all ;) ). It's not like my psychology degree is useless...I just started regretting it about halfway through my sophomore year and wasn't going to be able to change majors and graduate on time (and no way was I going to afford a fifth year), so I stuck it out.

Anonymous said...

*grumbles* I had to look up clauses. Because I had no effing idea what they were.

"It all comes," said Pooh crossly, "of despising one's 7th grade English teacher."

"It all comes," said Rabbit sternly, "of thinking one could use that as an excuse to neglect learning the parts of speech."

"Oh, bother."

So, limit clauses. Got it. What about elves? Reindeer?

Given all the twitter-frothing I've witnessed from agents about rhetorical questions, I'm surprised not to find that in the Top Ten.

*wanders off to put that rhetorical question back into her query*

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Scott, love it 'Finger-foods of Fantasy'

John Frain said...

When I first read the list, I wondered why the Shark stopped at 10.

Now I'm thankful. If she'd listed 20, we might have 300 comments and it would start getting light out by the time I finished reading.


CynthiaMc said...

We moved a lot. My first experience with accents was as an Alabama girl in a New York school. I learned the importance of blending in by lunchtime if I wanted to survive.

Tidewater Virginians say "oot and aboot" but they don't hear it.

One of my pet peeves is watching a movie set in New Orleans where everyone speaks with a Southern accent. True Cajuns sound like they're from Ka-bec. (Learned that at 2 am when my sister had to catch a plane from Montreal to Labrador). We kept asking each other "Are we in NOLA?"

It is one of my dreams to live long enough to retire so I can write full time at the beach house as opposed to getting up at 3 am to write (like now and the past 20 years or so), writing at lunch, writing backstage, writing in the car. But I'll never admit that in a query.

Tony Clavelli said...

Colin--I'm late here to respond, but yes, that's what I do during the school year in Seoul (animating in Gwangju in the summers). I've been here almost 5 years--I'd be glad to answer any questions you might have. My email is my full name as shown here, at gmail. Drop me a message!

And I'm convinced. My next 10 queries will have a smaller opener. Let's see what happens.

CynthiaMc said...

I really miss shopping in Korea.

DLM said...

Donna and BJ and anyone who wants to join in - hugs...

Megan, hee and thank you and - feel free to make free (hee) with Madame. Given my period of historicals, I can't see working that in any time soon (1500 years or so!).

Jennifer, I majored in theater. My dad, a professor, told me, "In five years, nobody will know or care what you majored in." It's been quite true, though I'll add that I've never yet surprised ANYONE telling them what I majored in. Hah! Once you've graduated, nobody looks past a Bachelor's except those people who (as dad also put it) "went to Yale and never got over it."

kdjames, that. was. OSUM.

CynthiaMc, Tidwaterians (region, not city) also have a wonderful way to say roof. We used to make my grandmother say it all the time. There is actually an area in that general spot sometimes informally referred to as Majorville - my ruts run deep (and by ruts, read "roots" for all ye spelling prescriptivists - but pronounce it ruts, please). :) (My last name is Major, for those who only know the DLM handle.)

Unknown said...

But do you REALLY want to hear the words "My name is Inigo Montoya?" Because "Prepare to die" usually follows soon after.

Scott Sloan said...

bjmuntain –

I must confess myself to be ignorant of this particular series.
The idea came up for this scenario because of a WIP, where the 'passion exploded throughout the room, like a baking contest at the debutantes' ball.' The image intrigued me so much, I sat right down (having never arisen in the first place) and wrote out the query for such a book. Too much fun.

Having not read said books, I can imagine where Pratchett took his bread concept… or rather, where the bread took his characters. But that would be pure speculation on my part.

Donnaeve –

Who's EL James…?

Panda in Chief said...

We are warned.

Panda in Chief said...

Obviously I am going to have to get up in the middle of the night to get in early on the comments. But I can almost always be last! Huzzah!

And why doesn't reCaptcha ever give me any pictures? is it because everyone thinks pandas are trustworthy?

Anonymous said...

Panda - to get the pictures, you need to post a LOT in one day. (Says the person with one of the biggest 'mouths' here.)

But since you're logging in with a Blogger/Google account, you don't even have to click on 'I'm not a robot' if you don't want to. Only those of us who choose to log in with another account through OpenID are forced to prove ourselves non-robotic, sometimes using pictures that really don't look like the examples...

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Hello, My name is Bill (William) E. Goat III. I recently retired from making little goats, so I can focus on crafting more novels with goat diversity, and so I can devote more time to the cute French Alpine down the road. I require an agent familiar with the goat mystery genre who will devote every waking hour to representing my new fiction novel, The Goats of MI6. The hero goat, humbly modeled on myself, is named Es'quir d'El. (You say that Es'quir d'El.)

My Beta Reader, a Pixie we both know, suggests that I should re-write it before sending it, but we both know she's wrong. As you will see, my manusrpt is purfect, will all the spellings corrected by an intellectual Nubian goat who is a professor of Goatology at Manford Univesity in Scotland. I believe there is a potential movie in this, and we'll both be rich and famous. I want a cameo part when it's produced. If Stephen King can do that, so can I.

Before I finish this letter, I should tell you that I'm a literate goat. I learned to read by looking over a pixie's shoulder and trying to chew the pages from her book. She made me stop that, but taught me how to read. I love to read.


Bill E. Goat

Anonymous said...

Robert Penn Warren would never get an agent in this day and age.
Christopher Kiernan Coleman

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Good writing may not be published, but great writing always will be. We cannot say what might be, only what is.

Anonymous said...

A) Robert Penn Warren lived in a different time. Agents weren't needed. There were fewer people trying to get published. The audience is different today, and so are the markets.
B)Chances are his writing would be different today, too, as he'd have had different influences and exposure to different ideas.
C) What the Princess said.
D) Business writing style is different from creative writing style. A query letter doesn't show creative writing style, because it's a business letter. The creative style is shown in the sample pages. I'm pretty sure that Mr Warren would have been able to write a business letter. He wrote text books, for heaven's sake. He would know the difference between business style, academic style, and creative style.

Unless you don't believe he could possibly write in a different style from his fiction or poetry. In which case, you're not showing much faith in someone who's written poetry, fiction, textbooks, and other non-fiction books.

Janice Grinyer said...

Once again I can come here and not only read good conversation, but also glean information that is way more then valuable... its priceless!

Just Wendy said...

You're talking nonsense, Janet. In fact, I know of several authors personally who have included one or all of your so-called red flags in their queries.