Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Missing Link

I recently received a query and pages from a writer who tried to be helpful.

This is a sure sign of impending error, and yes indeed, the writer obliged.

S/he "helpfully" included links to explain or illustrate items or places mentioned in the manuscript.

Because s/he'd send a vast swath of text with NO WHITE SPACE, I'd cut and pasted the pages from my email into a word document. And of course that meant the live links clicked me over to my web browsers if my mouse accidentally came anywhere near it.


Please please please do not try to be helpful.

You have no idea what I know about or don't know about. If I don't know what billabong means, I google. On the other hand I do know where Boring, Oregon is (and that it's a real town) so it's a trifle annoying to see you think I don't.

And one other thing: nothing jerks you out of the story line quicker than your browser opening up to a page you didn't think you clicked on. The first time it happens you're pretty sure you're being attacked by gremlins.

If you absolutely must explain something, do it the old fashioned way: footnotes.

And just a reminder: a lot of links in a query often send your query to spam. You don't want to be lodged in the caw of Priscilla, you really don't.

When in doubt: follow the damn directions.

Any questions?


nightsmusic said...

In some ways, a query, to me anyway, is formulaic. You have a great, grab 'em by the seat of the pants opening, the next section which should give enough information in an economical way to draw the agent in even more without muddying the waters, and your closing bit about how to get in touch, etc. Why, for the love of chocolate, would anyone want to screw that all up with links and drawings and who knows what? I know, rhetorical question but really, if your query looks like that, it's a 50/50 bet your story will to and any agent worth his/her shark fins isn't going to want to rep that. smh

Adib Khorram said...

One of my colleagues at work always "helps" but including his full digital contact card (VCF file) in EVERY. SINGLE. EMAIL. as an attachment. Drives me bonkers when I search for emails with attachments because it turns up ALL of his.

I am reminded of the KISSing lessons I received in college: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

They have served me well.

Adib Khorram said...

And by "but" I mean "by." Clearly vommenting before tea was a mistake. I have included links to illustrate. (Not really.)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Yes, was the query and MS about the 100 foot wave surfing competition? Because that's what my brain gives me when Oregon and Billabong go together in a sentence ^^

Granted, I've only written a short story [and a scifi one at that] containing big wave surfing, but the wave I used was Dead Trees in Mexico.Did you know that's what people mean when they say things like Pipeline? It's the wave's name.

And that's your Esoteric Jen Fact of the Day™. You guys are lucky. My friends at the Labor Day bbq got a breakdown of the Chernobyl disaster (which had to include a definition of SCRAM), and a mini breakdown of the Hanford site in Washington. I am, in fact, fun at parties. Especially when I'm not really able to drink.)

Colin Smith said...

Janet: Have you ever seen a great query that uses footnotes to explain things? It seems to me that a good query will be self-contained--kind of like our 100 word stories should be in the contests. If the Agent is intrigued enough, s/he will look up the references s/he doesn't get (or doesn't think s/he gets, and then discovers s/he does get them, and is pleasantly surprised--so much so s/he requests a full... or something like that). If the Agent isn't wowed by the query, I imagine s/he won't care about what s/he doesn't get, and won't waste precious query-reading time Googling things for a query s/he's going to form reject anyway.

Am I right?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

To all things, apply a KISS. Adib is right about that. Keep It Simple, Stupid. It applies to engineering, and it applies to writing and querying.

My guess is most of the publishing industry agents and editors and the like are mighty warriors in reading comprehension. Look at how clever Janet is at ferreting out subtlties in our flash fiction. She's brilliant at it.

My feeling is if she can't comprehend a writer's query and pages sans links and footnotes, a writer should reexamine their query/ pages once more. Because if the professional who basically reads for a living can't understand the writer, how will the target audience? That's my 2 cents. And I slept last night (or passed out) so possibly my brain is back in the on position. Or not.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oh man, 2 PNW mentions already! Oregon and Hanford (I grew up in Kennewick and Richland)! Ya'll are making me homesick.

See, this is why I write fantasy. If I want to explain about a place or event, I don't have any links to give out. Until they figure out a way to embed thoughts into HTML, I guess I won't - but when they do, agents beware!

Colin Smith said...

I agree, Elise. The Agent you want is the Agent who really gets your story. And I think that starts at the query. Part of the query challenge is presenting your story in a compelling way that any Agent, no matter their genre preference, will be able to discern a) The Protagonist; b) The Antagonist; c) The Crisis; d) The Risks. In other words, all the elements that make up a story. So, even if the Agent has no clue what Diphthong's Third Rule of Carkoonian Mechanics is*, s/he will be able to figure out that Bdoolik needs to fix his spaceship and bring down the evil warlord Gardulong the Ginormous, or he will not be able to return home and claim his inheritance before his clueless brother gets it.

* For the curious, Diphthong's Third Rule of Carkoonian Mechanics is: Never cajole a wingspattle in a parthig joint if you want to keep both your wings. You did ask. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So, Colin How is old Gardulong? Didn't he have you as a hood ornament for a while on his Kalenator because you confused Diphthong's Third Rule of Carkoonian Mechanics with his Third Rule of Flatulence? An easy mistake to make.

Glad you escaped.

Karen McCoy said...

Ah, yes. The woodland creature's inclination to try too hard. I know it well.

Colin, I love your spaceship analogy (put me in mind of Douglas Adams) and it's very helpful in revising my own query. I only worry about including too many specifics so as not to blow my wad as this other writer has. Sorry to include such vulgar terms, but there you have it. My antagonist is more a collective group of people rather than one I'm curious how that would look on your spaceship.

Also, a general question--how does a writer know when they've achieved the right amount of specificity in a query? Sometimes just giving a taste doesn't allow for enough, but too much is overwhelming. I suppose this happy medium exists in a different form for each author, but am curious as to what others think.

(P.S. Revising my query for a conference on Friday and hoping to have at least enough good material to at least pitch--though I know (and agree with) how Her Sharkliness feels about pitch sessions)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As my dear departed Uncle Dutch used to say:
“In promulgating your esoteric cogitations please try to jejune all bafflement.”

Or as Janet said: “Follow the damn rules.”

Colin Smith said...

Elise: No, you're thinking of Grinbeek the Ftooob (rough translation: One Who Has Imperfect Bowel Movements). And the Third Rule of Flatulence was his. My mistake was I credited it to Diphthong, forgetting that Diphthong is not exactly a national hero on Carkoon. If you recall, Elise, Carkoonians don't have wings, at least not anymore, since the Lynching of Diphthong in 2073. I'll spare everyone the gory details, but suffice to say, Diphthong was buried in ten different locations around Carkoon, along with his book 5,000 Rules of Carkoonian Mechanics. IIRC, the crowds chanted, "No-one's going to tell me what to do with my wingspattle!" Within a generation, Carkoonians were wingless. Which tells you something about Carkoonians and rules. :)

But yes, Grinbeek's Kalenator is not very comfortable. And extremely malodorous. :-P

Dena Pawling said...
















Colin Smith said...

Karen: Douglas Adams? Why, I've never heard of the man! *Quickly douses the sudden inflammation of his trousers*. :)

Don't forget that "Protagonist" and "Antagonist" don't have to refer to people. This is especially true of the Antagonist. The Antagonist could be the hero's job, her hometown, his family--essentially, it's the Thing Protagonist needs to overcome either because Antagonist is preventing her from achieving an important goal, or Antagonist is a threat to those she cares about, or those she is duty-bound to protect.

DLM said...

I am gleefully impressed with 2Ns' Uncle Dutch. Such brilliance, and so early in the day! I should perhaps join Adib for some tea.

Or fall back on my usual: amaretto flavored dark-chocolate covered espresso beans. Also good.

Who else is hoping our newly-emerged lurkers will reappear? At least one of them commented so gorgeously I just want to read more of their witty writing again. And everyone seemed so interesting and nice.

Susan said...

Nothing to add today. Just want to pop in and say my new favorite word is malodorous, thanks to Colin. You think it's something great--like wondrous or stupendous--but then you get hit with the harsh stench of etymology. Beauteous.

Dena: Your comment cracked me up.

Theresa said...

Ah, the pristine beauty of footnotes. I adore them.

Lots of great information here about how a query should look and what it should and shouldn't contain.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Diane Where? How does one acquire such a glorious thing as amaretto dark chocolate covered espresso beans? Want have it!

Colin Grinbeek! That takes effort to run afoul of one so already foul. Now I am going to be thinking of imperfect bowel movements all day and the resulting mighty stench. I love this blog.

DLM said...

Elise, there is a candy store called For the Love of Chocolate ( which is every bit the glorious haven of treats you can imagine. I am sorry to say they do not sell online (all the better for me, I buy chocolate espresso beans by the several-pounds), but if you ever came to a James River Writers event (say, the conference in October -, you could always take a side trip.

I should perhaps link some of our finer liquor stores, if only to tempt the Queen to the midatlantic ...

Colin Smith said...

Diane's links:

MA Hudson said...

I hope there was no music on all those popping up web pages - that would really add insult to the insensed.

Linda Strader said...

I can't believe people who don't do their homework before sending queries! I read everything and anything I could get my hands on before sending one single query, and one of the first things I read was to ALWAYS find out what each agent wants before sending a darned thing! Why anyone would insert links into a query letter is beyond me. Geez.

Lennon Faris said...

Yeah I think part of the whole schtick about a query is, can you tell a story? and in the case of a query of course it's not a whole story, but the reader can still get that sense. If you've got a lot of links and footnotes it seems like at best it would be a lot of extra words to sift through.

Karen - I'm not sure anyone has that answer! as the storyteller you have to judge whether a particular amount of detail entices someone to read, or distracts from the overall focus. I struggle with that as well. I know I've read books too where I think, if that author had edited maybe a couple more times, he/ she would have taken that whole paragraph out.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

2Ns: HA! Sounds like sharing a nice supper and an adult beverage with Uncle Dutch would be enlightening.

Unknown said...

My first reaction to the post was: Wow, the Shark is actually a big softy, like a whale shark, maybe. She actually took the time to paste the big swath of text into a word document!

Just one more reminder that agents really are hoping they'll like our queries...

BJ Muntain said...

I remember, in the days before e-mail submissions, people were told by certain 'experts' to use a slightly off-colour paper, maybe a more unique font, something to catch the agents' eyes and make your query 'different'.

And then the days of the internet appeared, when the agents could respond to the world in general: Please use white bond paper. Please use Courier or Times New Roman fonts. Please don't put pictures (especially THOSE pictures) in the envelope. And please please please - no glitter or perfume!

Are links the new glitter?

Karen: If you can't see it yourself, having someone else read your query can help you decide if there's enough specificity. One agent had a period of time set out where he would respond with a critique of the query letter. I sent mine. He told me the only thing he could see was I could make one phrase a bit more specific. That was immensely helpful.

DLM: I really hope our former lurkers are now to become regular commenters. Because new blood! Oh. I mean, it's good to add new folks into the stew... er, chum... er, mix. Yes, mix. Freshen things up a bit, that sort of thing.

Beth Carpenter said...

I hate pop-ups that interrupt when I'm trying to read something, and in effect that's what all those links created. I also hate news updates running on the bottom of the screen that have no relation to the current story. And I'm not crazy about sidebars in magazine articles.

Maybe it's a generational thing. My twenty-something son doesn't seem to mind multiple streams of information bombarding him, but to me it's horribly distracting. Just tell me the main story.

Although I confess, I love my Kindle dictionary function that pops up definitions when I ask. But only when I ask.

Beth Carpenter said...

P.S. When it says "Choose an identity" below the comments box, am I the only one who feels like Batman?

John Davis Frain said...

I understand where this querier was coming from. In our zeal to do everything possible to garner attention, it's easy to go overboard. So, another lesson to take here is: What am I doing in my query where it feels like I'm "helping" the agent, but I'm actually "hurting" my chances? Over-explaining the plot? Fluffing my bio with meaningless info? Giving away the ending? 250 words - choose them sparingly.

Also, I missed congratulating Lennon Faris on the outstanding FF from this past weekend. (Computer in the ER.) Is it too late to say Congratulations Lennon? Oh, it's been too long? Okay, I won't talk about Lennon Faris' outstanding story any more. Wow, but it was good.

Janice Grinyer said...

I missed the Shark party yesterday- welcome to everyone who braved the waters and left comments! Hope to read more of them in the future ("like today, how about today?")

I spent quite a bit of time on query letters. I think if you spend way too much time, you become fretful and start underestimating who you are sending it to. Not good. If you have to explain EVERY LITTLE DETAIL to a prospective Agent, are you sure you want that person representing you in the first place?

Brigid said...

(Yo, lurkers — you're still welcome! Please keep commenting! We like you.)

Off-ish topic: I saw this helpful explanation of adjective order and it made me think of y'all. It rings true — and I don't know why. Very intriguing.

It's an excerpt from the Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yup Melanie, my Uncle Dutch was pretty cool.

He said lots of other stuff. My favorite is his definition of a blush, although one word he used I cannot find defined anywhere.

"A blush is a mere felforgiance of the subcutaneous tissue brought on by emotion, stress, embarrassment or shame.

Anybody know if "felforgiance" (I'm spelling phonetically) is actually a word?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Carolynn I asked my dictionary app about felforgiance was a word and it asked me "do you mean flogging?" I say close enough. If it wasn't a word, it is now. Uncle Dutch sounds quite the character.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: The closest I can come to is effulgence, which would fit the context of the quote. Did you mishear, perchance? Or maybe he made up a word! :)

And I'd like to echo the sentiment of the others: let's hear from our new commenters. Are you writing a query? How's that going? Do you have questions or observations? Are you concerned you are saying too much, or not enough? Are there query "rules" that confuse you? We may have the same questions, so speak up! :)

abnormalalien said...

This reminds me of a book I read for a class. The reading itself was good; it was short, well-written, and accessible.

But almost every single page was 2/3 text and 1/3 footnotes. Most of us loathed that book.

Of course, we were required to read it. Now, if I'm reading something online and I see pop-ups, autoplay videos, or excessive links, I run off to find a site with more manners. I can't imagine the patience it must have taken to read that query.

Ok, I'm gonna slink back off to silently observe now.

RosannaM said...

Hey All, newbie back to play. I am with Beth about all the distracting extra bits coming at me when I am trying to read. But I'm afraid I don't feel like Batman. I, apparently, have enough trouble worrying why can't I tell what a store front looks like.

As far as linking in a query--are you out of your mind? If I ever decide to need a link in one of these comments, I will:

a. Request prettily that Colin do it for me, or
b. Figure out a different way to say what I wanted to say, or
c. Maybe read Colin's explanation for how to do it (but life is complicated enough already so C. is really doubtful)

And for the record, I will probably always be a late-chimer-inner as I am writing from the Pacific Northwest, so while I am sitting here in my jammies, sipping my Seattle's Best coffee (sorry Starbucks!), the rest of you might be eating lunch!

(Colin, could you please tell me how to bold? Without laughing? Thanks!)

Colin Smith said...

Rosanne: Here's how to bold without laughing:

1) Think about kale, synopses, and turning up to a pitch session in your underwear.

2) Type < b > (without the spaces)

3) Type the text you want bolded

4) Type < / b > (without the spaces)

5) Think about chocolate, free alcohol, and your novel going to auction with all the big publishers. (You can laugh, smile, and happy dance now)

That should do the trick! :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

thank you,
thank you,
thank you, that's it.
All these years and finally I have the right word.

He also said: "Him has gone, him has went, will he never come to me, must I always go to he, oh, it cannot was."

Hey Jamie, no slinking.
Rosanna, be BOLD. See, I can't do it either.

RosannaM said...


Thank you so much. I am laughing. The chocolate could be coming soon, but the happy dance will have to wait until after the alcohol.

As far as the non-laughing stuff, I shudder.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: Wonderful! You're very welcome. :)

Rosanna: Yay! You did it!! :) You're welcome. If you want to italicize, just do the same but use I instead of b. Adding a link is not that much more complicated, but I'll let you check out my explanation HERE if you want to do that.


Karen McCoy said...

Lennon: Congratulations! And thanks for your helpful tips. You're right--it is about learning the feel of the novel and figuring out what to keep and what to leave out--both for the query and the novel itself.

And thank you,BJ! I'm awaiting some feedback on the query and am so glad you did well with yours!

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of something Bob Mayer said in an online class, years ago, that really stuck with me (paraphrasing): You don't get to send an explanation with your book. It has to make sense on its own.

Seems the same would hold true, but even more so, with a query. If it needs further explanation, you haven't done your job with the writing.

Karen McCoy said...

kdjames I love Bob Mayer! I saw him speak a few years ago, and he was phenomenal. I'm tacking this quote to my wall. Total genius!

Anonymous said...

Karen, I agree. Bob is a fantastic teacher, and he's not bad with that whole writing thing either. :) But keep in mind this isn't a direct quote, just me paraphrasing a memory.

abnormalalien said...

Ah but Carolynnwith2Ns, slinking comes so natural. Do you remember the story about the boy who was raised by wolves? I was a bit like that except the forest was a trailer park and the wolves were my Mom's many cats.

I'm kidding, of course, cats don't raise children. They train human slaves and raise kitty minions.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Dena - LOVE your comment! The speed I was scrolling through them (on my phone) it really was the easiest of all to read, with all that white space :D

BJ Muntain said...

Karen: I'm very proud of my query. Considering I had a lot of help from a certain Shark... I took her querying class at a conference, and wow. I learned A. LOT. I highly recommend it.

RosannaM: Welcome back!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

This is a BOLD test.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

YIPPIE it worked.
Colin will you marry me?

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: *APPLAUSE* Well done!!! :D

I'm very flattered, but we are both happily married already. ;)

Colin Smith said...

... not to each other, unless anyone should get the wrong end of that last comment's stick... :)

JulieWeathers said...

I remember reading a comment here by the sharque where she said, "What the hell is a mage?" She figured out it was a spell slinger.

I gasped. I think someone had queried her and mentioned mage. Obviously, Some agents do better in fantasy realms than others. Not naming names here.

On the other hand, she did know what a murder hole and an oubliette was.

One of the things that C.C. Humphreys and I discussed at Surrey last year, and I'm not trying to drop names but I mention this because he is well known for his historicals, is how to weave in bits and unfamiliar terms without making it seem like an info dump. He was critiquing a piece of mine that had a vivandiere in it. He showed me how to add just two sentences and I could "educate" the reader without making it feel like a history lesson.

The place for educating people, however, is not in query letters. You can word things so they don't need footnotes or links.

JulieWeathers said...


One of the research books I read about Civil War spies and two books I read about Col. Mosby were like that with extensive footnotes. In my case, I loved it, especially the Mosby memoir, because he was meticulous in documenting what he said. He furnished places to go verify historical documents, battle orders, letters, diaries, etc, which was very good because his recollection of some engagements clashes with popular thought. I'll be going with his version since he backed his up with the battle orders and where they could be found.

To someone just reading the memoir for enjoyment, I'm sure all the notes were distracting.

Lennon Faris said...

Aw thanks, John! I appreciate the kind words!

And glad you might've gotten something from that, Karen. And thanks for the congrats :)

Kae Ridwyn said...

Hi Julie! You've intrigued me with that snippet "add two sentences and educate the reader about 'vivandiere' without it seeming like an info dump". I'd LOVE to hear the full story! Could you, perhaps, blog about it sometime? Once the MG WIP has had its way with me, I'd like to get back into my historical fiction, but the thought of how to avoid the dreaded info dump has me spinning my little woodland creature hamster wheel...

Karen McCoy said...

kdjames Still wise words. :)

BJ Yeah, I'm pretty sure I need that class. Reading the Shark archives are helping though. :)

AJ Blythe said...

I've come in late, but glad I did because it's been a hoot reading the vomments today.

BJ, thanks for the tip about reading yesterday's comments, I zipped through to catch up on the fun =)

I'd love to know where the querier got the idea to add links... out of their own head, an un/published author, the woman across the road watering her plants?

When I was at conference a few weeks back, I overheard a conversation between some aspiring authors who were going to pitch. One had printed off chapters, ready to hand to the agent. I butted in and suggested they put them away (with explanation). To no avail. And where did she hear those brilliant words of wisdom? From another first-time-pitchee *sigh*.

Sometimes I think people choose to believe the advice they hear if they think it will increase their chances of taking another step up the 'ladder to publication'.

Claire Bobrow said...

Rosanna: Thank you for asking the question! And I envy you your cup of Seattle's Best.

Colin: Thank you for responding! I hope I did it correctly.

I'm marveling over Carolynn's Uncle Dutch, wishing I could hang out with Adib and drink tea, and wishing even more for a giant handful of DLM's chocolate-covered espresso beans to help me resolve the ending to a PB manuscript...

Links in queries sound like a very bad idea indeed. I wonder if David Foster Wallace used footnotes in his queries? I still can't bring myself to eat lobster after reading his "Consider the Lobster" essay.

JulieWeathers said...


This is the post on vivandieres.

This is the original version Chris read. He said if I wanted to I could add in two sentences and explain more fully what vivandieres were or describe her uniform. Have Baron thinking about it. He's already wondering what a woman is doing out there, so it's easy to add just a bit more and finish the process.

He said many times by having someone think about something, you can avoid the info dumps.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

OUCH! Clearly they haven't read your archives.

Plus, if you need to explain more than 1 thing... perhaps your query needs to be rewritten!