In a recent discussion in a writers' Facebook group, it was generally agreed that curse words shouldn't be used in the query, since the query is a professional letter, similar to a cover letter for a job. You would never use curse words in a cover letter. However, you would never write about time travel, or faeries, or love, or adventure in a cover letter either (unless maybe you were a physicist, or a safari guide, or…well, you know what I mean). I’m not suggesting that a writer drop F-bombs all over their query, but I’m wondering if there are any instances where a curse word might be acceptable.
I’m thinking of cases where a curse word might help to show a character’s voice. For example, my character’s goal is to escape her rundown neighborhood and life of poverty. I’ve tried “decaying neighborhood,” I’ve tried “rundown neighborhood,” but the truth is, if you asked my character, she’d call it “shitty.”
Thank you for your time and consideration
Like all similes, "a query is like a business letter" has some limitations. The question you pose is one of them.
When I say a query letter is a business letter, the implication is you don't use the salutation"Hi there honey!" or close with "Love" or write in crayon or colored gel pens (creatively discombobulating, but there you have it.)
I also mean to convey you don't write in the third person, and you don't tell me personal things like "I've been writing since before I was born" and "my children hate me and want me out of their house, so I need to sell this book to make rent on a new place"
As for the specific language you use: a query should reflect your voice and your style without being over the top on either. I swear a LOT but I generally don't drop the f-bomb in pitch letters. I'm VERY judicious about other kinds of words as well, because I want the reader to hear what I'm saying not be slapped upside the head by the word choices.
Is shitty the best word? Only you can decide. I can think of colorful language that isn't blue: ramshackle, rat corners, dogpatch, a place that aspires to be just rundown.
There are lots of ways to say shitty without actually invoking the fecal matter.
Can you use it? Sure.
Do you think it's the exact right word? That's your call.