Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Using bullet points in a query

Does anyone ever use bullet points in a query letter? We discussed this in my critique group and the thought that men and women (agents/publishers) react to stories differently, might influence how they read a query letter. And, since we are trying to convey information succinctly, that bullets might do that in a non-traditional way. On the other hand, if the query shows a tidbit of our writing style, then bullets wouldn't cut it. Any thoughts to enlighten me?  

The bullet points I've seen in a query look like this:
Title: The Buttonweezer Guide to a Happy Marriage
Author: Betty and Felix Buttonweezer
Genre: literary fiction
Word count: 94k
Keywords: marriage, fight, murder
Similar: Stephen King, Nostradamus, QueryShark blog

Or this:
by: (Author)
Word Count: 72,000
Source: some obscure website I've never heard of.

Stories generally do not lend themselves to bullet points.
Bullet points highlight the important things in an article.
Including keywords is just  ridiculous in a query for a novel.  Keywords are search engines find things. Readers do not look for books like a search engine.  They look for description or category first. Murder and redemption gets you everything from the Bible to Shawshank Redemption.
I don't really care where you found my name because it's obvious you did.  It does tell me you didn't look at my website which is a Big Red Flag that you didn't actually do much research.
Repeating your name is just a waste of space and my eyeball time.
None of these are the most part of  your query.
What is important?
The story!!
I've said it before and I guess I'll say it again: don't do something non-traditional, weird or offbeat, thinking it's a better way. It's not. Please just tell me about a story I want to read.




AJ Blythe said...

You would only be able to bullet the admin part of the query and that would look weird after the paragraph format of the plot. Query letters are hard enough as is, I wouldn't want to have to try to be clever enough to change the status quo in a way that was brilliant.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am currently dying on the query letter hill. I am about to hit the trenches again - but have been unsuccessfully trying to write a decent query letter for six weeks. It is so hard to try and pull those few words that will push agents to read the pages. And there still exists agents who don't ask for pages and you only have the query to make that impression.

I fear I spent way too much time sniffing kale on Carkoon. I am beside myself I am so frustrated. Every time I go to revise/write my query, I freeze. And then everything I write sounds forced - not at all me and my book.

I have done workshops - got a full request from one but that was based on pages and NOT the query. I have had buddies from the Reef look at it and yeah, I have a definite Query Aversion Disorder - not as bad as Qu'anon but getting close.

Ugh! Sorry, I am just ranting at this point. It's a REALLY GREAT book. I know it. I have multiple beta readers who are neither friends nor relatives that are already asking for my next book. And I am never going to be able to sell this book because I can't get over the query letter blues. Opie, don't make it worse. The query trenches - the place dreams go to die.

I am going to go slam my head in the door repeatedly now. Until the pain stops.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Admittedly, I'm nearing the end of my query journey, but I remember a query on Query Shark a few years ago that took a sort of unorthodox "listing things" approach and it sounded AMAZING (which really only means that sometimes, if the rules are broken in a particular way, it works.)

I can't remember the title of the book (or the year it was on Query Shark) but it was subsequently published and I read it. It was a YA about a girl whose cousin had killed herself because of a boy (I think) and so the narrator started at her cousin's school the next year to get revenge.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

E.M., have you seen TheQueryShark (as opposed to QueryShark)? It's a personalised advice service offered by our favourite Queen of the Known Universe. Nothing too recent on the Twitter account, but it and the blog are up and running, so I assume TQS is still feasting on writers. Anyway, take a look if you haven't already:

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: I believe THIS is the query you had in mind.

Elise: Hang in there! Surely Janet would have had you at "Ash fell like Hell’s snow"--even though that wasn't in your novel. Someone who can write lines like that deserves to have her shopping list published, let alone her novel. Anyway, I'm rooting for you, my friend!! 😁🎉

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Colin: Yes, that's the one! YA isn't a genre I read much anymore, but that one was worth it.

Katja said...

Sigh! Big fat sigh. Big fat general sigh that we have to do so much research and get everything right.

I have started to query the German version of my novel and already think I won't do it for very long. The chance of me getting an agent for it is simply too small to make it worth it. That's at least how I feel right now. I would work my socks off for just a form rejection most likely or no response at all.

It's like searching for a job (with the only exception that literary agents don't get paid for reading my query and manuscript).

Back in May, I applied for a trilingual job in Zurich. I had a brief phone call. Then I had a one-hour video call during which the woman tested my French language skills, then my English and then my German. She asked me questions like "what do you know about our company".
Yes, I had done MY RESEARCH and was able to answer everything, phew.

Then I was invited over all the way to Switzerland from England for a trial day. 5 hours! I had to go role plays in German and in English.
I also had to answer mock-up emails in both languages.
Then I had to solve 4 maths tasks while the clock was ticking next to me. And of course meet all the other team members and work with them.

It was gruelling.

I spent an awful lot of energy and emotions and MONEY on this trip to get that job.

Two days after I had returned to England, I received a FORM rejection. 3 lines. THREE.
Thank you for your time getting to know us.
Sorry but we've chosen a different candidate.
We wish you all the best for your future.

Querying sucks. Searching for a job sucks toi.

Apologies for my language but it IS frustrating. 😭

Brigid said...

Jennifer, I knew exactly which you meant! I read that book when it was published. Premeditated by Josin L. McQuein. I felt the query did a much better job of describing the story than, for example, Publisher's Weekly. But it wasn't exactly bullets.

I could see using bullets almost as an excerpt from the character's journal. I'm dubious whether it'd ever be the best choice, but I could see it working something like this:

Betty Buttonweezer keeps things running smoothly. It's what she does. The family business, her children's schedule, her husband's laundry and lunches. Nothing slips past Betty. Hell, she won an award for her bullet journal. But her to do list for tomorrow raises some questions.
Get groceries: sugar, flour, almond extract
Stop by farm & feed store: duck food, prussic acid, fertilizer, lye
Bake cookies
Call funeral home
But don't worry. Betty will make sure it goes smoothly.

Brigid said...

I am completely dissatisfied with that sample query but the baby woke up before I could figure out why Betty was finally murdering Felix, other than the laundry. Alas.

Elise, I'm with Colin. I believe in you.

Beth Carpenter said...

Brigid, I would buy that book.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Elise... I truly SOOO believe in you. Onward, my friend. Onward!

AJ Blythe said...

Elise, you write well. You know your story. You can write the query! Send a couple out and then wait and see what the response is. Tweak and do a few more. I don't think there is such a thing as the perfect query, because every agent will be looking for something slightly different. Don't let fear hold you back, my friend. Go for it and know there is a whole reef behind you.

NLiu said...

E.M. please take your head out of the door and step away from the kale! (That stuff is dangerous.)

The trenches are horrid.

Your query letter will never be “perfect”.

You will get rejections (or tumbleweed). It sucks.

BUT that doesn't define you as either a writer or a human being.

Happy to send anything from an extra large pack of chocolate goodies to extra eyeballs if that might help.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This Reef is so amazing. Thank you for letting me rant like a madwoman. Querying is hard.I really do appreciate the support. You guys are all amazing, magical, glow wyrms, and make everything better. I will get the query working. In theory.

However, I had forgotten about the synopsis. Now I need a lie down and a tiny cake.

Luralee said...

Hi EM, and anyone writing queries or synopses, if you’d like another set of eyes to look over your query/ synopsis, feel free to send it my way. I’m getting ready to start querying soon, myself. Maybe we could swap?

Craig F said...

Swing low, sweet story arc, carry that query home.

Elise, take a deep breath, relax, and remember that you consort with dragons. The strange and savage beats named query and synopsis are no match for you.

If you want anonymous feedback, Query Tracker's forum has a query review topic. The comments can be hard to cipher, but I learned a lot kibbutzing with others and trying to help them, helped myself.

miriam said...
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