Sunday, September 14, 2008

#79

Dear Query Shark,

Have you ever peeked into someone else‚s medicine cabinet?

Or gotten a little thrill when you‚ve found yourself alone in another person‚s private space, like your boss‚s office after hours or your host‚s bedroom when you‚ve taken a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom?

Have you ever tingled with excitement as you watched the main character of a spy movie riffle through a cabinet drawer taking pictures of its contents, wishing the whole time it was you holding the tiny camera shaped like a pen?

You've taken up three paragraphs to describe one thing. Overkill. Get to the point.

Come on, you know you have. But the difference between Katie Tremaine and you is that this particular twenty-nine-year-old accountant can‚t control her urges to sneak around like a cat burglar or pretend to be James Bond. Katie is addicted to snooping around places she shouldn‚t be the way other people are addicted to cigarettes, chocolate cake or gambling, but there is nothing Katie can do for her particular jones short of joining the CIA or turning to a life of crime ˆ and she‚s really not into the whole danger, life-threatening thing.


So, I see that last sentence and think: how many other 56 word sentences are in this book? And that's it. I look at that and all I can see is "this is gonna need work." If you were describing something I'd never seen before it might be different but you've got a snooper (a tired trope) and the prospect of a lot of editing. I'd stop reading right here and say no thanks. Yes this is unfair; yes I might miss something. That's all true. It's still exactly what I'd do.

Assuming she will forever keep her semi-illicit urges under wraps, Katie is shocked when her friend Bernie, a private investigator, uncovers her proclivities and immediately grasps the usefulness of Katie talents. Bernie offers Katie the opportunity to make $5,000 retrieving a valuable piece of jewelry for one of his socialite clients from her ex-husband‚s estate. But when both the client and the ex wind up murdered, it‚s handsome police detective John Flynn who discovers Katie‚s involvement in the case and that her fingerprints are all over both crime scenes ˆ and Katie soon wishes she‚d taken up basket weaving instead of burglarizing.

There's a fundamental failure of logic here. Snooping doesn't mean sneak thief. If she's stealing stuff, you need to mention it in the first paragraph. And you'll want to go easy on the "only difference" cause I may have been known to open a medicine cabinet but I've never actually tried to steal the host's tiara.

Please consider reviewing my 85,000-word mystery novel The Taker. Thank you for your time and attention,as I know both are valuable. Yea well yours are too, let's not get all gushy and stuff.

And "reviewing" isn't what I do. Michiko reviews. I consider. I read. I fling myself at work I love. I do not review.

Sincerely,


Don't you love all those weird ass punctuation marks? Yea, me neither. It doesn't stop me from reading your query, but if you are obsessive about this kind of thing you need to figure out how to make it stop. Commenters here will have good advice about it too, I'm sure.

18 comments:

Sarah Laurenson said...

The weird apostrophe-wanna-be's were all I could look at. Drew my eye away from the words.

I have a critique partner with a similar issue. Her manuscripts came with A's and B's in place of quotation marks and dashes. Very bizarre. Wound up she had different fonts in there and one of them was a Word Perfect font. MS Word didn't care for that.

Not much to say about the content here. Not my type of story.

Amanda said...

I think you could probably fix most of the commas-to-apostrophes by using the find-replace function:

,s to 's
,t to 't
,d to 'd
,ve to 've
,re to 're
,m to 'm
,l to 'l

That will catch the apostrophes but not the real commas, because real commas always have either a space or a quotation mark after them. You'll need to do a full read, but those switches should give you a good start.

benwah said...

Curiosity is one thing. Uncontrollable urges to invade privacy and play the stalker is pathological. Nor is it anything like giving in to the siren call of the last piece of chocolate cake. In an attempt to build a bridge to the reader with your 2nd person paragraphs, you've instead left me saying "I'm nothing like this." Furthermore, if we ever have business dealings, I ain't showing you pictures of my kids.

nn Angel said...

Those commas acting as apostrophes were annoying. Especially since I'm very big into editing, even more so for things like this when they really matter. Also, those extremely long sentences were a nuisance. Not all of that needs to be one sentence.

I'm slightly confused, though. If she's not up for high risk stuff, why would she agree to steal in the first place. You've already made it clear (at least to me) that her snooping wouldn't involve theft, even for a P.I.

And I agree with Janet that you don't need to spend three paragraphs talking about some people's urge to snoop in places they don't belong. It's more than overkill. It's almost like beating the horse to a bloody pulp.

Adam Heine said...

The apostrophe-commas were most likely an e-mail issue. That is, it probably looked fine in the author's inbox but came over to the shark's all messed up. It might be a one time problem, but if it happened once it could easily happen again if you e-mail agents (snail mailing is probably not an issue).

To fix: (1) make sure you send your e-mail as "plain text", not "rich text", (2) don't use any special fonts (you shouldn't be able to if you're using plain text), and (3) to be extra safe, send the e-mail to yourself first and make sure it looks the way you think it's supposed to.

Marian said...

I agree with benwah. The questions at the start didn't hold my interest because they're on the wordy side and because I've never invaded a boss's or friend's privacy. But when I read, "Come on, you know you have", that was it. Insisting that I've done something I haven't done is a complete turn-off.

JS said...

The "have you ever..." questions really threw me off, because, um, no. I haven't ever.

Rhetorical questions are bad enough: non-rhetorical questions that have the opposite answer to the one the questioner wants are worse.

And being told "Come on, you know you have" just makes me all shoutyfaced.

Also, the querier almost certainly meant "rifle through a drawer" rather than "riffle" through a drawer.

And this really frosted my cupcake:

Katie is addicted to snooping around places she shouldn‚t be the way other people are addicted to cigarettes, chocolate cake or gambling, but there is nothing Katie can do for her particular jones short of joining the CIA or turning to a life of crime

HEY, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU CAN DO WHEN YOU'RE ADDICTED TO SOMETHING? SOMETHING THAT YOU THINK IS WRONG AND DANGEROUS?

YOU CAN STOP DOING IT!

I know, who would have thought it? Not only that, there are actual trained professionals who can help people quit doing self-destructive, dangerous things!

So, yeah, someone who goes around breaking into other people's stuff actually does have other choices than "the CIA or turning to a life of crime."

Moth said...

I agree with Marian and JS. The whole "you know you have" thing REALLY turned me off because I have less than no desire to do any of the things you discussed. So, no, I know I haven't.

Also, this feels really tired. As soon as I found out your girl was a snooper I figured she was going to be solving crime/become a PI and oh look! She's doing both and there's a cute cop! Sorry but pass.

The weird commas thing didn't bother me because I figured it was an email error and nothing could be as bad as the last email formatting issue we saw. This one at least didn't interfere with comprehension. Still, though, iron that out before you submit.

danceluvr said...

I believe that the apostrophe problem is that the writer used those curly ones instead of the basic, straight ones. They often come across as all kinds of funny things.

Do a global replace ALL of the curly apostrophes and quotes with the straight ones, and I think you'll be OK in the future.

Amber Fraley said...

Okay, I'm not a literary agent but I have been an editor and I think it's really sucky to place so much significance on a query letter. (A QUERY LETTER for Christ's sake!) Ask people to send in the first three pages of their novels. In my experience, reading the first three sentences of a story almost always told me exactly what I needed to know.

That's the whole point of this right? The actual novel? Am I missing something?

And as long as we're tearing into something as insignificant as a query letter, "yea" is pronounced "yay" (as in "yea, me neither." I do believe that what you meant to write was "yeah."

Belvoir said...

I agree with what people have said: the main character seems pathologically nosy and invasive of people's privacy in a very amoral way. It's not an endearing trait, nor is it a "talent" as the query seems to posit. The protagonist seems like a total creep.

JS said...

Okay, I'm not a literary agent


You didn't need to say this, because it's obvious...

but I have been an editor and I think it's really sucky to place so much significance on a query letter

...from this. The Query Shark wasn't the person who came up with the whole model of writers querying agents. It's what you have to do in the US publishing industry these days.

Given that, the Shark set up this blog, which is called "The Query Shark" in order to offer reviews of writer's draft queries.

That's what the blog is for. It's called "The Query Shark" because it reviews queries in a shark-like manner.

Saying "But I think we should see first pages instead" is kind of a silly response to this. It's kind of like picking up Golf Digest and saying, "I hate golf! Why don't you write about tennis instead?"

However, if you want to see a blog where first pages are reviewed, I recommend Flogging the Quill, where Ray Rhamey offers a critique and judgment on writers' first sixteen lines. Dear Author also does a first-page critique every Saturday.

jeanoram said...

I gotta giggle out of "...there is nothing Katie can do for her particular jones short of joining the CIA or turning to a life of crime ˆ and she‚s really not into the whole danger, life-threatening thing."

It ain't all bad, it just isn't quite there yet. And we've all been 'not quite there yet'.

:)

Barbara Martin said...

If you receive these types of queries daily I understand why you're snarky.

Julie Weathers said...

Okay, I'm not a literary agent but I have been an editor and I think it's really sucky to place so much significance on a query letter. (A QUERY LETTER for Christ's sake!) Ask people to send in the first three pages of their novels. In my experience, reading the first three sentences of a story almost always told me exactly what I needed to know.

That's the whole point of this right? The actual novel? Am I missing something?

And as long as we're tearing into something as insignificant as a query letter, "yea" is pronounced "yay" (as in "yea, me neither." I do believe that what you meant to write was "yeah."

Number one, this is a place to learn about what to and not to do when writing queries, since they are a necessary evil of the business. If you have followed Ms. Reid at all, you know in an actual query she likes to see pages as well as the query. She also noted she likes people to bring pages to conferences!

I think you preaching to her about the importance of pages is pretty much like preaching to the choir.

For those of us who are still trying to hone our presentations to agents, we find these little exercises quite helpful.

And, in case you're wondering, no, I'm not sucking up so she'll like my submission. I write epic fantasy and her idea of fantasy is a full glass and a twenty dollar bill or a nice royalty check.

As for the "yea" thing, well, I'm not an editor. I don't even play one on tv. However, I am the proud owner of several dictionaries and all of them say "yea" can be substituted for "yes." It can also be used to introduce a statement. *gasp*

From Yourdictionary.com


yea Hear it!
Synonyms
yea Definition

yea (yā)

adverb

1. yes: used to express affirmation
2. indeed; truly; verily: used to introduce a question or statement
3. Archaic not only that, but more; moreover a thousand, yea, ten thousand

Etymology: ME ye < OE gea, akin to Ger ja

noun

1. an affirmative statement or vote
2. a person voting in the affirmative

1. yes
2. hurrah: a short used in cheering for a team

yea Synonyms
yea

interj.

okay, aye, well; see yes.

Janet Reid said...

Amber, many agents see ONLY the query letter these days. And even if you send pages, if the query letter sux, they aren't reading past that.

I didn't invent the system, and if you want to come to my office and read the first 20 pages of every single novel people submit, well, I'll be glad to change the query parameters and let you have at it. The address is on my website. I'll even buy you coffee.

Ann Walsh said...

The funny punctuation marks may be miss-communication between Macs and PCs.

My Mac and I have learned that Arial and Times New Roman are the two fonts that are common to both systems--most of the times. Unless the gremlins are out.

Poetry in the Global Box said...

This is the greatest blog I've seen. Querying is the WORST part of writing, but I am learning so much from your blog. Thanks!