Sunday, October 3, 2010

A complaint from the back benches

Dear QueryShark:

I love this site, and you give great help in a hilarious way. But for all this talk demanding good queries, you only post the bad ones. It's all educational, sure, but for those of us sending a good query per instruction hoping then for info on how to make it spectacular, we're ignored in favor of posting the truly awful ones. It's unfair that the ones who do follow these "strict" instructions are the ones never featured.

Maybe you can post some middle-ground queries--ones that aren't a complete disaster, but ones that still need basic help. I know it'd be nice and not exactly ferociously shark-like, but it would make following these instructions more important. I'm tempted to write a terrible query just to get you to post it so I can then send a follow-up.

It's all a matter of perspective I guess. I really don't think I post only bad queries.  But if you think so, ok.

But, asking for advice on how to make your query spectacular overlooks something: I can't do that.  I can help you get out of your own way. I can show you the obvious mistakes of form and content. I can beat it into your head not to start queries with your address or mine, or to mention those seventeen other novels waiting in the wings.

Editing your query line by line to make it spectacular assumes we could agree on what is spectacular and assumes what makes your query spectacular would also make other queries spectacular.  I don't think we'd agree on either of those.  

QueryShark is designed to get you to effective.  For spectacular, you gotta do it yourself.  The most I can help you there is showing query letters that worked for me. There's a list  on the blogroll titled "Queries That Got To YES" with ten of them as of today.

And please don't send a terrible query just hoping to get it posted.  It won't help you get to spectacular either.


Livia Blackburne said...

That's a really great way to look at it. It's much easier to agree on what makes a bad query better, vs what makes an okay query great.

Guinevere said...

Love today's post - I definitely think that while there are certain elements that are always there in a good query, there's still a lot of room for disagreement over what makes a query awesome and irresistible. Even the "perfect" query isn't going to draw interest from every single carefully targeted agent, right?

Ali Trotta said...

Excellent post and point. I think that it's the same way for writing. No one can teach you how to write well. Someone can help you to find the tools (through education, reading, and writing) -- but the HOW is something each person discovers for himself/herself. That's how someone develops a writing style.

I think that the same goes for query writing. Here, you show the mistakes, what doesn't work, and (if I remember correctly), you've showed the changes a single query has gone through (going from Bad to Effective). Regardless, I've learned a lot from reading this blog.

Rick Daley said...

Sometimes knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. This site is excellent at illustrating mistakes, but the Shark isn't shy to say when something works. I think there's a fair balance, and the disproportionate weighting toward bad queries (or less well-written queries) might reflect the general ratio of bad queries to spectacular queries in the Shark's inbox.

Ocean Archer said...

As Madam C. carcharias said, 'this isn't even my hobby let alone my job.' This is a free service.

I'm sure she gets plenty of horrible queries, but never bothers to post them, same with good ones that never get posted. This is her site. She gets to decide what content would benefit her site and other aspiring writers. Judging by her popularity, she's done a pretty good job.

The thing is, if you can't learn from other people's queries, and you need someone to specifically hold your hand through every line of your own query, then maybe you aren't ready to write a novel yet.

The query is a microcosm of your novel and your writing. If you can't learn the process and fix your query yourself, then your novel will most likely suffer the same deficiencies. If someone else fixes your query for you, you'll get some agent requests, but your MS will get rejected everyone of them because you haven't learned for yourself what is really wrong with your technique/structure/character development/conflict, etc.

MB Dabney said...

Thanks for this post.
There can be a lot of agreement on what is a dreadful query but a lot less agreement on an effective one. It can be very subjective.
So this blog is a great teaching tool but the work on learning is still that of the writer.

Stephanie Barr said...

It should also be noted that even a cursory glance through the archives show the same mistakes being made over and over again, despite all the counterexamples.

Finding the errors in your own work is HARD. Seeing a successful query (of which there are plenty) is not nearly so helpful in screening your own as seeing mistakes highlighted so you can recognize them.

Getting in the habit of looking at queries critically is also a good way to get some perspective on your own.

I appreciate the positive examples. Nice to know people are sending in working queries. Nice to see if I agree and why I didn't get it. But I've learned gobs and gobs of things to think about from the missteps of others and QS's expansive comments why.

And I, for one, am grateful.

Zoe said...

Ironically I thought I've been seeing more good queries lately. But maybe I'm confused; I've also been reading back through the archives.

Amber J. Gardner said...

Is it bad that I sort of agree with the complaint? I remember seeing a query that broke so many obvious rules, I wondered why it was posted if we've seen these tons of times already.

But I do agree that it's up to us to do the work and make our queries spectacular. And I definitely feel I've learned lots from reading the blog alone.

I just would like verification that I actually did get what you're trying to teach. It's always difficult to see things subjectively.

jen said...

Ocean Archer hit my thoughts. My first reaction to this post is you either haven't read the instructions, or the archives.

A query is not meant to be award winning, it is meant to get a next step - a request for pages. Writing an effective query is really friggin hard. I've written a few effective queries, and I continue to learn a lot from this site. It's a great service, and every week when I swing by to see what new ones are here, it's always interesting to read the Shark's comments.

Life is about learning, when you stop learning, you die. Find the nuggets in every query.

(PS, I don't think it's a struggle for the Shark to find crappy queries. I think it's harder to find good ones.)

dana e donovan said...

I don't understand the complaint. Seems to me we have seen lots of first time FTWs, as well as those needing only 1 or 2 revisions. Then there are those like mine (five FTW) There is a bit of everything here. WTF?

Anonymous said...

Here's my stab at a condensed list of numbers of queries, commented upon by the Shark in a way that I feel cannot be reasonably characterized as "bad".

150, 149, 148, 136, 123, 120, 117, 114, 112

Try looking these up.

Julie Weathers said...

I think the commenter, and the others who agree, haven't researched the archives. Whenever I feel masochistic tendencies and decide to work on my query, I come here. I go through the YES queries to see what works and then I start dissecting them.

I disagree a bit with Ocean Archer. I know some people who write beautifully, but queries just kick their butts. Good query writing is an entirely different beast.

Query Shark is a treasure trove of information, but it's up to the person to apply it.

confirmation word--Obeddia Yay, new character name.