Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pause for a recap

 Dear QueryShark:

I don't want to be a smartass or anything.  I'm genuinely curious about something.  You insist that those who want to submit to the query shark read the archives first.  That's what I've been doing, and I'm a little confused about the contradictory opinions I've found there.  For instance:


In that post, you say you like rhetorical questions.  But in this one (and loads of others): http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2011/06/206.html   you say queriers shouldn't open with any sort of question.

I used to be ok with rhetorical questions but then they just seemed to get lame and then more lame. It's entirely possible my tastes have changed. Agents are getting a LOT more queries now then they used to (or at least that's my sense of things--and my mail reflects that too) When you see a lot of rhetorical questions done poorly it just gets to the point that you never want to see one again.


Also: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2008/12/86.html

That query is written in first person.  But in this one (and others): http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2011/06/203.html  you say not to write a query in first person.

Don't confuse I-the-writer with I-the-character.  You always write queries in I-the-writer first person. You're almost never ever going to write in I-the-character.

However, you've also said many times that people can break the rules if they do it well, and if they query accomplishes it's goal, which is to convince people to read more.

So.  My questions.  First, did your opinion change after seeing a few too many rhetorical questions, or is it all in the question?  For instance, if someone asked, "Don't you just hate rhetorical questions?" would that work better than "Have you ever mistaken your wife for a hat?".  And second, is there a way to write a query in first person that won't instantly be seen as a gimmick?  I have no interest in writing a query that way, but I'm curious.  If, as in that example, it's full of a voice that hooks you, does that transcend the gimmick?

There is no one template. There is no magic set of rules. There are lots of contradictions.  All you have to do is find your voice and write really well. It's very simple and very hard.

And I don't think you're a smart ass.


Debra Lynn Shelton said...

"It's very simple and very hard." WORD!!!

(And, I LOVE that pic!)

Scooter Carlyle said...

At least you know someone actually followed the directions.

Unknown said...

You had me at, "Have you mistaken your wife for a hat?"

I stopped paying attention after that. There just aren't enough hat stories anymore.

Sarah said...

Awesome pic.

I tell the kids in my classes that I'd take smartass over dumbass any day of the week.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm impressed with this writer's research.

My motto: if I'm going to break the rules, I'd better do it well. If I'm not sure if I've done it well, I don't break the rules.

Special Guest said...

You have to love anyone who starts off an email with "I don't mean to be a smartass." I should add that to my email template or something, like an auto-sig.

But seriously, thank you, this is a very informative post, and only makes me adore this site even more.

Kelley said...

Very hard and very simple rule: FedEx the hard gin before e-mailing a simple query.

JO said...

Dignified questions, and dignified answers. Thanks to both.

Matthew MacNish said...

Simple does not equal easy, and people often forget that. I love the way you put that. Well said!

Simone said...

great post. thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be smart-ass here. . . but I think the Shark goofed. The query linked to when the writer says, "That query is written in first person," IS written in "I-the-character" first-person. To quote the Shark's on said query:

"I read this, and posted it at once because I want to read it right now. That's EXACTLY the response you want in an agent: NOW! send NOW!

I was immediately drawn to the voice. It's vibrant and full of energy. More than anything I look for voice.

I don't even care that it's written in the voice of the protagonist, something that is mostly viewed as a gimmick. "

This was one of those rare queries that broke the rules and won the game. It's happened before, for example here: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2010/08/172-ftw.html

There, the Shark says, "This query breaks every rule I've yammered about. . . The SOLE purpose of the query is to get me to read your book. IF you can do that without following any of the guidelines, be my guest."

L.Dawson said...

Best. Picture. Ever. Do you have these on reserve? You very often have hilarious pictures like this.

Also, I think the query the writer linked to is in the first person protagonist's voice.

Unknown said...

I wish I could remember where we originally found it, but my husband and I have a quote posted in our house (and it applies to everyone equally, even our daughters):
-- First: learn the rules.
-- Second: master the rules.
-- Finally... break the rules.
(That second step is the key.)