Sunday, February 11, 2018


Dear Query Shark:

The Three Little Pigs went out into the world to make their fortune--which proves that there is a fortune to be made in the world and you can make it (or blow it away) even if you're just a little pig.

Before you build your house of straw, read 101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever.

If you have tried and failed to obtain a negative net worth, this book is guaranteed to help send your finances into an immediate downward spiral.

Don't learn how to cook. If you have life insurance, you don't need savings. And borrow a lot of money--that worked for Trump! Learn these and other great skills in 101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever.

101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever is complete at 75,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is a textbook example of a query so confusing I don't even know if it's fiction or non-fiction. Your email to me you included a line above the salutation: 101 Ways to Stay in Debt Forever: Humorous Fiction, 75,000 words which I think you intended to be viewed as the subject line of the query email.

The problem with that is  this book isn't fiction as far as I can tell from this query.  There's no story.

It sounds more like a satirical self-help, but again, I'm just guessing.

When I rail against people trying to be clever in queries, this is exactly what I'm talking about.

PLAIN writing is a good start for any query. Tell me about the story if you're writing fiction.

If you're writing anything else, tell me the issue you're illuminating, the problem you're trying to solve, or the event/historical period you're shedding new light and insight on.

Don't outsmart yourself by trying to be clever.


Sean Gates said...

This is one of those queries where I wonder if the author read the archives and if so, did they outsmart themselves? The interesting thing about the experience of reading the archives is how I went from "oh crap I've done that before," and "oh man that's me too" at the beginning, to being able to form my own critiques of the submissions before even reading the blue Sharkly text. This blog teaches.

While the Shark has been known to appreciate a quirky query here and there, it's always because those queries didn't quirk at the expense of querying. i.e. they'd break the rules but make you want like hell to read the book. This one really is confusing. It made me wonder if the author even knows what a novel is, and that is so far from where we want to be that not even the Hubble Telescope can find it.

Julie Weathers said...

This is why you have a really good crit group and you study the shark archives and Miss Snark like Sherlock Holmes for clues. I thought it was a self-help book on debt.

Frankie said...

Confusing query.
Reading and studying the archives can be really helpful.
I kind of enjoyed part of the humor, but I will never guess there’s a fiction story from the query.

E.Maree said...

The query is so tongue-in-cheek that it's genuinely confusing to read. Particularly the line "If you have tried and failed to obtain a negative net worth"...I get what you're saying, but it's such an unnecessarily complicated way to say it. And it's a missed opportunity to go with something much stronger in voice.

The Trump line also fell flat for me because he's not broke in the slightest. He's doing pretty dang well for himself right now.

I've got a gut feeling that even with revisions this query is going to rub me the wrong way: I know how the cycle of debt works, I've seen it up close often enough. I'm fond of satirical pieces about how wealthy folks misunderstand the financial struggles of others, and some recent discussions I've enjoyed:

* Jokes about how avocado toast is totally worth not being able to afford a mortgage
* Poking fun at the lack of awareness of everyday living costs. ("I mean, it's one banana, Michael... What could it cost? Ten dollars?" - Arrested Development)
* John Scalzi's absolutely wonderful blog post, Being Poor.
* There was lengthy Twitter chatter about Charities being sick of receiving tinned tomatoes. Really, they were frustrated with the common idea that people who need charity assistance have the time and emotional energy left to cook up tinned tomatoes into a decent meal. That isn't always possible when you're fleeing abuse, scraping to survive for your family, or in other dire financial straits. Being in a bad place is exhausting.
(I'd link the source Tweet by charity The Aunties/@whaeapower but it's been removed. The charity received harassment for being 'ungrateful'.)

...And this query doesn't fit in with any of that. It's actually being quite cruel and unreasonable in its examples:

Don't learn how to cook. If you have life insurance, you don't need savings. And borrow a lot of money

...People don't get caught in debt because they don't know how to make cheap dinners. Americans don't just choose not to have savings because they have Health Insurance (and ugh, the very idea that 'having savings' is a simple solution to anything always comes from people wealthy enough to have forgotten what it's like living paycheck-to-paycheck). People borrow money out of desperation, not just for kicks.

nightsmusic said...

I'm so not your target audience here. If I'd read this during the time my in-laws kept us in food and heat so our then one year old wouldn't starve and would have a roof over her head, I'd give you a dressing down you wouldn't forget. Now that my kids are grown and my husband and I were able to make good choices and are...comfortable whatever that word really means, this query still makes me angry because I've been there. If you're going for humor here, I find none. Rather, I find a snarky query on how easy it is to stay in debt and never rise above it. Humor in dire situations can be a true lifesaver. What you've got here is a query that shows disdain.

Read through the archives here on what works and what doesn't, then rewrite your query to show what you're really trying to get across which is, I think, a humorous look at trying to get richer. And then tell us about that story.

AmyLou55 said...

I am bleeding but not mangled. This is all great advice that will help me better present what I am trying to do. I learned in my drama class that one of the charms of "Big Bang Theory" is that people can learn social skills while laughing at what they should not do. I grew up in the slums and have true respect for the struggles of the poor. Parody of a self-help probably nails the genre. Thanks for letting me test the waters.

DLM said...

Very late to the dance here, but I actually REALLY liked that first paragraph. Had it been followed by anything I could understand, I would have been on board, but yeah, I got lost. And yeah, you do have to be careful invoking the President, any of them.

I actually thought this might be a picaresque about the Three Little Pigs setting up an investment scheme of some sort, and meeting with either completely unexpected/unorthodox success. The humor is definitely there, and there *is* nimbleness with words. But pig-herding requires a great deal of patience, work, and skill no viewer is going to see. Otherwise, we see the havoc a trio of pigs can unleash.

Good luck, AmyLou55!