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Phyllo
03-25-2010, 06:48 PM
So, I have written what I see as a fairly quirky story in a chatty voice (meant to be humorous) and am starting to draft my query. I've read advice that suggests a query should convey the voice and a sense of the novel. I've also read advice that says a query should be business-like.

Here's my question: are agents likely to construe a query that tries to capture the essence of my story and voice as inappropriate/non-businesslike? Is it simply a case of trying to strike the right balance (i.e. try to give a small taste of the humor) or is it more a matter of finding the one (or hopefully more) agents out there receptive to an off-beat letter?

AlishaS
03-25-2010, 08:29 PM
I think a query has to convey your voice. If you are writing a humorous novel but you query is boring, the agent will might think you can't be funny and the rest of the story is like that. I wouldn't go over the top by any means but a few humorous points is ok.

cate townsend
03-25-2010, 08:37 PM
I agree with AlishaS. Write it, then share it with people who have read your book to see if the tone of the query reflects your story. I know the SYW forum on queries has helped a lot of writers here, if you're willing to share and receive feedback this way. Basically, agents are looking for well-written, concise letters where the premise is clearly stated. As long as you have those elements, then you've got a good chance of catching someone's attention.

Danthia
03-25-2010, 09:29 PM
Queries should be professional, which is different from business like. It's a "business letter" in the sense that it's conducting business, ie you want to work with this person in a professional capacity. You wouldn't be casual in it, like "Hi Kristen, I have the awesome story you might want to see more of."

Get your voice in there. Voice is probably the number one thing agents say hook them in pages and queries.

Phyllo
03-25-2010, 10:59 PM
Thanks everyone. Those are really helpful responses.

BrooklynLee
03-25-2010, 11:15 PM
I faced the same quandary, and decided that the query needs to be "truth in advertising." It's much better to make the query funny, than to just say the book is funny. It's would be the same issue if you said your story was "gripping" or "a thrill ride" and your query was dull as dirt. :)

Richard White
03-25-2010, 11:42 PM
Agreed. Saying a book is funny (or quirky) is definitely "telling" *grin*. Show them a bit of your quirk, just don't overwhelm them and forget to show them the plot, the main characters, etc.

Lucy
03-26-2010, 02:09 AM
I disagree with the masses. This is a business letter, not a joke. If you don't take your query seriously, why should anyone else?

Write it in cool business language. If you want, you can describe it as funny or irreverent or whatever, but don't embarrass yourself by trying to be cute. Agents (and editors) are busy. Don't add to the reasons to say no by making it unclear whether or not you are writing like a character or like the author.

PoppysInARow
03-26-2010, 03:20 AM
Dear Phyllo,

Your query should have a professional edge, but only when dealing with the letter portion.

If we're taking about the summary of your book, hell, spice it up! This is showing your book, how Mary met John, how they got married, and oops, Mary met Sally and decided she didn't want to be with John.

So John plots to get back at both of them, at all of them, by doing something insane. Be as quirky as you want (within reason) when decribing your book. You want to be funny if you're selling a comedic novel.

But when describing your credits, in which you won so-and-so award and are talking about how much you enjoy the agent's blog/interviews/conference appearances/dedication to their job/whatever, you should be serious and business-like. They want to know that your book is funny, but that you can be professional.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Poppy.

DeadlyAccurate
03-26-2010, 04:22 AM
If you want, you can describe it as funny or irreverent or whatever, but don't embarrass yourself by trying to be cute.

Saying your book is funny is telling; it's not showing. Every agent blog I know of that discusses query letters calls that bad writing. If you can't show that your book is funny or irreverent in your query, why should they believe you when you tell them?

Your query should reflect the voice of the story. That doesn't mean being cute, and it doesn't mean writing as the character. But it also doesn't mean coming across as if you're bringing a bill before Congress, either.

Siddharta
03-26-2010, 05:05 AM
With the greatest respect to agents - DON'T OVER-ESTIMATE THEM!
Everyone seems to think these guys are Super-Uber-Human-Beings.
They are business people but are also very human. They succumb to the charm of an entertaining quip easily as any man/woman/child sitting in front of the TV on any day of the week.
They have targets and are under pressure to reach them.
We are the writers. We are the documenters of the dreams and the imaginings of our species at this moment in history.
All we can do is create our scenes and our worlds. After we do this, UNFORTUNATELY we have to hope that the agents will accept; and the publishers will accept, and the book distributers will accept, and the media will accept, our work.
This is all before we even get to the readers - the people who buy the books.
But we can do it, and we will do it - because despite how it seems - they need us.

jclarkdawe
03-26-2010, 07:12 AM
I don't know what you mean by a quirky query. There's a wide range that fall into that definition.

Broadly speaking, there are two parts to a query. There is a story and there are the business matters within it. For the business matters, such as word count, genre, formatting, et cetera, these should all be treated in a business like fashion.

The story section, however, should show us your book. If your book is violent, than we should be shocked over your query. If your book is romantic, then we should be swooning over your query. If your book is humorous, then we should be laughing over your query. And if your book is quirky, then we should see quirky in your query. Would anything else make sense? Agents say this consistently.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

cate townsend
03-26-2010, 08:13 AM
The story section, however, should show us your book. If your book is violent, than we should be shocked over your query. If your book is romantic, then we should be swooning over your query. If your book is humorous, then we should be laughing over your query. And if your book is quirky, then we should see quirky in your query. Would anything else make sense? Agents say this consistently.

I like this advice. What I'd do (and did) is when you're researching agents, check out their blogs (if they have one) and see if you can find examples of query styles they like or actual queries they've posted from clients. Also, check out some good queries written in the same genre; this might help you get more of a feel for how the letter should be balanced.

Lucy
03-26-2010, 10:17 AM
Saying your book is funny is telling; it's not showing. Every agent blog I know of that discusses query letters calls that bad writing. If you can't show that your book is funny or irreverent in your query, why should they believe you when you tell them?

Your query should reflect the voice of the story. That doesn't mean being cute, and it doesn't mean writing as the character. But it also doesn't mean coming across as if you're bringing a bill before Congress, either.

Deadly Accurate,

Yes, it is telling (not showing). This is a query. There's no reason to "show, don't tell" in a professional letter.

I simply disagree. If the OP wants to take a chance, that's his neck. But I've had two agents, and the way I got them was by being professional and avoiding gimmicks. It's entirely possible that an agent would respond to a funny query, but with everything else stacked against you, why would you take that risk?

It's gimmicky. Gimmicks in queries indicate gimmicks in writing. It just doesn't work for me. If I were an agent, I'd feel embarrassed that someone was so clueless as to write to me in the voice of a character. Maybe he'll get lucky though and find one who disagrees.

Stacia Kane
03-26-2010, 12:21 PM
I agree with both Lucy and Deadly Accurate, honestly.

A query is a business letter. Don't tell jokes or be gimmicky.

But if the book is funny, the query needs to at least show promise that the book is funny.

I'll make up an example. It probably won't be funny, but it should hopefully convey what I mean:


Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my 95,000 word humorous fantasy novel, DAMN THOSE DRUNKEN ELVES.

Bix Lollyfoot runs "the best bar in Mordor," a one-room shanty pieced together from shards of Mithril. He enjoys the work, even though his hobbit customers keep trying to run out without paying and the dwarves keep trying to eat his furniture. But it's a happy life, made more so by the string of lovely, chunky hobbit ladies who polish all the fixtures and--ahem--knobs in the place.

Too bad his days of lecherous contentment are about to end. All of Mordor is in uproar over the return of the elves, convinced that the slender, airy tree-dwellers are going to plant gardens, sing beautiful music, and make everyone's whites whiter. But all those years in Valinor have turned the once-gracious elves into a gang of inbred louts who descend on Bix's bar every night to enchant patrons into buying them drinks, sing in terrible shrieky voices, and attempt to impregnate everything that moves--and some things that don't.

The hobbits want the elves gone, and thanks to his pig-wrestling trophy, they want Bix to be the man who gets rid of them. Now, armed only with a lot of alcohol, a dirty sock, and some sticks, Bix and his small gang of lazy friends--more accurately described as "freeloaders"--have to outsmart the elves and boot them back to Valinor...without giving into the temptation to just toss them into the fires of Mount Doom instead.



Now, I know that sucks, but it should give some idea of the tone and general goofy possibilities of the plot. You want to emphasize the humorous elements and keep true to the book's voice, while still being professional and clear and not resorting to silliness or cutesiness.

Katrina S. Forest
03-26-2010, 12:32 PM
I think it's a balance. In my case, I've got a cyborg girl who thinks in exact numbers. So rather than saying, "It's barely been two days when she discovers..." I wrote, "It's barely been 2.15 days when she discovers..."

It's not gimmicky (I didn't attempt to write the query letter in HTML code, for example), but it shows how my character thinks.

Whenever I've read a lot of queries at once (which doesn't happen often), I find the ones I like the most are the ones that made the character's voice clear.

EDIT: Sorry, posted at the same time. I totally agree with Stacia Kane, the hobbit query is a good example of showing the tone without going over the top.

waylander
03-26-2010, 02:36 PM
Have a look at Queryshark
There are examples there where the writer has used the voice of the character in the query.

I think the answer is it works if it is done well

Phyllo
03-26-2010, 05:11 PM
Thanks for all the terrific comments. My gut instinct was and (now) remains to strike a balanced tone between humor and professionalism. Stacia Kane's hobbit example is pretty much what I had in mind (minus the hobbits and elves, of course). And I'll check out Query Shark.

In the hopeful event that an agent requests my MS, I'd like to think she or he will be pleased that its tone corresponds to the query instead of being surprised. And most importantly, that they remain enthusiastic about it. We'll see ...

Thanks again, everyone.

shaldna
03-26-2010, 06:04 PM
Quirky is a difficult word because it makes me think of offthe rail gimicky queries, and no one wants those.

However, your query should be, first and foremost professional. Remember that you are selling not only your work, but also what will become a public and professional image.

Richard White
03-26-2010, 06:12 PM
When referring to "quirky", I was, of course, referring to the paragraph or two of the synopsis. The part where you discuss book length, genre, list your credits, etc. should be done in a business-like manner.

However, Nathan Bransford has recently posted stuff he's looking for in a query and something he says is to give him a feel for the story. Don't just say what it's about, give him a taste of the story. If it's funny, then show funny. If its' angsty, then show some angst, etc. Make it stand out against the formulaic stuff he usually gets.

But, hey, if others disagree, then they have the right to disagree with me. Whatever works, works.

Jamesaritchie
03-26-2010, 06:31 PM
"Show, don't tell" works as well in a query as in the manuscript itself.

Telling an agent or editor about your story is as exciting as watching paint dry. Don't tell such folks that you can write well, show them.

Red-Green
03-26-2010, 06:48 PM
I don't know what you mean by a quirky query. There's a wide range that fall into that definition.

Broadly speaking, there are two parts to a query. There is a story and there are the business matters within it. For the business matters, such as word count, genre, formatting, et cetera, these should all be treated in a business like fashion.

The story section, however, should show us your book. If your book is violent, than we should be shocked over your query. If your book is romantic, then we should be swooning over your query. If your book is humorous, then we should be laughing over your query. And if your book is quirky, then we should see quirky in your query. Would anything else make sense? Agents say this consistently.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

There's a reason Jim is the Query Letter Guru. (And not just that the skwerls obey him.)

I did a standard three paragraph letter: one to let the agent know genre, word count, etc, two to pitch my story, three to indicate previous publications, etc.

That middle pitch paragraph of my query letter had expletives, sex, violence, and a crude joke, because that's the nature of my book. Paragraphs one and three were straight out of your basic business letter guidelines.

Noah Body
03-26-2010, 07:00 PM
And of course, the truth is that Axyl wrote the second paragraph.

DeadlyAccurate
03-26-2010, 08:32 PM
Yes, it is telling (not showing). This is a query. There's no reason to "show, don't tell" in a professional letter.

There is when what you're trying to show is your ability to write. Telling someone you're funny is like telling them you're honest. If you have to say it, you're probably not.

Just to take one example from QueryShark:


Taking my varied experience I have created a story dealing with the social and emotional struggle of being completely consumed by revenge and of feeling true freedom again.


This is telling, not showing. It's as bad in a query as it is in a novel.

Stacia had a great example of showing a humorous voice in a query without resorting to gimmicks.

Stacia Kane
03-26-2010, 09:31 PM
I just realized I forgot to do a bio/closing paragraph up there, so wanted to mention that it should also be "straight." "I've published three novels with [name of small press] and owned a bar for two years. I look forward to hearing from you."

Not "Myname Myname is familiar with the habits of hobbits, since he looks just like one. Bix is his cousin and one day, as they sat around smoking pipeweed, Bix told Myname an amazing story, which became the basis for this book." That's a gimmick, see? And it's annoying.

You want the agent to think you're cool and funny, not delusional and irritating. :)

Lucy
03-27-2010, 01:25 AM
I still disagree. I think Stacia Kane's sample query is a good example of what I mean. It's very professional, but written lightly. It's not in, say, an elf's point of view. It's written as the writer who has control over the story. Kudos to Stacia for demonstrating a light touch and still remaining professional.

Deadly Accurate, I disagree in a query. You're writing about your story. The writing about the story should be good - but it doesn't require the same kind of description or show, don't tell that the ms requires.

I'm thinking of descriptions of characters right now. Like:

"Sarah, a headstrong librarian..."

You don't have to say "One day Sarah was insisting that Martin Luther King had a cameo in Star Wars..." (Assuming that has nothing to do with the plot.)

Agents will generally take your word that Sarah is headstrong or Luke has cool hands, or whatever.

If you say that BEATING UP CLOWNS is funny, I'll take your word for it. If you can insert something into the body about why it's funny, I'll be encouraged.

But I'd be turned off if someone wrote in the voice of a character. That's just my POV and maybe you are different. As I said before, though, I just don't see any reason to give an agent or editor a chance to say no, and that, to me, is a big fat no.

DeadlyAccurate
03-27-2010, 02:33 AM
I still disagree. I think Stacia Kane's sample query is a good example of what I mean. It's very professional, but written lightly. It's not in, say, an elf's point of view. It's written as the writer who has control over the story. Kudos to Stacia for demonstrating a light touch and still remaining professional.

I never said otherwise. I'm not disagreeing with your point that a query letter should be professional, and I don't think writing in a character's POV is usually a good idea. The only point of contention I have is your suggestion that the writer tell the agent their book is funny, or inspirational, or whatever other adjective you want to apply to the book. If the query does not show that, telling the agent isn't going to make it true.

I can tell you I'm a six-foot, leggy, blonde supermodel, but if I can't show you a picture that resembles someone just off a catwalk, you'd have no reason to believe me.

Stacia's example query doesn't have to end with, "This is a funny tale of hobbits and elves," because the voice shines through. You can tell it'll be light-hearted just by what she wrote.


Deadly Accurate, I disagree in a query. You're writing about your story. The writing about the story should be good - but it doesn't require the same kind of description or show, don't tell that the ms requires.

I'm thinking of descriptions of characters right now. Like:

"Sarah, a headstrong librarian..."

You don't have to say "One day Sarah was insisting that Martin Luther King had a cameo in Star Wars..." (Assuming that has nothing to do with the plot.)

Agents will generally take your word that Sarah is headstrong or Luke has cool hands, or whatever.I never said otherwise. I said you shouldn't tell the agent that your book is [insert adjective here]. If you can't get that across in your pitch paragraph, you're doin' it wrong.


But I'd be turned off if someone wrote in the voice of a character.So would I. Good thing I never said any such thing then, huh?