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Belld
07-05-2012, 11:45 PM
I've read in books that starting a query with an open ended question as a hook is ok. But I am wondering is it "ok" to have two questions in the body of your query?

What about ending the query with a question?

What is everyone opinions. I like the sound of my query ending with a question but the last thing I want to do is upset agents.

wampuscat
07-06-2012, 01:18 AM
I've read that questions are cliched in queries and should be avoided in 99% of cases. However, perhaps someone more experienced could correct me if I am wrong.

Ketzel
07-06-2012, 02:15 AM
If you follow the on-line interviews and blogs of many of the better-known lit agents, you will see a pervasive distaste for rhetorical questions in queries.

While there was a time in the past when rhetorical questions were considered the Clever Way To Go when querying, that was a trend that wore out its welcome a while ago.

Using them won't upset the agents. It will probably just provoke eye-rolling and sarcastic mental answers to the questions. But that's not what you're after either, is it?

I recommend avoiding rhetorical questions.

JSSchley
07-06-2012, 02:49 AM
I would just get into QLH and read a bunch of queries, and go to some of the query critique sites like Miss Snark, Query Shark, BookEnds LLC, etc.

You'll get a sense fairly quickly for why agents tend to find questions gimmicky (they are), but also when that rule could effectively be broken.

Just assume you're the rule and not the exception. And since you're over 50 posts, you could post your query in QLH to see how people feel about your question. I've found as a query critiquer, I'm much more likely to find a question gimmicky at the beginning than at the end.

Kalea
07-06-2012, 03:06 AM
I'm going to echo everyone else, and say that I've read a lot of agent interviews/blogs that indicate they don't like rhetorical/open questions in queries.

Little Ming
07-06-2012, 03:13 AM
I've read in books that starting a query with an open ended question as a hook is ok. You might want to check the dates on those books, cause while opening with a question was popular and acceptable five or ten years ago, agents are finding them annoying now. But I am wondering is it "ok" to have two questions in the body of your query? I'm not sure it's "ok" to even have one.

As suggested above read some updated sites like Queryshark, where Janet Reid rants about how much she (and other agents) hate the rhetorical questions. At one time they might have seem new and fresh, but everyone started doing them, and most people can't do them well.

What about ending the query with a question? Depends on the question.

What is everyone opinions. I like the sound of my query ending with a question but the last thing I want to do is upset agents.

IMH(Not an Agent)O, vague, open-ended, rheotrical and cliched questions should be avoided. Agents probably get hundreds, if not thousands, of open-ended, vague questions that probably seem clever and interesting to the agents, but really are eye-roll-inducing.

BUT, if you have a specific question that relates directly to your book, and it compels the agent to read more then that's "ok." ;)

If you are unsure if your "question" works, post your query in QLH and let the critters have a go at it.

Devil Ledbetter
07-06-2012, 03:22 AM
The thing is, it's much easier to pose questions in a query than it is to write a query that shows what the story is about. Agents see right through that. The questions don't pique their interest in your story; they just give agents the idea that you can't write a proper query.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 06:18 AM
Take my opinion for what its worth, but it's not something I'd worry too much about. Having a rhetorical question or two in a query isn't an auto rejection. And even if an agent does reject it because of a rhetorical question then I'd be happy that i didn't have to work with someone so damn anal. JMO.

Unimportant
07-06-2012, 08:00 AM
I've read in books that starting a query with an open ended question as a hook is ok. But I am wondering is it "ok" to have two questions in the body of your query?

What about ending the query with a question?

What is everyone opinions. I like the sound of my query ending with a question but the last thing I want to do is upset agents.

Agents see thousands of queries each year and only "buy" a handful of them, so a query needs to be danged good. If a question makes the query absolutely sing, then it works. If it's the same rhetorical question that the agent read in the last fify-seven queries that landed in her in-box, she'll probably wish she could add a little stabby fork to your auto-rejection.

A cliched question such as "Will Mary and John be able to overcome their dark pasts and find happiness together?" probably isn't going to win you any points. A cliched opening such as "What would you do if a monster showed up at your door?" probably won't work either, because it's very likely that what the agent would do isn't what your character does. But sometimes a question accomplishes as much as ten statements could, so it's worth its weight in gold.

It just depends on the question.

Katrina S. Forest
07-06-2012, 10:48 AM
Ditto what others have said. Typically, there's better ways to phrase things. If you're not sure if you're a typical case, post in SYW. Just be aware that people there have seen a lot of questions in queries before. Also consider if it needs to be a question. For example:

"What would you do if you found out your dog is an alien?"
Vs.
"Ten-year-old Bobby Boberson just found out his dog is an alien."

Not only does the second line give me more info, it doesn't prompt me to snarky answers like, "That might be an interesting question if I actually had a dog."

Terie
07-06-2012, 11:31 AM
Take my opinion for what its worth, but it's not something I'd worry too much about. Having a rhetorical question or two in a query isn't an auto rejection. And even if an agent does reject it because of a rhetorical question then I'd be happy that i didn't have to work with someone so damn anal. JMO.

When you start out from a neutral position and have mere seconds to make a positive impression, I personally wouldn't doing something that risks making a negative impression. There might not be quite enough positive left to overcome that deficit. Blithely ignoring common advice presented widely by the very people you want to think well of your work seems pretty counterproductive -- kind of like wearing jeans to a job interview where folks are expected to be wearing suits.

As others have suggested, run your query letter through QLH to get an idea of whether your question is a brilliant exception to the rule (it might well be) or if it's the same bloody thing that's been turning agents off for years.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 12:01 PM
When you start out from a neutral position and have mere seconds to make a positive impression, I personally wouldn't doing something that risks making a negative impression. There might not be quite enough positive left to overcome that deficit. Blithely ignoring common advice presented widely by the very people you want to think well of your work seems pretty counterproductive -- [...].

I'm afraid I don't see it as this life and death situation that people are making it out to be and it's not something I'd personally stress over. An otherwise great query isn't going to be rejected by a sensible agent simply because of a 'cliched' rhetorical question or two. Agents don't expect perfect queries, and there's no such thing as a perfect query anyway since different agents prefer different things. I think all the stress writers go through when writing a query is compounded by agents and their special preferences that have no affect on whether the query is rejected or not... Because adding your bio at the top of the query instead of the bottom isn't going to get you rejected. Or because you said in your bio that you like walking your dog every Sat. when an agent said they hate any personal details that's not related to your book isn't going to get you rejected. Adding a cliche question or two isn't going to get you rejected. Sure, they might role their eyes, but I'd bet they're going to request sample pages if your query does what it's supposed to do - entice the agent to request pages.

Personally, I'm so over being afraid of agents and seeing them as God-like creatures who expect only perfection; they are human after all. I"m so over being unnecessarily stressed about having a 'perfect' query. I'm quite fine with having an enticing query, though. My perspective on queries has changed over the years and the more I've learned about them over the 3+ years I've been studying them the more I'm cutting out the stress and focusing on what really matters, and that doesn't include small nuances that have no bearing on whether it gets rejected or not.

heyjude
07-06-2012, 02:07 PM
I'm afraid I don't see it as this life and death situation that people are making it out to be and it's not something I'd personally stress over.

No stress; simply find another way to reword. We're writers. It's what we do. :)


An otherwise great query isn't going to be rejected by a sensible agent simply because of a 'cliched' rhetorical question or two.

It might. Why take the chance? A Q is our way of showing an agent we write well. Don't we want to put our best foot forward?


Personally, I'm so over being afraid of agents and seeing them as God-like creatures who expect only perfection; they are human after all. I"m so over being unnecessarily stressed about having a 'perfect' query.

No, Qs don't need to be perfect, but they need to be as good as we can make them. This is what we want to do, isn't it? Write and write well?

And agents--no one sees them as god-like, I don't think. They're professionals who only have so many hours in a day and they're going to pick the best of the best. Write as well as you can, with as few mistakes as you can, and that's it.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 04:07 PM
@heyjude,

Well sure. Write the best query you can. But for me, it's not coming at the sake of unwanted, and unnecessary, stress; and some writers do stress over these minor details. I'll take the risk of weeding out agents I wouldn't want to work with anyway. :)

And whether or not I can write well has nothing to do with whether I have a rhetorical question or two in my query or whether I have some other minor agent pet peeve in my query. I think most literary agents realize that.

quicklime
07-06-2012, 04:25 PM
@heyjude,

Well sure. Write the best query you can. But for me, it's not coming at the sake of unwanted, and unnecessary, stress; and some writers do stress over these minor details. I'll take the risk of weeding out agents I wouldn't want to work with anyway. :)

And whether or not I can write well has nothing to do with whether I have a rhetorical question or two in my query or whether I have some other minor agent pet peeve in my query. I think most literary agents realize that.

\
no, they may not. They are going through a ton of queries, looking for reasons to reject before they start reading sample pages. Rhetorical questions come off gimmicky, and become a red flag. By contrast, I've yet to see an agent say anything beneficial about them.

As for those being folks you "wouldn't want anyway" that's a stand you're certainly free to take, but I've seen a number of big names say things about rhetorical questions, and again, none kind. Is the question more important than the agent?

quicklime
07-06-2012, 04:27 PM
My perspective on queries has changed over the years and the more I've learned about them over the 3+ years I've been studying them the more I'm cutting out the stress and focusing on what really matters, and that doesn't include small nuances that have no bearing on whether it gets rejected or not.


when agents say a rhetorical question or other cliche IS often reason for a rejection, I'm not entirely sure how much more a person needs.......

heyjude
07-06-2012, 04:28 PM
I guess I don't understand the stress part. What stress? Simply rephrase the question as a statement, as Katrina so aptly pointed out upthread.

Not that you have to, of course. It just seems to be good business sense, given the number of agents who hate questions in queries.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 04:41 PM
\
no, they may not. They are going through a ton of queries, looking for reasons to reject before they start reading sample pages. Rhetorical questions come off gimmicky, and become a red flag. By contrast, I've yet to see an agent say anything beneficial about them.

As for those being folks you "wouldn't want anyway" that's a stand you're certainly free to take, but I've seen a number of big names say things about rhetorical questions, and again, none kind. Is the question more important than the agent?

hmm. Well, this is were we disagree. No, this goes beyond the question; if you're being anal over something this minor then what other minor things are you going to be anal over? I've also seen many agents not care whether a writer has a rhetorical question in his/her query. Again, they don't expect perfection. They're most likely going to get queries where the writer hits on a minor pet peeve of theirs. And, I don't agree with you that they're looking for reasons to reject, they're looking for reasons to want to read pages. It's easy to find a reason to reject something since they probably get so few "perfect" queries.


when agents say a rhetorical question or other cliche IS often reason for a rejection, I'm not entirely sure how much more a person needs....... And...those very few agents speak for ALL of them? Like most people here, i've read more than my fair share of agent twitter feeds, facebook pages, blogs, interviews, etc. and i've never seen one agent say this, though if I did, s/he would be the last person I'd query.

quicklime
07-06-2012, 04:50 PM
hmm. Well, this is were we disagree. No, this goes beyond the question; if you're being anal over something this minor then what other minor things are you going to be anal over? I guess I'd take my chances; other than GWS, I haven't heard many compelling arguments AGAINST an anal agent.....

I've also seen many agents not care whether a writer has a rhetorical question in his/her query. I'm not sure I've seen ANY say they don't care or welcome them. Again, they don't expect perfection. They're most likely going to get queries with things they don't like. And, I don't agree with you that they're looking for reasons to reject, they're looking for reasons to want to read pages. It's easy to find a reason to reject something since they probably get so few "perfect" queries. kango, I spoke to a girl here who was interning, and she said on slow days the interns get like 20 queries. In addition to other duties. So yes, their process is a triage process. I've also seen agents say as much. You can choose not to believe them, decide perhaps these aren't real agents, they're pod-peopel spreading a gospel of anal anality in totality, or however you're processing this, but the bottom line is agents have NOT been shy about saying they dislike them. So other than pissing rights, I'm not sure why one would insist they leave them in. Then again, a query is a bit like a resume or a business pitch; I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone, other than maybe a couple slackers in bad comedies smoking weed in their mother's basement, say "man, its just a recume; you do what you can, but don't stress, man..."



where exactly in the bigger world is it considered practical advice to not try to give the interviewer what they want? Competition is fierce; if you decide you're not going to listen there's at least twenty people right alongside you who will.....so how this is a "winning strategy" eludes me, but hey, everyone is free to make their own decisions. Besides, at one point, I may be querying against you, and I do intend to listen to the agents....so by all means....tell 'em you're pulling a Sinatra and doing it your way.


And...those very few agents speak for ALL of them? Like most people here, i've read more than my fair share of agent twitter feeds, facebook pages, blogs, interviews, etc. and i've never seen one agent say this, though if I did, s/he would be the last person I'd query.



I've seen quite a few...Reid is the one who comes to ming off the top of my head, but she wasn't alone.

GailD
07-06-2012, 05:06 PM
And...those very few agents speak for ALL of them? Like most people here, i've read more than my fair share of agent twitter feeds, facebook pages, blogs, interviews, etc. and i've never seen one agent say this, though if I did, s/he would be the last person I'd query.

I will take this approach too. But only when I've had several books published and made the NYT bestseller list.

But since I've only just finished my first novel, I'd prefer to keep my head down, right the best query I can and take the advice of the many AW'ers who are much more experienced at this than I.

But that's just me.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 05:19 PM
I guess I'd take my chances; other than GWS, I haven't heard many compelling arguments AGAINST an anal agent.....Feel free to go by your own criteria for what you want in an agent. I know what I want and anal isn't one of them. It'll pose more problems than I'm willing to deal with.


I'm not sure I've seen ANY say they don't care or welcome them. I have come across agents who aren't bothered by them to the point of giving an auto rejection. And I don't need to see an agent say this, lots of times it's evident from the query letters where she/he asks for more pages. It's not about crafting a perfect query that has none of their pet peeves. It's about crafting a query that entices them to want to read pages.


kango, I spoke to a girl here who was interning...... So, again, very few people speak for the whole? I have no doubt that many agents dislike them. But will they auto reject you because of it? I don't think most will. Sure, there might be a couple, but they don't represent all of their peers. There are very few agents, in my research, who are publicly active in social media. I think some writers take the advice and pet peeves of one agent and attribute his/her feelings to all of them and then attach this kind of thinking that because it's a pet peeve it's an auto reject.

I'm not advocating for them in every query, but if you think it'll be a great asset to your query to have a rhetorical question then it's not something that's so bad that it'll get you rejected by most agents. Just like including publishing credits that aren't really publishing credits isn't going to get you rejected, and that's a pet peeve of a few agents, too.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 05:21 PM
But that's just me.
You're right. And not every writer feels that way.

heyjude
07-06-2012, 05:39 PM
Let us know how your approach works, kangol. I mean that sincerely. I too have seen agents not mentioned here advise against it, but I don't think you want to hear that.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 05:45 PM
And, I'll let you know how I get on. Though, if my query gets rejected, it's not going to be because I asked a rhetorical question in it.

quicklime
07-06-2012, 05:45 PM
Let us know how your approach works, kangol. I mean that sincerely. I too have seen agents not mentioned here advise against it, but I don't think you want to hear that.


i guess that's the bottom line.....give it a whirl. One of three things will happen:


1. You will be the exception and go on to things every bit as great as you could have with a non-rhetorical query

2. You will change your mind after the first couple dozen form rejections

3. You'll slink out


let us know which it is, after you've taken your shot.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 05:50 PM
i guess that's the bottom line.....give it a whirl. One of three things will happen:


1. You will be the exception and go on to things every bit as great as you could have with a non-rhetorical query

Yeah? It will hardly be the exception. And it (a rejection) probably won't be because I asked a rhetorical question in my query. It's like how I've seen one writer blame her rejections on the hot vampire trend (she was being rejected because agents only wanted vampire novels and she didn't write one, so they were rejecting her because of it) instead of all the typos in her query.

Good try, but I think it's more complicated than that.

quicklime
07-06-2012, 06:14 PM
I never said a reject automatically meant it was due to rhetorical questions; there could be all sorts of other issues.....

it does have a way of getting folks to reevaluate their stands, though.

have at it. After all, what could the rest of us know, let alone the crazy agents who mention finding them gimmicky and desperate....

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 06:27 PM
Finding them gimmicky and desperate does not equal auto rejection and that's the main reason I don't see it as a life and death situation for a query that many people here are making it out to be. If you have one or two, you're not going to get an auto reject on an otherwise great query, which is why those kinds of minor pet peeves aren't something I'm going to be worried about if I ever decide to include them in my query; a rhetorical question alone is not going to break a query unless there is much more wrong with the query itself.

Roger J Carlson
07-06-2012, 06:33 PM
Yeah? It will hardly be the exception. And it (a rejection) probably won't be because I asked a rhetorical question in my query. No. More likely you'll be rejected because your query will seem amateurish.

Toothpaste
07-06-2012, 06:51 PM
Okay, here's the thing. There's a reason many agents (not all obviously) are not a fan of rhetorical questions. It's not some random anal thing they decided would be fun to be anal about, it's because 9 times out of 10, rhetorcial questions ARE cliche, they ARE representative of an author who can't think of any other way to write her query, they ARE a lazy solution and represent a same lazy and unimaginative approach to problem solving in the MS. A rhetorical question often suggests something greater about the author and her work in general. And agents came to this conclusion not just out of thin air, but after years in the biz.

It's the same reason many picture book editors say "No rhyming books". It's not because they are inherently bad, it's that the lion's share of authors who give rhyming a go . . . suck.

There are always exceptions to every rule.

And you are looking at her.

My query had rhetorical questions in it. But why did it work? I didn't use them in the way of the examples here. I used them to help demonstrate my tone. They were tongue in cheek, very much like the old Batman TV show: "Will Batman and Robin find a way out of the slowly dipping death device?" "Will the Riddler finally solve how to get that ketchup stain out of his suit?" "Find out next week, same Bat Time, same Bat channel!"

It wasn't a question posed to the agent, and it also was meant to be cheesy.

And it worked.

So it can work.

But if you are going to do it, it is best to, instead of just dismissing the agents as "anal", ask yourself WHY the agents don't want them. If you feel that your rhetorical question does not do what most agents feel they do, then go for it.

And I hardly think it's a bad thing to want to write a good query that accurately reflects your work. Why not give your query the best shot it has? I have to say, I do worry about an author who would rather insult agents than truly consider why they are saying what they are saying. It comes down to a foundation of respect. If at the core you feel agents know what they are doing, then you think, "Hmm, there must be a reason for this, I wonder what it is" not "Oh those agents, always making us jump through hoops for their entertainment."

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 07:19 PM
No. More likely you'll be rejected because your query will seem amateurish.
Lol. How weird that that doesn't seem to be the case. If my query IS amateurish then it should be rejected, but a rhetorical question does not an amateurish query make. That's kind of a weird argument, IMO.

quicklime
07-06-2012, 07:30 PM
Lol. How weird that that doesn't seem to be the case. If my query IS amateurish then it should be rejected, but a rhetorical question does not an amateurish query make. That's kind of a weird argument, IMO.


care to elaborate?

several people have mentioned agents specifically saying it did exactly that. Granted, those agents don't speak for everyone, but they are pretty well-known and their comments aren't really in dispute.

So, when you say "it doesn't seem to be the case," what, pray tell, do YOU bring to the table in rebuttal, besides a sort of petulant insistence you can do whatever you like with your precious, golden words?

If you got somethin to back the part in bold up, I'm all ears, but short of hand-waving because you just plain want it to be so, I strongly suspect you do not.


*off on errands, will check back later

Roger J Carlson
07-06-2012, 07:45 PM
Lol. How weird that that doesn't seem to be the case. If my query IS amateurish then it should be rejected, but a rhetorical question does not an amateurish query make. That's kind of a weird argument, IMO.
Rhetorical question in query = Cliché
Cliché = Amateurish
Amateurish = Rejected

It's really not that difficult, but by all means, stick your fingers in your ears and say la-la-la.

Thing is, the purpose of a query is not to sell the work. The one and only purpose of a query is to get the agent/editor to ask for a partial/full. That's it.

In addition to piquing the agent's interest in the story enough to ask for a partial, a query should show something about the writing style of the book. A cliché in the query is highly indicative of cliché writing. You should never under any circumstances have anything in your query that will reflect poorly on the writing.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 08:02 PM
care to elaborate?

several people have mentioned agents specifically saying it did exactly that. Granted, those agents don't speak for everyone, but they are pretty well-known and their comments aren't really in dispute.

So, when you say "it doesn't seem to be the case," what, pray tell, do YOU bring to the table in rebuttal, besides a sort of petulant insistence you can do whatever you like with your precious, golden words?

If you got somethin to back the part in bold up, I'm all ears, but short of hand-waving because you just plain want it to be so, I strongly suspect you do not.


*off on errands, will check back later

Funny how something becomes ''petulant" simply because you can't persuade someone to your almighty, 'i'm the final say on this topic and completely right' point of view and 'how dare you disagree with me'.

Because I've seen query letters that break every literary agent pet peeve in the book and I've never seen one agent who's ranted against something say that pet peeve is an auto rejection. What do you have besides "i heard this and I heard that." SO your vague words hold more prominence than my mine? Only in your world. And the fact that many writers come to this forum (and other places) complaining that they're getting conflicting information from literary agents about whether XYZ should be included in a query letter and they want someone to give them an official answer. there is no official answer. There is no one agent who speaks for all agents. That's also why if one agent says what they don't like, I don't attribute those views to ALL agents because then I'm going to come across agents who give a completely different answer. That's how they contradict each other; not by posting on some social media website that X agent is wrong and it should be like this, but by giving their own opinion on it which conflicts with someone else's. - not saying they do this intentionally, but that's what makes many writers confused - every agent doesn't agree on it. Though, it would be more helpful and less confusing if agents made it clear that certain things like what they prefer in a query letter is their opinion.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 08:10 PM
Rhetorical question in query = Cliché
Cliché = Amateurish
Amateurish = Rejected

It's really not that difficult, but by all means, stick your fingers in your ears and say la-la-la.[...]

I was trying to figure out if the other vague post of yours was a real contribution to the debate because it was a pretty weak argument on it's surface. Sorry to say that your word isn't the final say and everyone won't agree with you. A rhetorical question can work, but I've never seen a query rejected because there was a rhetorical question in it and just because one agent or two might give an auto rejection when they see a rhetorical question does not mean ALL agents do it this way.

It's quite funny how people think their opinions are the only opinions that matter and anyone who disagrees with them are sticking their fingers and their ears because they refuse to see the "truth" - according to them. Believe it or not, everyone won't see a topic from your POV.


Thing is, the purpose of a query is not to sell the work. The one and only purpose of a query is to get the agent/editor to ask for a partial/full. That's it. which is exactly what I've said at least two times before. The objective of a query is to get the agent to request pages. An otherwise great query isn't going to be rejected simply because the writer has a rhetorical question or two in it.

And lastly, I didn't come to this POV overnight. It's something I've thought about long and hard. When I see agents say that writers make query letters more difficult than they really are, and then I come to this board and other places and see writers agonize over small details like: Should I have a rhetorical question in my query. Should I include my bio at the beginning or end. Should I mention this that and the other as a publishing credit, I completely understand where those agents are coming from. Those aren't details that I'd agonize over because they're not details that will make or break your query - if your bio is at the beginning or end of a query or if you include publishing credits that aren't real pub credits or if you include a rhetorical question; it doesn't matter in the bigger query letter scheme. IMO, there are much more things to worry about than those small details, like giving a succinct view of the plot and main conflict in your query and showing that you're a pretty great writer by writing your query well and not like someone who can't put together a grammatically correct sentence.

Mr Flibble
07-06-2012, 08:17 PM
Because I've seen query letters that break every literary agent pet peeve in the book and I've never seen one agent who's ranted against something say that pet peeve is an auto rejection. What do you have besides "i heard this and I heard that."

Query shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.co.uk/) on rhetorical questions:


You will be killed and eaten by the QueryBunny if you open your query with a rhetorical question. There's nothing like a rhetorical question to make the QueryBunny reach for the picnic hamper.

Bookends (http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/rhetorical-questions.html) agency on the use of:


Have you ever wondered what would happen if an agent’s answer to your rhetorical question was no? Or how rhetorical questions are really just filler and tell a reader nothing about your book? Have you thought about the fact that query letters should be informative and substantive and rhetorical questions are neither of those?

Nathan Bransford (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2006/10/should-i-use-rhetorical-questions-in-my.html)(no longer an agent, but still a great agent mind)


Do not use rhetorical questions in your query letters. Not only do they reflect lazy writing and beg a negative response ("Nope, I don't wonder about that"), they make your book sound hopelessly mundane.

Sara LaPolla (http://bigglasscases.blogspot.co.uk/):



We hate rhetorical questions.

Now, to be fair, some agents don't mind when you begin your query with a rhetorical question. Some just skip it and move on. But no one likes them, which I think it a notable distinction. They're awkward to read, wastes precious query-reading seconds, and can even get you a very quick rejection. Agents read hundreds of queries - sometimes hundreds of them a day (!) - and your rhetorical question is not going to hook us the way a direct, unique description of your book will.

etc etc - I could go on. And on. And ON.





There is no one agent that speaks for all agents. That's also why if one agent says what they don't like, I don't attribute those views to ALL agents.

Absolutely - no one has disputed that. BUT consider if it turns off the many agents who publicly say it turns them RIGHT off, how many more does it do that too, only they've never said (maybe they don't blog etc)? ALSO consider that it is a weak way of writing in many cases (though as Toothpaste notes it can be done well)

As with anything writing wise, it's not that you mustn't do it, like, ever. It's that you should be aware that it can be a problem, and why it's a problem, and why would you want to give yourself more problems? Unless you are Super Sure your question brings something to the query that nothing else can, why not write a query without the question, which will more than likely make it a stronger query AND it doesn't run the risk of you getting eaten by the querybunny.


Why go out of your way to bring trouble, when there's trouble enough?

quicklime
07-06-2012, 09:13 PM
Funny how something becomes ''petulant" simply because you can't persuade someone to your almighty, 'i'm the final say on this topic and completely right' point of view and 'how dare you disagree with me'.

Because I've seen query letters that break every literary agent pet peeve in the book and I've never seen one agent who's ranted against something say that pet peeve is an auto rejection. What do you have besides "i heard this and I heard that." SO your vague words hold more prominence than my mine? Only in your world. And the fact that many writers come to this forum (and other places) complaining that they're getting conflicting information from literary agents about whether XYZ should be included in a query letter and they want someone to give them an official answer. there is no official answer. There is no one agent who speaks for all agents. That's also why if one agent says what they don't like, I don't attribute those views to ALL agents because then I'm going to come across agents who give a completely different answer. That's how they contradict each other; not by posting on some social media website that X agent is wrong and it should be like this, but by giving their own opinion on it which conflicts with someone else's. - not saying they do this intentionally, but that's what makes many writers confused - every agent doesn't agree on it. Though, it would be more helpful and less confusing if agents made it clear that certain things like what they prefer in a query letter is their opinion.



ok...so I am going to assume this an exceptionally long-winded way of saying "well, erm, no, I don't have any links or quotes...."

quicklime
07-06-2012, 09:19 PM
I was trying to figure out if the other vague post of yours was a real contribution to the debate because it was a pretty weak argument on it's surface. Sorry to say that your word isn't the final say and everyone won't agree with you. A rhetorical question can work, but I've never seen a query rejected because there was a rhetorical question in it and just because one agent or two might give an auto rejection when they see a rhetorical question does not mean ALL agents do it this way.

It's quite funny how people think their opinions are the only opinions that matter and anyone who disagrees with them are sticking their fingers and their ears because they refuse to see the "truth" - according to them. Believe it or not, everyone won't see a topic from your POV.

.


i smell a vacation....

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 09:30 PM
ok...so I am going to assume this an exceptionally long-winded way of saying "well, erm, no, I don't have any links or quotes...."
I guess that's on par with your posts, huh?

quicklime
07-06-2012, 09:31 PM
idiots beat me to it, and posted quite a few agents....

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 09:40 PM
i smell a vacation....
A vacation for what? For saying to someone that I don't agree with him and even after his insult that implied I was so dense that I couldn't comprehend what he said because apparently what he says is absolute truth and no one should have a different opinion from him because he's a moderator? And, btw, it also seems like said moderator is trying to subtlety intimidate me to get me to shut up and toss my own views to the side and agree with him simply because he's a moderator. And, if that's not the case, then that's exactly how it comes off from his uncalled-for snarky comments.

You know, quicklime, I get that you really don't agree with me, but I think you're grasping for straws, lol, and probably hoping that I'd get a temp ban simply because you don't like my POV regarding this topic. But unlike some people in this thread, I have never said my POV is right and yours is wrong. I said it's an opinion and my take based on what I've learned over the last 3 years and I have a right to voice my opinion like everyone else, including yourself with whom I disagree with as much as you probably disagree with me, so the feelings mutual. And I see everyone's POV as the same - an opinion, not a fact.

i'm not arguing the point of whether agents hate rhetorical questions. I know some do. I'm arguing the point of whether it's so bad that it's an auto reject. And if it's not an auto reject, which I don't think it is, then I don't think it's worth agonizing over.

Toothpaste
07-06-2012, 09:46 PM
I's feeling ignored :( .

quicklime
07-06-2012, 09:47 PM
I's feeling ignored :( .


hug help? bottle of wine?

I read your post, and appreciate it greatly. Especially your ability to understand the caveats.....you don't seem to make any bones about being lucky in terms of it uniquely fitting your psecific case.

Kalea
07-06-2012, 09:48 PM
Another one (from today):


@smoulderingsea: Many have said this, but after reading queries today, I need to reiterate: don’t open a query with a rhetorical question. #editortips

Barbara R.
07-06-2012, 09:56 PM
And the fact that many writers come to this forum (and other places) complaining that they're getting conflicting information from literary agents about whether XYZ should be included in a query letter and they want someone to give them an official answer. there is no official answer. There is no one agent who speaks for all agents.

Very true. They're all individuals, luckily for us writers. But there are a substantial number of agents who've talked about not liking rhetorical questions in queries, so why not try to craft one without that device? It's not worth turning off even a minority of agents before they've even read a page of the book.

There's a reason they don't like them. First ideas are usually derivative; good writers dig deeper. Writing those leading hypotheticals are a lazy way of setting a hook; and agents who've seen too many of them tend to respond, "Who cares?"

There's a post here on the do's and don't's of query writing (http://barbararogan.com/blog/?p=46) that may be helpful.

Toothpaste
07-06-2012, 09:59 PM
hug help? bottle of wine?

I read your post, and appreciate it greatly. Especially your ability to understand the caveats.....you don't seem to make any bones about being lucky in terms of it uniquely fitting your psecific case.

Uh, both? :)

I was actually more feeling ignored by kango, who seems not only to be ignoring my post but also the posts with the quotes he/she requested. I wrote it specifically to try to explain the reasoning behind the no rhetorical questions thing, and that it wasn't something intended to be vindictive by agents or anything.

quicklime
07-06-2012, 10:02 PM
one sees what they want to....

we have blackberry, hibiscus, and cranberry wine here.... ;-)

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 10:08 PM
I was actually more feeling ignored by kango, who seems not only to be ignoring my post but also the posts with the quotes he/she requested. I wrote it specifically to try to explain the reasoning behind the no rhetorical questions thing, and that it wasn't something intended to be vindictive by agents or anything. What makes you think I don't understand it or didn't understand it before I posted in this thread? I never said agents were being mean for the sake of being mean by saying this. that's not the point I'm making with my posts. My point isn't whether agents' hate it. That's never been my point when I posted in this thread. Like I mentioned earlier, I've researched this stuff for three years ongoing. I know nearly all the agent pet peeves. My point is whether inclusion of some minor agent pet peeve is an auto rejection. And if not, is it really worth worrying about, which just compounds the stress of writing a query letter? If you feel your query can be made better by asking a rhetorical question, then by golly you're not going to get a rejection for it, if the overall query is great.


one sees what they want to....
you're darned skippy people can have a POV that doesn't coincide with yours.

Toothpaste
07-06-2012, 10:12 PM
one sees what they want to.... True dat.


we have blackberry, hibiscus, and cranberry wine here.... ;-)

Yes please. :)

stargazer11
07-06-2012, 10:16 PM
I would also avoid rhetorical questions

Toothpaste
07-06-2012, 10:18 PM
And if not, is it really worth worrying about, which just compounds the stress of writing a query letter? If you feel your query can be made better by asking a rhetorical question, then by golly you're not going to get a rejection for it, if the overall query is great.



True. And if your point is to reassure people not to get too excited about things and just write what works best, awesome. But surely there is a validity to people pointing out (and now quoting agents directly) that many many agents strongly dislike rhetorical questions. And that maybe just maybe someone who has a rhetorical question, if they aren't that married to it, if it isn't the be all and end all of their query, might not want to take the very real risk that it will make an agent annoyed and not as positive about reading the rest of the query. That it might not be an auto-reject (then again, it might), but that it might make the agent look extra carefully for any other warning signs in your query. Judge you extra harshly perhaps.

If you think your rhetorical question is the most essential part of the query ever, then keep it. But isn't it worth authors knowing that there is a stronge distaste for them, especially if said authors never knew and just thought they were neat and don't really care that much about having a rhetorical question in the first place?

Honestly, I think what most of us are reacting to the . .. most . . . is that you seem to think this is stressful. That taking due consideration of these things is frustrating. I don't see why that is. It's just advice, it's just suggestions. It's just being professional.

kangolNcurlz
07-06-2012, 10:27 PM
Honestly, I think what most of us are reacting to the . .. most . . . is that you seem to think this is stressful. Nope. I don't think that's what people have an issue with. And writing queries is stressful for some writers. It's your foot in the door. Should it be as stressful as some people make it out to be? I don't think so. And I think a lot of the unnecessary stress comes over worrying about the small details that dont' really matter and the conflicting information from agent to agent.

Toothpaste
07-06-2012, 10:31 PM
Okay, then I can say, not speaking for all people, that that was what I was taking issue with. I also take issue with you consistently framing this as a small detail that doesn't matter. If it was such a thing, I doubt one could so easily find so many quotes from agents on the very subject. It isn't a small detail. It's a regular sized detail, like most other details. Not something to curl up into a fetal position about, but certainly not just something to ignore altogether.

Why must it be all or nothing?

quicklime
07-06-2012, 11:01 PM
Nope. I don't think that's what people have an issue with. And writing queries is stressful for some writers. It's your foot in the door. Should it be as stressful as some people make it out to be? I don't think so. And I think a lot of the unnecessary stress comes over worrying about the small details that dont' really matter and the conflicting information from agent to agent.


while I agree with all this, rhetorical questions aren't the equivalent of "title at the top or the bottom?".....

are you honestly limited as a writer to the point where you NEED a rhetorical question?

Because I don't see all these panicked writers you talk about unable to build a query in any other fashion....so, if you know a good slice of agents hate it, I don't see where prudence = stress....just write without it. unless you have a good reason not to. "too much work" doesn't strike me as a compelling reason.

you're certainly free to risk sinking as many boats as you like pre-emptively, for any number of reasons, but a writer who simply can't do anything else with their query is probably not ready, and those who can, well, then stress is a nonissue.

Mr Flibble
07-06-2012, 11:01 PM
Okay, then I can say, not speaking for all people, that that was what I was taking issue with. I also take issue with you consistently framing this as a small detail that doesn't matter. If it was such a thing, I doubt one could so easily find so many quotes from agents on the very subject. It isn't a small detail. It's a regular sized detail, like most other details. Not something to curl up into a fetal position about, but certainly not just something to ignore altogether.

Yup, indeed. It's not a minor oh well never mind. It's part and parcel of the whole package of crafting a good query - and while I wouldn't say stress, it does pay to consider these things carefully. Agents post about this sort fo stuff for a reason - so you can not make the mistakes/issues they see so often and that drive them round the bend.


Why must it be all or nothing?

Er..cos otherwise I'd have brought this for nothing? http://fc00.deviantart.net/fs21/f/2007/270/7/0/popcorn_by_cheesy_chips.gif

:D

kangolNcurlz
07-08-2012, 03:10 AM
Well, we'll have to agree to vehemently disagree on this issue. I've made the points I wanted to make and that's all that matters to me.

I'm checking out of this conversation because, well, I'm not a fan of circular arguments.

#toddles. :)

quicklime
07-08-2012, 07:06 PM
Well, we'll have to agree to vehemently disagree on this issue. I've made the points I wanted to make and that's all that matters to me.

I'm checking out of this conversation because, well, I'm not a fan of circular arguments.

#toddles. :)


wow....tweaked a bit, I see a sure-fire closing line for when you DO query....best of luck with that, and the inevitable bidding war to sign you.

Old Hack
07-08-2012, 09:25 PM
Damn. I wish someone had brought this thread to my attention, I could have joined in with the fun sooner.

I'm trying to enjoy the Wimbledon men's final so I'm going to be brief.

This is a useful and sensible comment. My bold:


I hardly think it's a bad thing to want to write a good query that accurately reflects your work. Why not give your query the best shot it has? I have to say, I do worry about an author who would rather insult agents than truly consider why they are saying what they are saying. It comes down to a foundation of respect. If at the core you feel agents know what they are doing, then you think, "Hmm, there must be a reason for this, I wonder what it is" not "Oh those agents, always making us jump through hoops for their entertainment."

These following comments are on the verge of rudeness. They might even cross over that line. They definitely consist of silly bickering, which disappoints me.


So, when you say "it doesn't seem to be the case," what, pray tell, do YOU bring to the table in rebuttal, besides a sort of petulant insistence you can do whatever you like with your precious, golden words?


Funny how something becomes ''petulant" simply because you can't persuade someone to your almighty, 'i'm the final say on this topic and completely right' point of view and 'how dare you disagree with me'.



It's quite funny how people think their opinions are the only opinions that matter and anyone who disagrees with them are sticking their fingers and their ears because they refuse to see the "truth" - according to them. Believe it or not, everyone won't see a topic from your POV.


I guess that's on par with your posts, huh?

One bickery post from Quicklime. Three bickery posts from KangolNcurlz. We'll have no more of it. Clear? Thank you.

And now, onto this block of unpleasantness:


You know, quicklime, I get that you really don't agree with me, but I think you're grasping for straws, lol, and probably hoping that I'd get a temp ban simply because you don't like my POV regarding this topic. But unlike some people in this thread, I have never said my POV is right and yours is wrong. I said it's an opinion and my take based on what I've learned over the last 3 years and I have a right to voice my opinion like everyone else, including yourself with whom I disagree with as much as you probably disagree with me, so the feelings mutual. And I see everyone's POV as the same - an opinion, not a fact.

Kangol.

A few points.

* No one has a right to do anything at all at AW: we're all only here because MacAllister Stone, who owns AW, allows it. All she asks is that we follow one simple rule: respect your fellow writer.

* If you someone is rude to you in-thread then use the "report post" button or PM a mod. Don't try to deal with it by bickering in-thread. It never works, and it often gets ugly.

* You'll not get banned for voicing your opinion, so long as you remain polite and respectful. You'll note from the comments of yours that I've quoted above that I don't think you've entirely managed that, but as you're not the only person who went too far, I'm not going to give you a time-out for it.

Now, let's look at the first paragraph of your last comment.


A vacation for what? For saying to someone that I don't agree with him and even after his insult that implied I was so dense that I couldn't comprehend what he said because apparently what he says is absolute truth and no one should have a different opinion from him because he's a moderator? And, btw, it also seems like said moderator is trying to subtlety intimidate me to get me to shut up and toss my own views to the side and agree with him simply because he's a moderator. And, if that's not the case, then that's exactly how it comes off from his uncalled-for snarky comments.

Roger is the moderator you're talking about there, and he has made just two (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7412583&postcount=29) comments (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7412778&postcount=33) in this thread.

I see no snarkiness or insult in either of his comments. Nor do I see an implication that you're dense; or that he thinks his moderator status here makes him more important than anyone else; nor do I see any attempt, subtle or otherwise, to intimidate you, or to shut you up, or to get you to agree with him simply because he's a moderator.

If there were any uncalled-for snarky comments they came from you, in that last paragraph of yours that I've just quoted. You went way over the line there, and for that you get a week-long ban from AbsoluteWrite.

Belld
07-08-2012, 10:19 PM
WOW

If off I want to say thank you. I have read every post thus far and it was a lot of information to take in.

I think , in a matter of tastes, I like questions in a query. But I will do as people suggested early on and post it up for consideration, just to see if I am the rare one that can get away with it.

I will also be fashioning another query without the questions, and post both up to get comments on each.

If its allowed, when I do post them up I'll put a link to that thread here so all you that have already invested so much time into answering my question and helping me can see where I am coming from.

Though I must say I am surprised that so many say its an absolute no-no. ( well, that's not what was actually said, but you get it) And so many agents say not to do it as well. I think that is the main driving point for me to actually rewrite the query without them.

Anyways, I look forward to hearing anyone's opinions when I am done with the re-write.

Mr Flibble
07-08-2012, 11:50 PM
Though I must say I am surprised that so many say its an absolute no-no. ( well, that's not what was actually said, but you get it) And so many agents say not to do it as well.

Mostly, those of us saying don't do it (or be very careful with it) are saying so because agents say they hate it. If so many agents hadn;t blogged/tweeted/otherwise said they hate it, I wouldn't have said a thing, because it obviously wouldn't bother them

It's not about whether we, as writers like them (except that it can be a lazy way to do things), but that agents, the people whose interest you are trying to capture, as opposed to making them grind their teeth, seem very often not to like them. I'm sure there's agents who don't mind them - but they don't say so. The ones who hate them do, and because a) they are clumsy devices (usually - always exceptions!) in a query and b) probably also they see them so often. Perhaps their use is matched by MSs that aren't up to par? That may be an extra corollary. A possible flag, like a misuse of grammar in your query. Maybe it won't get you and insta R, but it might have to make the rest of the query work that much harder.

Anyway. You post a link, I'll take a gander.

Little Ming
07-09-2012, 03:21 AM
In regards to "rules," I would treat querying writing like I treat other creative writing: There are no absolute "rules," but if you are going to break one, at the very least you must know why the rule exist. It's not just "Don't use rhetorical questions," it's "Don't use rhetorical questions, because..." What comes after the "because" is just as important as what comes before.

WeaselFire
07-09-2012, 05:52 PM
I'll skip the opinions and tell you what has worked for me. This is for non-fiction and magazine articles, but the principle is generally the same as querying an agent.

I used to (like two decades ago) start my query with a question: "Would you be interested in a 1,000 word article about...?"

Over the years my style changed and I skipped the question. I'd start with a shortened version of the hook that grabs readers: "Smoking crack is the third most common side effect of politics..." (Okay, it's not, but you get my drift here).

I changed because my style of writing changed and because the types of articles I wrote changed. My later queries weren't more or less successful, but I suspect my earlier queries were a lot weaker.

My original tactic was a cover letter and article: "Attached, for your consideration, is a 1,000 word article on the use of monkeys to deliver mail in Alaska..." Then I figured out I could write 100 queries in the time it took me to write an article nobody wanted. :)

Beyond that, my feeling is that if you ask a question, it takes away a bit of your authority. And, after all, you're kind of being paid to know the answers and write about them.

Jeff

third person
07-11-2012, 10:20 AM
When you're asking a hypothetical question in a query, you're giving the potential agent an opportunity to say "no" (http://slushpiletales.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/querydice-32/) (clicky). Literally and figuratively.

djf881
07-11-2012, 07:08 PM
I've read in books that starting a query with an open ended question as a hook is ok. But I am wondering is it "ok" to have two questions in the body of your query?


Books lied to you. Never do this. The answer to a rhetorical question in a query is always "no."



What about ending the query with a question?

What is everyone opinions. I like the sound of my query ending with a question but the last thing I want to do is upset agents.

What possible objective could you further by using a question in a query? The agent is not going to answer your question. They'll either send you a one line request to see the manuscript, or they'll send you a form rejection letter.

third person
07-12-2012, 12:00 PM
As for ending a query with a question, I have to say I've seen A LOT of successful queries that won some bigtime agent heavies that had em'...so there's that.

quicklime
07-12-2012, 04:25 PM
As for ending a query with a question, I have to say I've seen A LOT of successful queries that won some bigtime agent heavies that had em'...so there's that.


how many were recent, and to US agents?

Things change quickly; from what I gather, questions were a pretty hot device ten or fifteen years ago. Which is great, then, but probably part of why they are unpopular now--too many people doing them badly, and a sort of pushback against the glut.

Edit: I WILL say, if you insist on having one, you're probably better ending with one that starting, simply because anyone who does hate them has something else to consider this way, instead of rejecting at the first line.

third person
07-13-2012, 06:41 AM
how many were recent, and to US agents?

Things change quickly; from what I gather, questions were a pretty hot device ten or fifteen years ago. Which is great, then, but probably part of why they are unpopular now--too many people doing them badly, and a sort of pushback against the glut.

Edit: I WILL say, if you insist on having one, you're probably better ending with one that starting, simply because anyone who does hate them has something else to consider this way, instead of rejecting at the first line.

I get a constant stream of queries that worked from sites like Querytracker's blog (http://querytracker.blogspot.com/search/label/publishing%20pulse), Query Shark, Slush Pile Tales (http://slushpiletales.wordpress.com/), etc. So US agents and current as current gets.