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cnhull
05-18-2013, 12:53 AM
I'm a new member here and I've only read a few queries as posted by others in the forum, however last week I was at a writers' conference where I was able to read and offer constructive criticism on about twenty query letters from other authors.

Query letter hooks seem to jump off the page and really announce themselves in a too obvious, formulaic, and all together cliched way. If they work and are subtle and draw you in without even realizing that you've just read a hook that's great but more often than not they seem to induce eye-rolling and make me say, 'Now, I'm reading the hook,' as if following step one in the pre-defined structure that every writer must follow in the 'Easy Bake: How to Write a Query Letter' format.

Perhaps its something I'm too sensitive to but if that's the impression I get after twenty I can only imagine the pain an agent is in after reading heaven-only-knows-how-many. For me hooks are like a James Brown song where he interrupts the music and ask: "Bobby, can I take 'em to the bridge? We gon go to the bridge? Take 'em to the bridge!" And then I say, 'Oh! What is this new rhythmic structure and melodic material being worked with? Are we at the bridge? Thanks James! Thanks Bobby! I never would have know without you."

Music is my profession so perhaps James Brown offends my sensibilities (not really, but I am trying to make a point).

Am I alone in feeling this?

quicklime
05-18-2013, 02:12 AM
define hook, because to me a hook is something that pulls a reader in, and I'm thinking you are referring to log lines (which suck) and rhetorical questions (which suck also) but I wouldn't call either one a hook.

KateJJ
05-18-2013, 06:57 AM
Go down to the "Share Your Work" section on this board, and find the "Query Letter Hell" subforum. Spend two months there, reading and critting every query that comes in.

Congratulations, you now have a tiny insight into what it's like to be an agent. Now tell me, how to the hooks and rhetorical questions strike you? The things you think are gimmicky now, how do they look after a hundred attempts?

I've learned a lot about queries, reading other peoples' attempts. Enough to know I could never be an agent, because I am mean.

Drachen Jager
05-18-2013, 07:53 AM
Yeah, agree with the above. Hooks will always be in for queries. A query is all about hook. The entire point of a query is to convince agents, "You want to read this book" and the entire point of a hook is to convince people, "You want to read this book"

Perhaps the authors at your conference weren't really aware of what a hook is. Can you post some examples of what you think are "hooks" in a query?

Kerosene
05-18-2013, 07:58 AM
Read all the stickies in QLH and go through the threads paying extra attention to what people correct and why.

There's no "cliche" to query letters. The most worthless introduction is when you talk about how fabulous and excellently written your books... without talking about the fucking story! For lots of these, check out SluchPile Hell (http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/).

cnhull
05-18-2013, 08:35 AM
define hook, because to me a hook is something that pulls a reader in, and I'm thinking you are referring to log lines (which suck) and rhetorical questions (which suck also) but I wouldn't call either one a hook.

I was thinking along the line of 'log lines' and 'rhetorical questions' and I would agree they are both awful.

@KateJJ I think you made my point better than I did...

If a hook has to be there then so be it, but it strikes me odd that both parties involved in the process go along with what is accepted to be painful and make us roll our collective eyes.

quicklime
05-18-2013, 08:42 AM
....

If a hook has to be there then so be it, but it strikes me odd that both parties involved in the process go along with what is accepted to be painful and make us roll our collective eyes.


but they don't.....

"What if you could fly?" would make us roll our eyes, but isn't a hook.

"Davey Spengler wants what every man in his family has always wanted: A dead wife" is a hook......and, presumably, makes you want to read more.

when people here say a hook is a good thing, they mean a gripping first line, not a gimmick that is transparently a gimmick. That will never go out.

Drachen Jager
05-18-2013, 09:17 AM
@cnhull

Also, it might help for you to read up on 'high concept'. That's one of the important 'hooks' in a properly written query letter.

Again, as with hooks, you say you hate log lines, but a well written one that expresses the high concept in a succinct manner is an incredibly effective hook.

I think the problem is more that you just haven't been exposed to enough good ones.

Lady Ice
05-18-2013, 12:47 PM
@cnhull
Also, it might help for you to read up on 'high concept'. That's one of the important 'hooks' in a properly written query letter.


This- hook with your story. If your hook could be applied to any old story, chances are it's a cliche hook.

The problem with logline hooks is that the bits of the query the agent will remember most are the opening and the closing. The middle gets skimmed. Therefore you want the best of your book to come out at these points, rather than something generically catchy.

cnhull
05-18-2013, 04:18 PM
@Quicklime

"Davey Spengler wants what every man in his family has always wanted: A dead wife"

There's a good story in there somewhere! Lol.

@Drachen Jager

"I think the problem is more that you just haven't been exposed to enough good ones."

Probably very true.

@Lady Ice

Thanks for the tips. Sometimes I have to be reminded of things that on some level or another I already know, yet forget, or ignore.

Aggy B.
05-19-2013, 12:46 AM
As an opening to a query letter loglines suck.

As a pitching tool loglines are invaluable. Unless, of course, you like stammering and giving a rambling and incoherent answer to the frequently asked question "So, what's your book about?".

J.Reid
05-19-2013, 11:57 AM
So, Quicklime, about that Davey Spengler book. Finished? Word count? Ready to query?

Purple Rose
05-19-2013, 01:22 PM
Go down to the "Share Your Work" section on this board, and find the "Query Letter Hell" subforum. Spend two months there, reading and critting every query that comes in.

Congratulations, you now have a tiny insight into what it's like to be an agent. Now tell me, how to the hooks and rhetorical questions strike you? The things you think are gimmicky now, how do they look after a hundred attempts?

I've learned a lot about queries, reading other peoples' attempts. Enough to know I could never be an agent, because I am mean.

So true! I spent a lot of time studying QLH when I first joined AW. Very soon, quicklime and Lady Ice became one of my few QLH heroes. I felt too inadequate to crit and too scared to post my query. Also, I came to believe that I would probably never land an agent because my queries would never be good enough due to that elusive hook.


Read all the stickies in QLH and go through the threads paying extra attention to what people correct and why.

Excellent advice! That's how quicklime became one of my heroes. Some day I shall find the courage to post a query. And write the perfect hook.


but they don't.....

"What if you could fly?" would make us roll our eyes, but isn't a hook.

"Davey Spengler wants what every man in his family has always wanted: A dead wife" is a hook......and, presumably, makes you want to read more.

when people here say a hook is a good thing, they mean a gripping first line, not a gimmick that is transparently a gimmick. That will never go out.

Classic quicklime.


So, Quicklime, about that Davey Spengler book. Finished? Word count? Ready to query?

:ROFL:

Jo Zebedee
05-19-2013, 01:38 PM
I had a hooky one and got nothing. I changed it to a more laid back, personal style with no hook and have had loads of interest, including a couple of fulls and some very encouraging passes... I think sometimes we try too hard and lose ourselves in the need for a hook.

quicklime
05-19-2013, 04:40 PM
So, Quicklime, about that Davey Spengler book. Finished? Word count? Ready to query?


current word count? Zero. :-(

Fifteen if you count the line written here.

How far will charm and blind assurances get a guy in this business?




*kicks self, repeatedly, for not writing this book yet

cnhull
05-19-2013, 05:57 PM
I had a hooky one and got nothing. I changed it to a more laid back, personal style with no hook and have had loads of interest, including a couple of fulls and some very encouraging passes... I think sometimes we try too hard and lose ourselves in the need for a hook.

I can't imagine anyone reading that and not finding it reassuring. I'm not popular enough to post in QLH at the moment but I've read a lot and to me so many sound unnatural after the millionth revision and scream 'trying too hard.'

Granted some queries are awful and need help, but while all writing can be made stronger it seems that at some point people are looking to be told, "Your query is perfect; this can't fail.' And so they edit, revise, drive themselves crazy and deconstruct what may have been good enough in an effort to achieve some undefined level of quality that everyone will accept.

It's foolish not to take criticism when given especially should it be an obvious or easy fix, but I think there is not only a point of diminishing returns but outright damage.

Purple Rose
05-19-2013, 06:42 PM
It's foolish not to take criticism when given especially should it be an obvious or easy fix, but I think there is not only a point of diminishing returns but outright damage.

Totally agree. It's especially foolish not to take criticism when you actively solicit it by posting on QLH or any other query forum.

Posting on QLH does not require popularity but it does require that 50-post minimum. It does help to offer some comments on QLH before you post your query; it's a give-and-take thing from what I've gathered.

More than anything, QLH requires humility and an open mind. The queries I've seen go from nay to yea have (almost) always been revised because people have studied the input and taken them seriously while accepting them graciously. Just my observations.

Old Hack
05-19-2013, 08:18 PM
You need fifty posts to start a thread in Share Your Work, but you can crit work there without any previous posts to your name. And doing so is a really good way of learning how queries should work.

quicklime
05-20-2013, 12:22 AM
So true! I spent a lot of time studying QLH when I first joined AW. ... I felt too inadequate to crit and too scared to post my query. Also, I came to believe that I would probably never land an agent because my queries would never be good enough due to that elusive hook.


..... Some day I shall find the courage to post a query. And write the perfect hook.


........

:ROFL:



and when I first started out, I made jim my unaware and unasked mentor and thought he was the shit (still do; we both see different things, look for different things, and fix things in different ways), among other folks here.....


why not start now?

Ya can't learn to play if you don't play.....would you expect to read enough that you were ready, without hands-on dissection and practice as an intern, to become a surgeon? Listen to enough symphonies that you were finally ready to pick up a violin and play in one?


btw, you can find early queries I wrote; an agent wouldn't have even wasted the time to come back and tell me they were awful. They had every beginner mistake and flaw you could hope to find in QLH, wrapped up in about 300 words of which maybe 50 were useful.

But you get better by participating--having your work shredded, accepting that, and critiquing the work of others. There's no shortcut, and I doubt you hit a point where those first few rejections hurt any less. So better to start now than use it as an excuse to do nothing.....

quicklime
05-20-2013, 12:56 AM
I can't imagine anyone reading that and not finding it reassuring. I'm not popular enough to post in QLH at the moment but I've read a lot and to me so many sound unnatural after the millionth revision and scream 'trying too hard.'

Granted some queries are awful and need help, but while all writing can be made stronger it seems that at some point people are looking to be told, "Your query is perfect; this can't fail.' And so they edit, revise, drive themselves crazy and deconstruct what may have been good enough in an effort to achieve some undefined level of quality that everyone will accept.

It's foolish not to take criticism when given especially should it be an obvious or easy fix, but I think there is not only a point of diminishing returns but outright damage.


have you seen that here?

it can happen, but the entire critique thing is a 2-way street, and the writer bears responsibility in how and when they take advice.

Often the bold, and variants of it, are more of a straw-man to avoid making painful changes than a real threat, but even when they are, the author IS the one driving this thing--if you can't take a particular critique without it stripping all life from the query, either the critique was bad or you need to become a better writer. Neither is a reason to avoid getting critiqued.

cnhull
05-20-2013, 01:30 AM
have you seen that here?



Ish...

It's the subjective nature of a query in general. Some agents pass on great books, best sellers, ect. because they didn't like the query and others love the query and offer representation. And both are perfectly in their rights to do so. I think everyone offering criticism here is doing so in an effort to make the writer's query stronger, but there is no absolute authority and I've never seen a concesus in the forums saying, 'Don't change anything. It's perfect!' (I'm sure it has happened, but I'm not gonna search for it.)

I've seen some queries that I felt were weaker after an author applied the given criticism. But I'm not an agent. Some agents may have agreed with me; others may not...



if you can't take a particular critique without it stripping all life from the query, either the critique was bad or you need to become a better writer. Neither is a reason to avoid getting critiqued.

I couldn't agree more.

Drachen Jager
05-20-2013, 09:17 AM
I think that writers just need to accept that a query letter will not sell your book.

Your book has to sell itself. A spectacular query for a shitty book will get no action, it may not even get any requests or reads, because that shitty book will still shine through.

A great book with a mediocre query will probably do pretty well. Some agent is going to read that query and see the bones underneath.

Do you want a mediocre query? Probably not, but it's a damn sight better than a mediocre book. Focus on writing the best book you can, the rest will fall into place.

Purple Rose
05-20-2013, 04:01 PM
and when I first started out, I made jim my unaware and unasked mentor and thought he was the shit (still do; we both see different things, look for different things, and fix things in different ways), among other folks here.....

Ooooh, poor Jim. I won't torment you quite like that. Promise.


why not start now?

Ya can't learn to play if you don't play.....would you expect to read enough that you were ready, without hands-on dissection and practice as an intern, to become a surgeon? Listen to enough symphonies that you were finally ready to pick up a violin and play in one?

btw, you can find early queries I wrote; an agent wouldn't have even wasted the time to come back and tell me they were awful. They had every beginner mistake and flaw you could hope to find in QLH, wrapped up in about 300 words of which maybe 50 were useful.

But you get better by participating--having your work shredded, accepting that, and critiquing the work of others. There's no shortcut, and I doubt you hit a point where those first few rejections hurt any less. So better to start now than use it as an excuse to do nothing.....

Absolutely right! I decided to take my chances and unexpectedly (and happily) got my query posted on another query forum. I'll be focussing on that for now. With that kind of practice, I'll be here for my next query for yet another book.

I'll be waiting for your crits on that one, for sure, quicklime. :D

kkbe
05-20-2013, 05:02 PM
I should be writing my book. :)
I think that writers just need to accept that a query letter will not sell your book.

That's what a query letter is supposed to do, though. Anyway, write a great query, it might sell your novel for a minute.

Your book has to sell itself. A spectacular query for a shitty book will get no action, it may not even get any requests or reads, because that shitty book will still shine through.

True, your book has to sell itself but first you need to get that agent to read the thing. Hence, the query. And you can write an awesome ql and dazzle an agent and get requests for pages. . .

Then, your book will either sell itself or sink into the muck.

A great book with a mediocre query will probably do pretty well. Some agent is going to read that query and see the bones underneath.

Don't think so, not unless that agent has super dooper xray vision or something. How can you see something that isn't there? More importantly, why write a mediocre query? There are a million mediocre queries out there. You do not want to be in that company.

Do you want a mediocre query? Probably not, but it's a damn sight better than a mediocre book. Focus on writing the best book you can, the rest will fall into place.

Not necessarily. Your book can be cat's ass but if your query sucks, chances are, an agent will never know. Do yourself a favor, write that book, make it shine, then do the same with your query letter. You want an agent to read your stuff, right? Then you have to entice that agent. The way to do that is to draft one hell of a query letter, then cross your fingers. The alternative is you write a crap ql, in which case you can stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

Axordil
05-20-2013, 05:09 PM
I really, really wish any number of query-improving resources like QLH, or Query Shark, or <your fave here> had been around back in 2002, when I tried to sell the first novel I wrote. Or if they were around, that I'd known of them. So much wasted postage...

Mutive
05-20-2013, 05:11 PM
I felt too inadequate to crit and too scared to post my query. Also, I came to believe that I would probably never land an agent because my queries would never be good enough due to that elusive hook.



We all suck at critting when we start out, just like we suck at anything. The only way you get better is by doing it.

Even if all you can say is, "This hook is awesome!" you're at least interacting with it in a way that's a bit stronger than it is when you just read the query. (And after seeing a few dozen of these, you at least know what works.)

And if you can, dig deeper. Try to figure out why something doesn't make sense, or why it's seeming boring, trite, or cliche.

It's a steep learning curve. But the nice part about steep is that you're learning fast.

Lady Ice
05-31-2013, 02:39 PM
Critting is so helpful for your own writing because it gives you a clearer sense of what might be wrong with your own work. Normally the problems you identify in others' work are problems that you have once had.