Friday, 30 September 2011

Lessons From the Shark


Everything we know about queries, we learned from a shark.


This seemed like such a great idea on the surface
A shark, you would think, would be the last place one would look for advice. I mean, they're vicious, and ruthless, and the only way they can communicate with you is by biting you. Not the best teachers, right?

Wrong. Vicious is good. And ruthless is great. Let me introduce you to the Query Shark.

A blog created by NY literary agent extraordinaire Janet Reid, Query Shark takes queries and viciously rips them to shreds. And then follows the ripping with sage advice and vaguely shark-themed non-sequitors, such as "Thanks for being my chum!" It's like she's some kind of half-shark-half-human mutant or something.

Oh for...Goddammit Google Image Search! Can you leave at least one part of my brain untraumatized?!?
The thing I love about Janet is that she doesn't mince words. She minces bones, and tendons, but not words. If your query sucks, she'll tell you that, and then she'll tell you exactly why. This is not the place for people who say they want a critique but secretly want to be told how great they are. Query Shark will eat you alive.

And she just might make you publishable.

We're not going to lie. It took awhile. We read that blog like crazy, pouring over every entry, studying every critique like it was God's gift to writing. But even then it didn't work the first time.

I guess the shark just wasn't biting that day.

I mean, it was bad. No bites. Not even a nibble. And in one case, we may have accidentally killed one of the agents.

Going back to Query Shark was really hard after that, but we couldn't stay away for long. And good thing we did, because then we found this: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2010/12/192-ftw.html
It was so unique, so original, so completely out-of-the-box, we almost wet ourselves after reading it. After that, Josin L. McQuein became our hero.

She made us realize that we've been going about it all wrong. We were way too wrapped up with following the rules, getting all the details right, and making it work that we forgot about the most important rule.

Hook the reader.

Like this, but with words instead of jail time
We killed our query. Started from scratch. And this time, we decided to throw all rules out the window. We decided that this time, we were going to come up with a hook so strong, they'd HAVE to read it.

And guess what? It worked!

Update: After 5 years of hard work, we finally signed with an agent!!!

7 comments:

Awee. You guys made me smile :-)

Following y'all now just to cheer you on! I too fear -and respect- the query shark. Reading the blog made me a better writer, and I will be eternally grateful for the requests I got after reading it and reworking my query. Keeping my fingers crossed for you both now, too!!

I'm in the same boat. Started querying with a letter a pro told me was "fine." Well, fine doesn't cut it. Spent since last February googling for agent blogs, online agent interviews, and agency websites seeking any guidance I could find. QueryShark was the best, but not the only one, and with contrary opinions rampant, I tried to personalize: decide which kind of query went to which agent.

But it's paying off. Got three partial requests recently, and Friday got my first full request. Woo-hoo!

www.charleypearson.com

Thanks for the support, Ms. Snip! It really helps to talk to other writers in the same boat. Congrats on your requests and best of luck with the manuscript!

Charley, congrats on your partials and full request! Got my fingers crossed for you :)

Holy cow that was your query? Could not get that outta my head as I was reading the archives. Oh that's it I'm SO following you. Count one more cheerleader!!

Congrats! Followed the link here from QueryShark ... I just sent a query in to the Shark myself, to see if I've mastered the knack of the query yet. I know I've at least mastered the knack of swallowing my screams while being chewed to pieces.

Thanks so much for following our blog, Laura! Do you have a blog too? I tried to follow back but I couldn't find a link to it on your profile.

Best of luck with the query you sent to QueryShark! Hope yours gets picked :) (btw, you can also send a query to bookends. They do query workshops on Wednesdays: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2012/01/workshop-wednesday_11.html)

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