Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scary Mary and Query Letters

This video is hilarious:

Pretty creepy, huh?

Imagine watching this preview and getting excited to see Mary Poppins. After watching it, you'd be understandably upset. The preview did not tell you what to expect, so what good was it?

Query letters work the same way.

Once on a forum I read a great query letter and offered to beta read the book. It wasn't anything like the query, so I thought the book didn't turn out the way she intended. I kept telling her to change things to make it match what I thought it was supposed to be. 

Halfway through, I realized I was giving her the wrong advice because I was looking at the book from the wrong angle. She didn't think her book was exciting enough, so she "improved" it in her query.

Her query deceived me, and it effected the way I read the book.

I read another query on a forum for a book that was... there's no nice was of saying this... it was awful. I'm talking so bad that no query letter could sell the poor thing. That author has issues; I still feel icky thinking about it.

Everyone kept telling him to cut stuff because it would turn agents off. The only query letter anyone was happy with was one that said nothing of what the book was about.

After I told him his book was gross and got reported to a moderator (bite your tongue, Teralyn, for heaven's sake), I told him there's no point in trying to trick agents. If your query is true to your book and the agent doesn't like it, she won't like the book either. 

If your query isn't true to your book, the best agent for you might pass. She would have loved your book, but she never got to hear what it was really about.

One of my earlier queries only mentioned the last 40 pages of Sacred Fire because the climax was so exciting. A beta reader pointed out that any agent requesting the book would have to sift through 300 pages to get to the part that made them want to read it. Now the query says what my whole book is about.

Don't be ashamed of your book when you write your query. Write what your story is really about, and believe in it.


  1. Whoa. Now that Scary Mary just would have kept me from seeing what turned out to be a wonderful and lovely movie. But you use this skillfully in providing a great visual of your point. I can certainly see how a query can be deceiving if it makes the story out to be something it really isn't.

  2. that wasn't actually a preview, however, this dude {chris rule} nailed exactly what i was thinking while rewatching Mary Poppins several years ago; that there is an awful lot of creepiness. watch it again from the perspective of an adult in these times, and not as a child of the time it originally aired and see if you have a different take than you did when you first saw it. just a suggestion.

    as for the rest of the entry, i agree wholeheartedly! deceptive advertising can be oh so disappointing, whether you're selling your story or selling meds; snake~oil outs.

  3. This is a terrific post! Writing queries is such a challenge, and we get so much advice about how to punch them up, etc. etc. But you're so right that we need to be sure we don't misrepresent.


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