Thursday, February 18, 2010

Queries in First Person

I’m not sure if it’s a new trend or just one I didn’t register before, but it seems lately that I’m getting a lot of queries in first person, and I have to admit, except for maybe the very, very rare instance, these are not working for me.

Let me give you an example. . . .

Dear Jessica:

I’m your typical suburban mom. I have five children, a husband I adore most days, a dog, a cat, and a pet lobster (don’t ask). My life is what I think many expect of a housewife. I clean, I cart kids and my job is to take care of my family. And I love this life, or I loved it. Until the day I discovered a side of me I didn’t know existed. It was my erotic, sensual side. The side that discovered that monogamy isn’t always about just that one man, but that couple next door and maybe the one down the street.

Suburbia is my 90,000 word erotic romance. I’m a contest winner and member of The Greatest Writers in the World. I look forward to hearing from you.


Do you see why this format doesn’t work for me? When the query starts I wonder if it’s the author talking and really telling me her life story (because it does happen a lot) or if this is a query from the narrator. Most important, though, this doesn’t give me any information on what the story is really about.

Even if your book is written in first person I do not think it works to write your query in first person. You are selling your story, you’re not the narrator continuing your story.

Jessica

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, that's jarring. I started the query thinking the author was talking about herself and really not wanting to know the intimate details of her sex life, and then at the end it's revealed that it's the book she wrote. Very jarring.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Yikes! I am so old school... would neeeever do this! It makes me wonder how this author would write the synopsis. I know a lot of newbies don't realize that one must write a third person present tense synopsis, even for a first person novel.

I didn't realize it wasn't the author's life until you pointed it out!!

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Yuk, way too personal.

B. Light said...

Yeah, ummmm, WOW. I can definitly see where this format could be, shall we say, off-putting.

Good think my novel is not an erotic romance novel. Mine is a Sci-Fi novel. The query starts:

My name is Zoorge. I'm from the planet Undblong. My life is pretty normal for a Undblongian. I keep my dwelling clean and take out my zork...

Lydia Sharp said...

Thank you so much for posting about this. Queries & synopses: third person, present tense. You really can't go wrong if you stick to that rule.

Piedmont Writer said...

There was a thread going around awhile back that suggested first person stories, be queried in first person voice. I don't know where the information came from or how it got started but I remember seeing it on more than one blog.

Mark said...

Please forgive my ignorance, but does not writing queries in the first person apply to non-fiction as well? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It's a little confusing because... of course you query in the first person. You don't say "Wendy Witchy has written an 80,000 word fantasy..." That would be creepy too.

GK said...

Oh dear, B. Light, you would think that starting your query that way would ensure that the agent knew you were writing from the perspective of the main character, but definitely not the case. I've had queries from people who honestly believed that all women were conspiring against him, or that he was trying to get this book published at the request of aliens that he first met 30 years ago, or that he was a time traveler. (One such time-hopper actually called the agency to follow up on his query and share his convoluted life story.)

I am just waiting for the day I get a query from someone claiming to be a vampire. I know it's inevitable.

jmberrygirl said...

Made me cringe.

Aimless Writer said...

I knew it was a query because of your post but if I didn't i would have been lost. And if I had a hundred more queries sitting in my inbox and this was confusing me I would have been a bit annoyed.
God bless your patience.

Jenny said...

I agree with Aimless Writer in that I wouldn't have known that was a query if you hadn't said it was. But I have a question about first person vs. third. Even when you're discussing your novel and looking for an agent, wouldn't you write (profesionally) in first person? Or do you refer to yourself in 3rd? I'm confused about that.

Sarah said...

Ugh, this query just feels off.

However, I do have a question about the 'always third person' rule. What about a query or synopsis for an ms that is not a novel such as a memoir or narrative nonfiction? I would assume that is a different set of rules, but this post makes me second guess that.

Jenny said...

Oh, wait, I understand... you're saying 3rd person when speaking about the actual novel. In this case we're assuming what she wrote was from the character's point of view? I thought that was about herself. So confusing!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's a loser approach plain and simple. Or, as that querier might have written:
I'm a loser, plain and simple.

Malia Sutton said...

"The side that discovered that monogamy isn’t always about just that one man, but that couple next door and maybe the one down the street."

It does sound like it could be an interesting book, though ^_^

Ellie O'Leary said...

I've been wondering about this, too, because I am polishing the query for my memoir written in first person, present tense.
I certainly see the point of a fiction query written in third person, but to write about myself that way seems pretentious.

Anonymous said...

With a book like this, she/he should be shopping this to e-publishers instead of agents. If the book is written well, there's a growing market this author is missing, and that's a shame for the author.

The Rejectionist said...

AMEN.

Mira said...

ROFL. That's hilarious. I assume you wrote that, Jessica?

Funny. I know this wasn't exactly the point, but I would LOVE to read that book.

I hope you write it. Lol. :)

Mira said...

Wait. I just had a terrible thought. That isn't a actual query right? It's funny if Jessica wrote it, but I would have really hurt someone's feelings if it was real...

Okay, I'm going to assume that no one would post a query letter without the author's permission. That just doesn't make sense that they would do that, so I was going to delete my response, but I'm assuming it's not a real letter, and let my response stand.

Mira said...

Okay, you had to have made that up.

"monogamy isn’t always about just that one man, but that couple next door and maybe the one down the street"

Okay, you made that up.

Also, there is no club called the Greatest Writers of the World.

Phew.

Okay, I'm going to stop worrying about it, and stop posting now - three posts, sorry. I just didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings - but, frankly, I really do want to read that book. Lol.

Marsha Sigman said...

That was just...freaky. The utter lack of knowledge amazes me. People should really do a little research before jumping in.

Silver James said...

And here I thought she was querying with a self-help or nonfiction book. Silly me! I'm so glad she finally cleared up the situation. Wow...just...wow.

Jen said...

I would have to say reading this I was confused and I see what you mean. I'll be sure to watch how I set up my queries if I write in first person.

Big NO NO... got it!

Wendy Sparrow said...

I briefly entertained the thought of writing a query in first person. (blushing) Luckily, my blog readers knocked the idea out of my head and told me it was creepy weird. Still... la ashamed... I was tempted.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Yeah....NO! I can see why that's not working.

B. Light said...

GK,

I'm sorry. That was not a real query that I wrote about Zoorge from the planet Undblong. I was just trying to make the point that even in a query as crazy as that, it would sound like the querier was nuts and thought they were an alien.

Okay, I'm done with my strange brand of humor.

Cherie Henderson said...

Hi, I have the same question as Ellie O'Leary -- I'm working on a synopsis of my first-person memoir and am currently writing it in first person as well. That's certainly what feels right, since I'm a real person and it's a true story, but I'd love to know if I'm off base!

Anonymous said...

I think it's because first person's easier to write than third, so someone who writes in first doesn't want to switch over and make the effort.

Ellie O'Leary said...

@anonymous who posted at 5:46 pm. If it were just a matter of finding the easy way, I wouldn't be making the effort to find out which is more effective. I don't find one easier than the other; I have the query written both ways.

Maggie Dana said...

Read any dust jacket copy, be it fiction in first or third person, memoir, or even a travel book or self-help manual, and you'll find it's always in third person. That's how you structure your query.

Third person, present tense.

End of discussion.

Ellie O'Leary said...

End of discussion? Thank you, but I was asking Jessica.

Steve Ulfelder said...

Can I have that querier's phone number?

Ellie O'Leary said...

When I did not see a response from Jessica here, I asked Chuck Sambuchino the memoir query question on his Facebook wall. Here is my question to him and his response.
"I am trying to find the answer to a specific question about query letters. Most of the advice is for fiction queries or for non-fiction proposals. I am trying to do the query for my memoir. Should the hook, the brief summary, be written in first person or in third person? The book is written in first person present."
Chuck replied, "First person. Go to my blog www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog and click on "Successful Queries" on the left. You will see a successful memoir query there."
I post this here for those of you who had the same question.

Kim Lionetti said...

Hi Ellie --

Yes, I think it makes sense to write a memoir query in first person.

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Keri Neal said...

I was just sitting down to write a query, and was thinking of doing it in first person. "That's original!" I think as I pat myself on the back. I get halfway through and think "I wonder what Ms. Faust thinks about this approach." LOL!

OK then, good to know. Back to the drawing board :) Seriously though, thanks for your blog. It has helped me many MANY times.