Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

SunnySide Living

Billy Botsford came down for pinochle dressed in a three thousand dollar jacket and a diaper. Norm Lamppi had seen plenty of diapers at SunnySide Living – hell, he wore the damn things himself – but Armani leather, not so much. The jacket was nowhere to be found the next morning, along with Billy, who reappeared at noon sleeping like a baby in the weeds alongside the town’s water treatment plant.

Norm and his pinochle buddies smelled a rat, and after discovering that SunnySide Living doubled as a warehouse for stolen merchandise, they smelled the opportunity to make themselves some extra cash. Life became sweeter, until the three hundred pound Mr. Fish was dispatched to investigate ‘the shrinkage’. Now Norm and his octogenarian crew - one-legged Fred, oxygen-sucking Les, Johnny the farmer and addle-brained Billy - have got to set things straight before they all end up under the weeds at the water treatment plant.

It really bugs me that there is no real query here. This is a blurb, but not a professional correspondence, and it feels very jarring to me. I know it's a query, but is it? In other words, what's your point of sending this to me? Are you querying me, telling me about your published book, asking for a critique?

Email has made things simpler and less formal and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I find it disappointing that we're losing the art of letter writing, but there's a reason for appropriate letter writing, and it's not just because it's a nice things to do. A proper query introduces what you're writing as well as yourself and gives the agent an understanding of why you're getting in touch and what you're expecting of her.

I'll start with the title. I have no idea what kind of book this is based on the title and, of course, the fact that you didn't write a proper query doesn't help this.

Your first paragraph seems really disconnected to me. I'm understanding that this is some sort of assisted living center or maybe retirement community, although those are two very different places, but the sentence starting with "The jacket" doesn't really connect with itself, frankly. So did the jacket return with Billy? If that's the case then it doesn't seem like anything is really wrong.

What made these fellows suspect something was wrong? I'm getting none of that in this. How were they going to make themselves extra cash?

Ultimately, I'm not getting a real sense of hook or story here. It's not a horrible blurb, but it's not special enough either. I can't really figure out why anyone would really want to read this or how this would stand out on bookshelves.



Anonymous said...

There are relatively few novels about elderly people. Most the elderly people I know prefer to read books about young people.

That's not to say books about elderly people can't be done well. Jon Hassler, for example, does them well. But he gives his characters dignity. This synopsis seems determined to take the characters' dignity away. Who's the intended audience?

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I apologize to ask this question, my husband that turns Ph.D.'s into scientists says there are no stupid questions, still:

Why is there no query?

I sense this is a blurb, that doesn't lead anywhere.

I asked a question on Query Shark #202 that was anwsered by Sarah from H. who explained a query letter is a business letter, not a creative writing exercise.

What are the missing query elements that would turn this into a business letter?

Kimberlee Turley said...

I was mostly confused by the playful figurative metaphors mixed in with the mature age of the characters. (Smelled a rat, sleeping like a baby, one-legged-Fred.) It gives a young juvenille taste to what I think should be a strictly adult novel.

Lehcarjt said...

Question: One of the things we've had drilled into our head on Query Shark is to always start the query with the pitch because the agent already knows your purpose in contacting her/him. Then put the title, genre, personal stuff at the end.

Are you saying you do not like the query set up that way? (I recognize this might all be personal preference, I just want to be clear). Thanks.

Alice said...

I have to say I started laughing at the first line, because this is funny. Old people turn into children. They go backward. My only thing was, as soon as I read the first sentence, I thought this was the beginning of a novel. Maybe the first 250 words to be critiqued, I forgot where I was.

You must put it in the query form. But I'd read this story. What about grumpy old men? That was hysterical.

Put the letter in correct form. Someone will love it.

ryan field said...

I know authors who spend days working hard on getting the entire query right, not just the book description.

You're right. This isn't a query.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


this is a blurb, someone simply sent me a blurb. There's no query because there's nothing formal or professional about it. There's no letter aspect. If you read other queries in our workshops you'll see what I mean.


I personally don't care how it's set up. I don't think there are any rules or formulas. I just want to know, somewhere, that you actually mean to pitch me.


Laila Knight said...

I hope it's not wrong to ah write this out loud, but I didn't think these were old people at first. A jacket and a diaper, and nothing else is all I saw. Why would people walk around like that. I pictured drug smugglers hiding stuff in diapers. They all had colorful names like gangsters...okay, I'm a fantasy writer. It just wasn't clear enough for me. Queries are hard. I can relate.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

A stylistic nitpick jumped out at me, but probably shows a bigger problem. The final tag "not so much" seems like a breezy, youthful blog style to me. ("Britney Spears is a great entertainer, but a great mother, not so much.") It was put in the same sentence as "hell, he wore the damn things himself," which seems like a rephrasing of something the character would say. So part of the sentence is third-person restatement of in-character dialogue, but part of it seems out of place. (Maybe I don't know something about the origin of "Not so much.")

But that makes me wonder if the elderly characters are real and authentic, if the author hears their real voices, and brings those real voices to the page. It kind of seems like this book was written by a smart-ass undergraduate, saying, "Aren't old people funny? With their pinochle and their diapers, their funny homes with names like Sunnyside, and their oxygen tanks. Hilarious!"

Tricia said...

Maybe not an actual query letter, but a cute book from this blub. Reminds me of Cocoon.

Anonymous said...

Jarring is a good word. I thought, "Wait. Isn't this Workshop Wednesday?". Not a good sign that I really wasn't interested in reading it a second time. Put it in a professional correspondence form, and I think the writer could have something.

Kristin Laughtin said...

What really jarred me was reading the first sentence about Billy, then realizing in the second sentence that Billy is not the protagonist. My amateur opinion is that the first line should be restructured as something like "Norm Lamppi had seen plenty of diapers at SunnySide Living--hell, he wore the damn things himself--but he had never seen anyone come down for pinochle pairing one with a three thousand dollar jacket."

@Angie: There's also no information about the novel, like word count, genre, whether it's complete, etc., in addition to the missing salutations and "I am seeking representation for..."

Lucy said...

This strikes me as a cross between a Humphrey Bogart detective movie and (as referenced) Grumpy Old Men. The tongue-in-cheek style runs in tune with older detective novels.

So, starting with Dear (insert agent's name here), add the rest of the trappings you need, including word count, genre, etc. I agree with Kristin Laughtin that it would help to keep the focus on your protagonist.

Normally, using comparisons in queries isn't advisable, as it can come back to bite you in the behind, but in this case, "My-title is what happens when X-title meets Y-title" may give an agent a better idea of where to place your work.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, although I agree with many of the comments so far, that I read this and thought I would read this book and probably pay to see the movie as well. It's rare for me to see a Workshop Wednesday or Query Shark entry that makes me want to see more. Flawed as it may be at this point, this one still worked for me.