Wednesday, November 09, 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.

Dear Ms. Faust,

Prepare to give audience to the amazingly dim-witted account of one girl’s misadventures. Readers of all ages can identify with my heartwarming tales of pushing my sister down a steep cobblestone hill in a wheelchair, having my head rolled up in a car window, wanting to stab my boss in the face with a Samurai sword, my traitorous ovaries launching Jihad against me, and having to listen to my parents have sex in our shared motel room because they thought I was asleep.

I'm not too keen on this opening paragraph. It sounds a little like the circus ringmaster calling the audience into the show. In other words, it sounds a little forced.

Humor is a tough thing, which is why comedians are some of the most respected professionals in my eye; what one finds funny others will not. I'm afraid I didn't connect with the "heartwarming tales" that sounded less than heartwarming. I get after reading on that you're trying to be funny, but for me it didn't work. Others might disagree.

“Ray of F***ing Sunshine” is a collection of humorous non-fiction essays that comes in at 60,000 words. Authors of similar works doing well in today's market are Chelsea Handler, Jill Connor Browne, and Laurie Notaro. I feel that in today’s world of crashed economies and ADHD, my book would be welcomed for the brevity of the stories as well as the laugh factor. To break up the monotony of hilarity, I’ve also included pieces that shed light on my struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a violent robbery. This disorder is becoming better known but there are very few personal accounts of how it affects the victim.

I like your title. I think that's actually very striking. What I don't get from your first paragraph is how the title connects with the stories. Do you have a humorously bitter take on these stories? I didn't get that.

Since Chelsea Handler's success in publishing I get a lot of queries from people comparing themselves to her. The problem is that Chelsea Handler was a celebrity in her own right well before she ever put pen to paper. The comparison doesn't work. I'm also completely thrown by the PTSD tie-in. I'm not sure how that connects or will work.

I have worked at and maintained a headlining blog for a major Gannet publication, the Asheville Citizen-Times, home of Pulitzer nominated writer Susan Reinhardt. This blog lives on today on my personal page, being pushed on by a band of loyal followers, famous and otherwise. When I’m not embroiled in a passionate affair with a back massager named Burt, a 64 pack of Crayola crayons with built-in sharpener, and a Cinderella coloring book, I am working on a novel that draws off of the experiences detailed in “Ray of F***ing Sunshine”.

This is a fun bio and works for me.

Thanks in advance,



Anonymous said...

No one likes to be told that something funny is funny. We want to decide that for ourselves.

As Jessica says, remove all of this: "Prepare to give audience to the amazingly dim-witted account of one girl’s misadventures. Readers of all ages can identify with my heartwarming tales."

Now just summarize each of your funniest tales. One tale per sentence. Add transitions like, "As a child . . ." And maybe drop the wheelchair thing, especially as your lead. It doesn't set the tone the way you think. You're funniest when you're the victim, not the perp.

Anonymous Author said...

I agree with anonymous.

The wheelchair thing is off-putting. Several of the other examples didn't really work for me either. The ovaries jihad and the parents having sex just sounds TMI-y, and wanting to stab the boss probably isn't that unusual. It'd be more interesting to hear what the boss did to draw your ire.

About the ADHD thing-- well, I have it, and I enjoy reading long books and also writing them. So perhaps drop that. You don't want to sell your stories on the grounds that they don't take very long to read, anyway.

Try to refocus this whole thing. Who did you write these stories for? What's the overall point or message that holds them all together?

(These are questions not to answer in the query, but to think about before you re-write the query.)

Scooter Carlyle said...

I like what Anonymous at 8:39 said, except I don't care for the opening lines.

There are some genuinely funny lines in the query, mostly in the bio. I think the thing that makes it fall a little flat is the author is telling, not showing why her book is so funny.

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Anonymous said...

My problem with this query is that the experiences in the opening paragraph don't sound that unique, especially the last three-- "wanting to stab my boss in the face with a Samurai sword, my traitorous ovaries launching Jihad against me, and having to listen to my parents have sex in our shared motel room because they thought I was asleep." Some of it may just be because they aren't very specific (is the boss extraordinarily bad, somehow? Did her ovaries land her in a hospital?) and I may be biased, since I got my hand shut in a car door (and was apologetically taken to the hospital for it by my dad) and have too-vigorously pushed siblings in strollers. But I just can't see myself really wanting to read this book as described. The experiences common and the humor good but not extraordinary... I think I might enjoy the first five to twenty pages and then put it down. I would be interested in a darkly comic or bitterly comic book about PTSD... or really any book about PTSD. Just my two cents.

Anon. 3

Josie said...

Trying to be funny is the surest way to fail at humor. Trying TOO HARD to be funny will make you fail faster.

The essays themselves may be hilarious, but the presentation as you have it here is not. Your tone's off.

Start with your opening and take a hard look at it. Rather than humorous, it's coming of as a knee-jerk rant spawned from reading another writer's recount of their own childhood. It's like you sat down, thinking "I'll show them lousy!" (akin to the movie director who constantly shouts "BIGGER!" after every take on an explosion scene.)

It feels forced and disingenuous. said...

Good job

Anonymous said...

As a proud member of the Anonymous club (dibs on #4), here's a persnickety point. I'm not sure you want to say it's a "dim-witted account of one girl's misadventures." It might be more precise to say it's an account of one "dimwitted girl's misadventures." That way, the author/narrator is sharp and funny, poking fun at her younger, dimwitted self.

Kristan said...

I too love the title and would probably pick up the book to read the back cover and first few pages based on that alone.

But I agree with a lot of the feedback: that the opening feels forced; that brevity shouldn't be used as a selling point (even if it *might* be one); that telling me something is funny automatically makes it less funny.

The bio is one of your strongest paragraphs. Take a look at what is working there and extend that into the rest.

I think it's okay -- appealing, in fact -- to have some "common," identifiable examples among your stories. But then you should contrast that with some unique ones -- show us why we want to read THIS book rather than Chelsea Handler's or anyone else's.

Also, I'd like to get a better sense of YOU right from the start. Maybe that's part of what's making other commenters feel that this is too generic right now. I don't know how old you are, what your family is like, what your cultural background is, etc. Painting that picture would give me something -- someone -- to connect to, and thus make me more invested in their (your) stories.

Great start, now it's time to sharpen! You've obviously got talent, so I'm sure you can knock this out of the park.

Unknown said...

I really liked the bio and the title. However, as I feel the query shark would say, too much telling, not enough showing!

I don't want to be told it's funny, show me it's funny. Give us a glimpse of your humorous writing style.

That's how you'll win Query Wars

Lucy said...

Since these are personal stories, one thing I advise you to do--particularly as it pertains to a query letter--is to step back and put your editorial hardhat on.

There are three people involved here: you the writer, you the editor, and you the main character. As the editor, you need to take a good hard look at that main character and make sure she's someone who is sympathetic to readers. What's funny from your perspective is not necessarily so from ours, because we don't know you and don't have a reason to take an interest in you or (ouch) sympathize. You're going to have to make yourself a sympathetic character/narrator in the same way that you'd use to craft one in a novel.

Remember, very few experiences are unique. Whether or not you sell will depend on your writer's voice (which as others have said, we need to see here), and whether you can persuade a reader that he or she actually wants to spend two hours with you and pay money for the privilege.

Julie Nilson said...

That title is a Work of F*****g Genius, and I would definitely take a look at this book based on that. But not on this query. The query needs to show more of the smartassery promised by that title, the bio, and the comparison to Chelsea Handler.

Good luck with this, because I think I would dig this book.

Michael Seese said...

Am I missing something? What is the point of mentioning that you work at a place where someone else was nominated for a Pulitzer?

Anonymous said...

I didn't even realise the query was meant to be funny. I don't quite follow the first paragraph. What's the point? What is the conflict? Why should I even read it? It's not even remotely interesting.

I expected the second paragraph to elaborate on the book. That can't be it right? That's not enough to induce me to read. Sorry.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

The problem is that Chelsea Handler was a celebrity in her own right well before she ever put pen to paper.

...and quite frankly, isn't all that funny.

I do like the title.

Unknown said...

You should start the query with something funny happening. I write humor too and it isn't easy to portray in a query.