We know some of you think we are making up the terribleness of many of the queries we receive, and we are in fact a hateful and high-fullutent person, lolling about with our dogeared copy of Swann's Way (en français, naturellement!) and looking down our nose at the toiling masses whilst extolling leftist-elitist tripe! Well, that last part is true (okay, not in French. The Lydia Davis translation)! BUT THE QUERIES ARE STILL TERRIBLE. And, after racking our little brain for a comparable experience we could force you to undergo, so as to truly have some understanding of what our working life is like, we realized: reading queries is a lot like reading online personal ads. Like, A LOT. So try this little thought-experiment: go to, say, Craigslist New York. Scroll through the "men seeking women" section (IT'S FOR RESEARCH). Now imagine ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE ARE WRITING NOVELS. Seriously, all of those people ARE probably writing novels, which is fine, and we are happy for them, but DO YOU WANT TO READ THEIR QUERIES? No, you do not. To fully illustrate our point, we present to you a number of examples, selected from real live online profiles from a variety of dating websites. THE THINGS WE DO FOR YOU PEOPLE.
NOTE: We tried really, really hard to be gender- and orientation-neutral in our selection, but the particularly insane profiles were all heterosexual men ("Obviously," says our Support Team). Make of that what you will.
1. The Hostile Query. "Am I that repulsive or am I cursed? being nocturnal has its disadvantages but this is ridiculous! I've been on this site for over a year and the only contacts I've gotten is 2 scam messages!" Would you go on a date with this person? No. So why would you note that your query has been rejected 234 times? Or tell us how much you hate agents? Or let us know that publishing is a sinking ship helmed by effete commies? Hmm? You see where we are going with this?
2. The Snoozefest Query. "I am a very caring and compassionate person. I enjoy reading, writing, traveling, music, good food and quality conversation." OH SORRY WHAT WAS THAT WE FELL ASLEEP. In all likelihood, is this a very nice person, who would doubtless be a very charming date? Yes. Are you ever going to find out? No. This is like saying, "My book is thoughtful and well-written," or "I have spent many years learning the craft of writing." TELL US SOMETHING WE DON'T ALREADY KNOW, PEOPLE!
3. The Query Letter Written From the POV of Your Novel's Protagonist. "Hulk have needs! Hulk have feelings! Hulk wonder if love exists or if love just a delusion Hulk driven to embrace rather than suffer the utter loneliness of life! Hulk not like other guys, Hulk sensitive, warm, nurturing and protective. Anybody fuck with Hulk's woman and Hulk smash them like bug!" You see now why that doesn't work?
4. The WTF Query. "im looking for awomen for ltr relatioship,im single independent person looking for a nice women.im looking for areal women any race,any religion any cast.important good humanbeing,imalso amatured well established person,im very caring loyal person &i also need a loyal&honest women.im not say im a beautifull person,but i have a charming personality im good looking&handsum guy" You think we are exaggerating when we say we have received queries that read exactly like this. We are not.
5. The Asshat Query. "Some notes on how I search the women on this site: 1. I look at pictures. If there are none that show the person, I move on. 2. If they look good, I look at: Height, age, smokes and drinks. Answers of 5'3-5'8, 18-25, no (etc) and yes (etc), in that order, earn a favorite. 3. I then read the article. Ones I am interested in I will try to find using sleuthing skills." Yeah. Kind of like those queries from the next Nabokov, "Hemmingway," and/or Melville, whose work will shortly be adapted by Spielberg for the big screen. Don't call us; we'll call you, tiger.
6. THE WINNER: "I'm a good, game lass with a big ticker and an even bigger bullshit detector. I like to ride that fine line that is so right, between the fucked-up avant-garde and the really low-brow un-mentionables of life. I'm a word nerd with a penchant for philosophy. I like tricksters, that Joseph Campbell concept of folks or creatures that stir things up purely for the purpose of unveiling the truth and causing a little mischief, and I like to believe I have a bit of this in me. My bark is as bad as my bite, but if I care for you, you are forever golden in my eyes and I will treat you like the heavenly creature that you are. I am fearless when it comes to love and life, and I don't take kindly to those who aren't of the same mind set." Once you've winnowed out the nutballs, dating, like requesting fulls, is a subjective business. Maybe you hate Joseph Campbell with an abiding passion, and would instantly rule out this young lady, regardless of how nice she sounded otherwise. Maybe an agent only reps spy novels, and will ruthlessly send your ms to the shredder even if you actually ARE the next Nabokov. Whatever. This paragraph tells us so much about this person, her interests, what makes her tick; it is lively; it is compelling; it contains charm. Think of your query like this: you are selling us not only your fabulous gem of a book, but that package of delights that is YOU. What stands out is not hyperbole, weird gimmicks, or unwanted gifts; what stands out is a hefty dose of wit and a voice that is utterly yours.