245 sample queries later…

I just finished going through all of the Query Shark’s posts. I’m not sure why, I’m not really in the querying stage for any of my writing. But there’s something beautiful about schadenfreude, and about watching bad writing get torn to pieces. It’s addictive.

In this case it felt even better, because the Query Shark does it out of a sense of kindness – or, at least, purpose. People submit their queries and she critiques them so that we have the chance to learn how to sell that novel we’ve got in the wings. Because query writing is a lot different from novel writing, and far more complicated than I had considered before I read through all the archives.

One of the things she would often say when a query had been rewritten to her satisfaction was, “Now go back and apply what you’ve learned about writing to your novel. It won’t do any good to have a good query letter but a novel full of all these mistakes.” I’m paraphrasing, obviously, and I would suggest that anyone interested in publishing go read through those archives. Even if you don’t want an agent, and even if you plan to self-publish, there are some great writing tips in there.

One of the things that Query Shark suggests is the removal of excess words. This isn’t exactly new advice, but it’s a piece that’s easy to forget. My old creative writing teacher used to say, “Write prose as though you’re paying a dollar for every word you put down, and write poetry as though you’re paying five dollars for every word.” Despite this advice, my prose can be bloated and my novels are full of subplots that have nothing to do with the actual story.

The other piece of advice that stuck with me was the removal of gerunds. It can be easier to  write in that more passive tense, but it makes the writing less interesting. I have a tendency to use gerunds in my writing as well.

Just a warning: it can be a little depressing to read Query Shark. I, at least, felt inadequate when looking through the criticism. But there’s some encouragement in there as well, and a lot of people have written to the Shark thanking her for her harsh but needed words.

On with the writing! Perhaps one day I’ll send a query to her myself. But for now, I need to focus on Camp Nanowrimo. I’m bombing it this year, and not in the good way. Which is ridiculous, because in Camp Nanowrimo you set your own goals and can basically do whatever you want.


4 thoughts on “245 sample queries later…

  1. Lena Frank says:

    I’m bad about using a ton of gerunds too. The more I write though, the more minimalist I become. I’m kind of afraid my writing will turn into the style of Old Man and the Sea in a few years!

    I keep meaning to go through and read all the posts on Query Shark, but it gets depressing after a while. Much of her advice is repetitive too since so many folks make the same mistakes. It really is a great resource though. Guess I should just buckle down and go through it.

    Good luck with your writing! So far I’m ahead, but I didn’t plan out the entire story and I’ll probably hit a road block once my outline runs out.

    • forgingshadows says:

      It’s true, query shark can be depressing, especially when she’s criticizing someone’s style and I can recognize that I make the same mistakes. But that’s what helps us improve!

      It was actually interesting to start at post number 1 and work my way up. The way queries are submitted to the shark are way different now than they were at the beginning.

      Thank you for your comment. Good luck with Camp Nanowrimo!

  2. robinwinter says:

    Gerunds! Adjectives! Writing workshops… and by the way never use exclamation points..! I appreciate this post about resources so much. Writers never can afford to stop learning, and every so often the effort pays off. During last November’s Nanowrimo, a small press’ submissions editor put out a challenge to writers on Linked-in to submit a pitch that she’d critique. On impulse, I did so, with the pitch for my manuscript Future Past. Figured it was no skin off my back to try. Next thing I knew she asked for the first three chapters, which I sent as fast as my fingers would allow. Then she requested the full manuscript. A day and a half later I had a contract in my email. Talk about an odd way to go about publishing! And yes, I bombed last November’s Nanowrimo. In a bad way. But my point is that Query Shark, Linked-In challenges, all prep writers in excellent ways for getting work published. I read Forging Shadows’ posts — I love the way the sentences are written with attention and feeling, and I think I’ll be buying books by this author within two years on Amazon.

    • forgingshadows says:

      Wow…that’s quite a compliment. Thank you for your comment.

      I think you’ve touched on another very important thing here. Though the internet can be quite the distraction, it has allowed writers to improve and gain access to skills they might have been unable to afford otherwise. A lot of writers’ workshops sound amazing, but are expensive AND in another country (for me, anyway). Online critiques and lectures give us all the same opportunity for advancement.

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