Monday, October 4, 2010

Swearing in Your Query

As promised, I’m going to post my new query for FOSSEGRIM, after Matt Rush was kind enough to post it up last week for a three day critiquing session.  I got TONS of fabulous feedback, the key points being:

1.        1.  Your query should encompass the voice of your character and the tone of the story as much as possible.

2.       2.  The ‘hook’ should be within the first paragraph and offered in a way that really grabs the agent’s attention.

3.        3.There’s no need to be too specific.  Make sure you have your main conflict and the consequences if your MC doesn’t reach his/her goal.  (what’s at stake)

4.        4. Finally, the ending paragraph should be short and sweet and give very little information about the writer unless you have credentials.

You can see the original query letter here.  I’ve posted the new and improved version below followed by a question ...

*     *     *
Dear (specified agent)


Teen delinquent Sage Reynolds has been looking forward to his eighteenth birthday ever since he was dropped into ‘the system’.   Now, just six months away from freedom, his foster parents are sending him away to military school after one (okay, maybe two) run-ins with the law.  Sage was pretty sure he’d covered all his bases in the ‘screwed department'…that is, until he woke up on the bottom of the ocean with a freaking fish tail.


In this 70,000 word YA urban fantasy, Sage deals with the realities of turning ‘Fossegrim’- a mermaid race living off an enchanted island in the North Sea.  Truth is, Sage never asked to sprout a man-tail and shoot through the waves like a Disney character on ‘roids.  He’d do anything to get his old imperfect life back.  His one chance at becoming human again lies with the Fossegrim mermaid who threw the changing stone down on human land seventy years ago.  If Sage can find her and convince her to go back to the ocean, he can reclaim his humanity.  If he doesn’t, he’ll have to give up everything he loves and resign himself to life as a sushi-eating Fossefreak.


In addition to novels, I also write articles about publishing, the craft of writing, and the querying process which are featured on my blog- Creepy Query Girl. I am twenty eight years old, a married mother of three, and have been residing in France for the last six years.


I have included the first chapter below and the complete manuscript of FOSSEGRIM is available upon request.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
*     *     *

*CQG*

Now, I’ve tried rewriting the ‘screwed’ line a few times to tone it down.  The reason I put it in to begin with is because it’s very much a tone and language that Sage, the MC, would use.  But I’m wondering if it’s too harsh and might deter some agent’s interest in the story?  I've read about some agents accepting querries with far worse language, so it could be a matter of taste.

What do YOU think?  Keep the ‘screwed’?  Or screw the ‘screwed’?

47 comments:

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Considering this is YA, the screwed might come across as too crass. It'd be perfectly fine for an adult fiction query, but I'm not so sure about a YA one.

But like you said, it could just be a matter of taste, too.

Emily White said...

Saying screwed in a query is perfectly fine, IMHO. I've seen very successful YA queries that had "ass" in them. As long as you're not going bleepidy-bleep-bleep! every other word, and it reflects the voice, it should be fine. Yes, this is a business letter, but an agent also wants to know what kind of style he/she should expect in the actual writing.

That being said, your query is awesome! However, you have a semicolon in the last line of your bio where I think you mean to have a comma.

Great job!

Creepy Query Girl said...

woops, thanks Emily! lol

Creepy Query Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzi McGowen said...

I think this query is great! I also think that "screwed" is perfectly fine in this query. (It might be different if you were aiming at ten year olds.)

Have you read Query Shark's blog at all? Her basic premise is you only have 250 words for a query letter. Make them count. That means she's pretty brutal about not including personal stuff in your query unless it adds to why you are the person to write this story.

(I'm not convinced that your age, where you live, or how many children you have should be included in the query letter.)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

No definitely keep it in. It's perfect for Sage's voice. If the agent doesn't like it, then the book's definitely not for him. Though seriously, the agent is an idiot for not requesting at least a partial. ;)

LOVE the new query. Though you should cut the stuff about your age and family out. Agents don't want that in there. It's not relevant to your story or to your ability as a writer (which is seriously rocking).

Melissa Gill said...

Oh man, is screwed a curse word? I have such a potty mouth.

I would leave it in. Part of the reson for giving a sense of you voice in your query is to let the potential agent know what they're getting. If for some reason they're offended by the word screwed, it's not going to get any better if you leave it out of your query and then it shows up all over your manuscript.

If you never use that word, or any others like it in you MS, then take it out. But I get the sense thats not the case.

Melissa Gill said...

Sorry, I forgot to add that I love your new query. Very tight! Also I agree with Stina, the only personal stuff I would include might be that you're an American expatriot living in France. That would be relevant because obviously your address is in France and the agent is going to be curious how the voice of an American teen is going to come out of someone from France.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm liking the new query. Like others, I think the screwed line is just fine. After all, your query should reflect your manuscript. If that's how Sage would talk, leave it in.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Love the new query.

Oh, and IMO I'd keep the screwed in since it's part of the voice. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

I like your new query.

I don't mind screwed. But then, my query has badass.

Anne said...

I'm liking this query! (I think screwed is 100% okay.)

I am wondering if it's necessary to add the quotes around 'the system'. I think it's a common phrase that means just what it says.

Also, quick question for my own curiosity: Do you refer to all the merpeople as mermaids throughout your story or just the females?

Laura Pauling said...

Def. keep the screwed. I don't even consider that a swear word. I agree with the other in deleting the personal stuff. But really, that's up to you. I think if an agent likes your premise it won't keep them requesting.

But, I think there might be too much set up in the first paragraph. Maybe shorten it, combine the first two sentences, and get to your hook faster.

Can't wait to see how this does when you send it out into the world!

Shannon said...

Go with your gut. I took out "pissed" and replaced it with "furious" but in the end I don't think it made a major difference. The hook is what brings them in and makes them want ot read more. If the hook is great (which yours is!) then a single word shouldn't blow it. My opinion only. :)

Stephen Tremp said...

I'd lose the screwed. Makes it sound like he's pawning himself off as a victim rather than taking resposnibility for his life. Other than that, I really like it.

Stephen Tremp

Talli Roland said...

Wow, mixed bag of responses! I love the concept of your story and I think the query is good! I'd leave the 'screwed' in - I don't think it's too strong!

Clara said...

I think you should write your query with your narrating voice. If you say screwed on your book, as a narrator, then use it. If not, Id change it.

Also, Id cut some of the personal info, since it doesnt relate to your writting per se. I'd just keep the blog info.

LTM said...

Keep it! That is a KICK ASS query--send it immediately! a'hem... I mean, as soon as revisions are through.

You've captured your MC's personality and my interest is totally piqued. I'm so buying this book... ;p

Old Kitty said...

I think because you put "screwed" in quotations (ok, single quotations) you do the clever thing by distancing yourself and getting Sage to do the talking. I think it works - personally speaking!

This is a really good query - GOOD LUCK!!

Take care
x

Slamdunk said...

Excellent CQG--this shows off your work well.

I think "screwed" 20 years ago might have been a problem, but it has become mainstream and I don't think it offers a problem.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Keep it! I'm thinking Sage would use another, more colorful word...but this heads us in the right diection for his attitude.

Saumya said...

I like it!! Like you said, it conveys the tone and I think it will set this query apart from others.

Jen Daiker said...

This is a novel I'd love to get my hands on! I love it!! Sage's personality is spilled all over the pages! I can feel his voice and it's brilliant!

I think you have a very BIG WINNER here! I can't wait to actually read it!!!! Let's get the query party started!

Jen Daiker said...

PS - I think screwed is fine... because, well, he is!

Nicole L Rivera said...

Can I just say... LOVE IT! Don't change "screwed", it is so teeny and true to the character. Go with it.

If I were an agent I'd totally request a proposal ASAP. This totally reminds me of the Percy Jackson series and who wouldn't want a repeat of that success?

Blessings,
Nicole

salarsenッ said...

Hmmm...for me, using the phrase sets a tone. I like it. Nice revision, girl.

Colene Murphy said...

Keep it! I may be partial to "screwed" in general but, really, I think it fits wonderfully. It sounds just like a teen thing to say. I mean, you didn't say the "F word" ya know?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Much better! And leave the 'screwed.' it fits.

The first paragraph of the synopsis has the word 'away' twice in the second line - maybe drop the one before military school?

Nicole Zoltack said...

Wow, really like this version. And keep the screwed. Anything that leans voice to your query is always a plus.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I have no problem with screwed. I never even considered it a "bad" word until someone commented on it not being appropriate for my MG novel. Just goes to show, it's all relative!

Dominique said...

Speaking as someone who comes in contact with teens on a very regular basis, 'screwed' is not too harsh. My old HS wouldn't let you curse on stage at all, and we got away with 'screwed' several times in a play, so I don't think most people will have a problem with it.

And it's important to give an agent a fair representation of what the language in the book is like. If they don't think it's appropriate in the book, they'll feel that way looking at a query or an MS, so a query's not too soon to put that forward.

Melissa said...

I have no idea how you made this so much better than the original. This query is amazing. Short, full of voice and exciting!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Keep the screwed- it conveys the character without actually writing the query from the character's point of view. This version is AMAZING, I love it! Your old version was great too, but this is incredible. :) Way to go!

Travis Erwin said...

I say keep it. Stay true to the voice.

Katherine C said...

Keep it. I'm surprised anybody considers "screwed" a bad word anymore. Even my old youth pastor used to say it.

At any rate, the word fits the voice. You could use a stronger word and get away with it too, if the word fit the voice.

Jacee Drake said...

The query gives the agent a hint at your voice, the tone of your characters and story. If "screwed" is in the story and/or something your MC would say then by all means it should be in there. It is a YA, not a middle school, novel, after all. I actually love the tone of the character and how he doesn't want to be a "sushi-eating Fossefreak".

All that makes your voice and characters unique.

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss katie! wow looks like screwed is the winner. it get my vote too cause i like what i call grab words that catch your attention and that one doew. this sounds like a really neat book. im part fish so you just know im gonna love it.
...hugs from lenny

Shannon said...

I think the screwed is okay. I really like the direction the query has taken! Really good job k-k-katie (I do that every time I see your name. If you don't know the reference, rent "The Way We Were"). =)

Kelly Dexter said...

Keep it! That one little word gives us a great sense of Sage's voice. The query is looking awesome, congrats!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

As I mentioned in one of my many emails to you today (while I was supposed to be working, lol), I think you should keep "screwed" and get rid of "covered all his bases" because screwed is a metaphor and covered his bases is another -- so they're mixed. Agents for YA lit won't mind "screwed." But the other phrase doesn't quite fit with it.

Carolyn V. said...

I agree with the comments that mention the voice. If you would say screwed in the book, then go with it!

Amanda Sablan said...

I don't see what's wrong with "screwed." It is crass, I suppose, but it could be much worse. It's not as if teens don't talk this way!

Overall a great query! Very funny.

Samantha Vérant said...

Freaking keep the screwed, damn it. And good luck! Let us know what happens.

Jessica Bell said...

I'd keep it. In my neck of the woods it isn't even considered a swear word. Since when is 'screwed' a swear word? To screw, as in to fuck someone, sure. But used in this sense means everything is messed up. I don't think it's crass at all.

Christina Lee said...

This looks perfect now (I would kep screwed or say "screwed-up"). Good luck with querying!

Hart Johnson said...

Looks like a great tale, and I LIKE screwed--it fits the tone. Another option might be something like S.O.L. which STANDS for 'shit outa luck' but avoids actually SAYING it.

My only feedback would be to cut down your bio piece--age and parenting they DON'T want and they only want blog info if you have a bizillion followers or hits, like could say "my blog has 50,000 followers and has had more than a million hits" or else if you get one of the Writer's Digest awards or something.

Erin Kane Spock said...

Keep 'screwed.' I mean, it's your character's voice. He's an angsty, pissed off teen. In fact, he might even drop the f-bomb, I don't know. Of course, I would avoid the f-bomb in a query. Then again, what do I know? If I knew what I was talking about, I would have an agent by now.

BTW, a publisher recommended I join a specific writing group and get a web presence, so I imagine that an agent would want to know about that stuff.

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