The Anti-Query Contest


I’ve been query letter writing (in an effort to delay revisions as long as possible), and I’ve stumbled across some helpful resources: Elana Johnson did a terrific and motivating blog series; Nathan Bransford has lots of useful tips; and Query Shark isn’t afraid to tell you what agents really think.

I, however, am not an expert on query writing. I’m working on it. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know. So why am I posting on this topic? While fiddling with my query, I got side-tracked again and had heaps of fun writing the opposite of a good query: The Anti-Query. Behold…

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Dear Agent [I didn’t bother to look up your name so imagine your name here]:

A Ninja with a dark past, a tortured soul who has tortured many souls but not soles, because Ninjas don’t wear shoes, though sometimes they have those funny flats with the cloth bit that goes between the toes; I don’t know what it’s called, but you must know what I’m talking about, because everyone knows about Ninjas.
Then he goes riding real fast through the desert on a motorcycle (I don’t know how he got there, but I’ll work it out later) with zombies. Yeah, zombies! ‘Cause it’s cool. And he loves Megan Fox. He’s dating her. Well, he has her poster, which is like dating her, ’cause she’s there whenever he has sex. The book’s not written yet, but I expect it will be about 10 pages, maybe 12. The ninja’s name is Johnny or Bob or he might be a woman. Johnette? Bobette? I don’t know. I’m only halfway through the book–that’s SIX pages, which is lots of writing. There’s no robots in it though. Robots are stupid…unless they’re sexy robots. I haven’t worked out the ending, but he either gets the girl or a bigger poster.
BIO: I am a 50 year old professor of socio-economic anthropology at Harvard, so I know nothing about Ninjas, and I have never written fiction before, because it’s for stupid people, but I do have a poster of Megan Fox, and how hard can it be? I’ve attached all 6 pages to this email. I will stay online until you get back to me. Buy my book or burn in lakes of fire! I know where you live :[

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So…I’m pretty sure I know what NOT to do. Just so everyone else can have a bit of query writing fun and to celebrate my having almost 50 followers (wow! thanks guys!), I’ll make it a contest. Write the worst query you can and either leave a link to your blog post in comments or email me your entry to lorelclayton(at)hotmail(dot)com — one winner will receive a fabulous prize! It will be good, I promise.

Now, just to prove that my query writing skills really aren’t that awful, here’s what I have so far for my last manuscript (not the one I’m working on now). I don’t think it’s publishable, but I thought I could use it for practice…

Dear [well researched agent’s name here]:

Eva Thorne is a human refugee in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarfs. After the detective she tries to hire slams the door in her face, she is forced to investigate her brother’s murder on her own. She kicks off her high heels and delves into the muck of Highcrowne society in search of the killer. As a Thorne, she has a lot of muck to deal with. Her family has a sinister history and many enemies. What she discovers brings her up against a powerful slave-trading cartel, dark gods, and, worst of all, her twin sister.

Both her family and the elven authorities want her hushed. She has no money and no magic of her own with which to combat them, but she does have an illegally-freed slave, a senile nanny, and an ex-almost-boyfriend on her side. Even when she loses her job and almost loses her head in a sword fight on the same night, she isn’t deterred. It’s when the nanny goes missing that she really starts to worry.

“Tangle of Thornes” is an 80,000 word stand alone fantasy detective novel. The first five pages and a synopsis are included below this email. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

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Any suggestions for improving it will be welcomed with open arms and grateful cheek kisses (the sterile internet kind). And don’t forget to enter the contest!

Thanks for reading! More posts on books, film, and writing can be found on my website at Lorel Clayton Author.

15 thoughts on “The Anti-Query Contest

  1. I love this contest! My brain is too muddled right now…about to turn in. But your bad query was too funny! And I have a feeling that agents see plenty of those.

    I thought your good query WAS good. It read like back cover copy, which is always a good thing. 🙂 Second sentence I’d probably flip–do a: “When her brother is brutally murdered and the detective she tries hiring slams the door in her face, Eva is forced to investigate the crime herself.”

    You’ve done great with it!

    Elizabeth

  2. Ooooh…I love your suggestion for the second sentence, Elizabeth! I’ve never liked that one, and I’ve tried it lots of ways, but I think you’ve fixed it! Thanks!

  3. Laughed my butt off – and so did my husband – at your ninja query. Well done.

    Your other query has too much info, imo.

    Eva Thorne is a human refugee in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarfs. [this is interesting, but I think you need to jump into the more important fact that her brother is murdered and she’s investigating. Why not combine the facts?]

    When Eva Thorne’s brother is discovered dead in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarves, Eva must investigate.

    [Your next several sentences are filler and can be cut. Again, this is my opinion.] Consider cutting straight to:

    What she discovers brings her up against a powerful slave-trading cartel, dark gods, and, worst of all, her twin sister.

    Both her family and the elven authorities want her hushed. She has no money and no magic of her own with which to combat them, but she does have an illegally-freed slave, a senile nanny, and an ex-almost-boyfriend on her side. Even when she loses her job and almost loses her head in a sword fight on the same night, she isn’t deterred. It’s when the nanny goes missing that she really starts to worry.

    I LOVE the humor in this last paragraph and if you can fit some it into the first sentence WITHOUT losing the direct, straight to the action quality you want in a query, GREAT.

    Just my .02. Good luck!

  4. Mason– Thanks so much! I’m glad you laughed 🙂

    Victoria– Your suggestions are so helpful I could kiss your feet! It feels like someone has given me the answer to a math problem I’ve been struggling with for days, except queries are harder than math.
    btw I’m glad you and your husband had a good laugh! I have to give credit to my own husband–he thought up the best bits, like Megan Fox 🙂

  5. Hey! Just found your blog and love it!

    I just went through the query fiasco last week and am hopefully almost done with it. I loved your bad query. Your real query is very good. The only thing I’d suggest, based off what I’ve read, is to make the first paragraph a bit shorter…making it just centered around the “hook”/ juicy action and using the second paragraph to dive a little deeper into the story. Maybe a good starting line could be, “After Eva Thorne’s brother is murdered in a city of x and y, she is forced to kick off her high heels and…”

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