Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, January 25, 2010

Think About What Everyone Else Would Do: Then Do Something Different

I am back! A round of digital applause for the intrepid guest bloggers last week for keeping us all entertained, informed, and uplifted. A fine job all around.

While I was away I was chatting with a friend who reads grants for a living, a job that bears some striking resemblance to query letter answering. And if you happen to be thinking about writing a grant at this very moment, I have a piece of advice for you: don't quote Gandhi.

Why?

Apparently everyone who applies for a grant quotes Gandhi! And while Gandhi is no doubt eminently quotable and no one will argue with his very uplifting and memorable sayings, reading Gandhi quote after Gandhi quote will steadily drive even the nicest grant reader insane.

Her experience struck a chord with me having judged two contests and having answered a deluge of queries, and it gets at something really basic. If you want to stand out, think for a second about what you think everyone would do: the joke everyone would make in a query, the approach everyone would take in a writing prompt, the pacifist leader that everyone might quote in a grant. Then do something different.

I know this isn't the most earth-shattering advice in the world (it may not even be porcelain shattering), but just stepping back and thinking about what you're about to write from a "what would everyone do" standpoint can save you from doing that very same thing. And trust me: when writing a query or entering a contest or writing a grant it pays to stand out from the crowd.






79 comments:

Sheila said...

I have a feeling that the people you are talking about DO think they are being original. Like the guy who walks up to Robin Williams and says, "Na-Nu, Na-Nu" (dating myself here) - he doesn't know that thousands have done it before him.

So I think the advice here should be - re-think your first idea. Is it as original as you thought it was?

E McD said...

Is it rude to confess I missed you last week? Don't ever leave us again! (They were very nice blogs and very informative, though. No disrespect, of course.)

Elisabeth Black said...

What about just like... not making a joke?

Natalie Whipple said...

I think sometimes you have to know what people are doing to be different, too. When I was a greenie in query land, I honestly thought my statement of "I've written since I was a child" WAS original.

With research came the mortifying realization that I'd made a very newbie mistake.

You can't go against the grain unless you know what the grain is.

Susan Quinn said...

The things that I think are obvious to everyone sometimes are, and sometimes everyone thinks I've lost my mind. I guess that's when I'm being original.

It's a fine line - and I'm pretty sure I don't want the agents I query to think I've lost my mind. Unless it's in a good way.

Ok, now I'm totally confused.

Nathan Bransford said...

susan-

It is a fine line, and I hope the takeaway from this (very quickly written) post isn't that you HAVE to be super different. The drive to be different is what leads people to do things like send their queries in care packages that freak out an agent.

I feel like there's something to this, even if I didn't have the time today to really bore into precisely what that something is.

Suzannah said...

I totally agree with Sheila. No matter what we write, there's a tendency to think we've stumbled upon some unique perspective or original idea. Unfortunately, it's almost always been done before--sometimes innumerable times.

I have to laugh sometimes when I read through blog comments and find person after person making the same obvious joke, as if no one else has already thought to write it. A simple skim-through would prevent that.

Same with writing. Sometimes knowing what's already out there only comes with experience.

Marilyn Peake said...

Great advice. I’m already doing this. I think outside of the box a great deal of the time, and especially when writing. My new science fiction novel has a unique futuristic world. I'm very excited about it, especially after my brainstorming session with Alan Rinzler. We’ll see what happens, but I’m looking forward to editing the first draft of my manuscript. I read across many genres, but don’t want to write a book similar to what’s already been done. I think that would be kind of boring.

Other Lisa said...

My favorite quote involving Gandhi, from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER:

BUFFY (to evil Demon Guy): Hey, Ken, wanna see my impression of Gandhi?

(crushes his skull with a club)

Lily: Gandhi?

BUFFY: Well, you know, if he was really pissed off.

Madison said...

Nathan, since you mentioned your contests in this post, I figured I'd mention that you inspired us over at AQ Connect to do a first para contest. We're in the midst of voting right now and it has turned out great! Now, we're thinking about turning the "First Paragraph" contest into a "First Page" contest. Thanks for the inspiration!

Marilyn Peake said...

I agree with Natalie Whipple. With the thousands of emails arriving in agents’ inboxes, there’s absolutely no way that writers can know how many queries of each type arrive in an agent’s inbox, especially since that can change every day. On an overwhelming day, I imagine a query from a newbie writer about a brand new book as good as Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD would make an agent’s eyes glaze over. Another post-apocalyptic novel? YAWN. How original. A writer who can’t even be bothered to use apostrophes most of the time? Automatic rejection.. I think it’s up to the writer to write as good a book as possible and just keep searching until they click with an agent on a good day. :)

Dawn Maria said...

Welcome back Nathan and thank you to the guest bloggers- you were great!

Nathan Bransford said...

Marilyn-

Yeah, I agree it's more difficult since people can't see queries, but at the same time I'd bet most people could guess some of the most common things people joke about or do/say. I think the most important thing is just to stop every now and then and say, "Wait, is this what everyone would do?"

Anonymous said...

I think it is a great thing to remind people of. Think twice. I should have taken it before posting my first comment, which came off critical, sorry.

You get one chance. Don't rush it. Another mistake I've often made.

Sheila

Susan Quinn said...

I think I'm going to stick with being professional and let my originality shine through in the synopsis of my story.

And not send cheese.

And as Marilyn says, keep trying.

Livia said...

Okay, this factoid may seem completely off topic, but bear me.

Did you know that the first toilet stall in the bathroom is often the one with the least bacteria? I think this is because everybody thinks that most people go to the first stall, so they go to the second or third stall to get a cleaner one.

My point is, sometimes it's not obvious what's unique, because many people may arrive at the same "unique" idea at the same time due to the cultural zeitgeit, alien brainwaves, or some other factor. I think this is partly why alot of discoveries happen independently at nearly the same time -- the discovery of calculus by Newton and ..uh, Leibnitz, was it? (my history of math is bad...) It happens alot to me in my research too, when I think I have this *brilliant* idea and realize somebody else just did it.

I don't know what the moral of the story is, or how to remedy this. Perhaps just to be well read in your field.

Another moral is that you can learn alot from public bathrooms. Another moral tale can be found here

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan,

I understand that completely. But queries are a tricky thing in today’s world with so many writers and books. Say a writer has a really unique idea and isn't saying or joking about the same thing as other writers. They want to get that across in a query letter. But there are so many restrictions on query letters: keep them extremely short, concentrate on character and plot, don't concentrate primarily on thematic ideas, for example. Lots of writers freeze up and edit out all the really interesting stuff. Worse yet, and thank God this has never happened to me, some writers discover agents (not you) making fun of their query letters on Twitter. It’s not a great environment for writers to craft an out-of-the-box query letter. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but chances are in many cases it’s going to take a very long time to find an agent for a book that is truly different.

Triffany said...

I feel like the best thing to do is just be genuine. The harder we try to stand out or impress someone, the more disingenuous we seem.

Maybe, if you're a total goofball (or staunch or "insert adjective here") the first agent may not really get you or your book, but the the one who does will be the one that will best represent your work.

Rick Daley said...

I saw an interview with Christopher Walken once and he said that when he is rehearsing his dialogue, he will often think of how he would react to a situation or phrase personally, and then have his character do the opposite, e.g. if he would get angry, he would make his character laugh.

Of course, this works best if his initial reaction is the same as everybody else's. Otherwise he would forsake his unique reaction for sake of conformity.

I just made my brain hurt. Must stop now.

Genella deGrey said...

And remember, they'd probably look down on quoting Yoda, too.
LOL
G.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Maybe a clarification is: think about your genre. How many times have you heard of your idea and in what ways is your plot different? If it's not a terribly original plot, are you clear on what you've done to be different?

As far as queries go, I just listed a job position for my company on Craiglist and was amazed at how many respondees used the same words. Excellent, unique, perfect fit, driven, proven. Blughh! Not everyone can be unique and excellent. Use different words in your query and don't fall back on standards. I think when people get too hopeful or unsure about themselves, they tend to fall back on standard words.

The Pollinatrix said...

Well, I'm a professional grant writer and the idea of quoting Gandhi seems pretty goofy.

However, I did just quote Obama in the grant I'm working on right now.

Come to think of it, the only time I've quoted Gandhi is in a blog post I did on violence and compassion: "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." That might not be such a great quote for a grant. Unless it was for a martial arts organization, maybe.

J.J. Bennett said...

I've applied for a few grants this year. So far, the ones I've applied for we've received. I'm going to take this as a positive. After reading this post and understanding I never quoted any famous person I'd say maybe...just maybe I might have a chance at this.

All Adither said...

And, please. No more Conan O'Brien quotes on Facebook. :)

Micahel said...

What great advice. And it conforms with your topic perfectly. That's not the kind of advice everyone would offer. Very creative. In fact, I'd like to quote you on my blog (we'll be talking about queries this week, with a contest). Obvioulsy, I'll give credit. (There's already a link.)

Scott said...

Well said, Nathan. The query is pretty much the last page in your book, so time to stop being creative until it's completed.

Emily White said...

I'm just wondering what Gandhi and grants have to do with each other.

T. Anne said...

I remember thinking it was ingenious to start a query with a rhetorical question. You quickly pointed out the folly of my ways.

I find it best to just be me, and throw in the tone of the work I'm querying. Welcome back Nathan.

Bryan D said...

I actually write grants for a living, and I must confess that including a Ghandi quote in a proposal has never even crossed my mind...but I get your point.

Grant writing and book writing don't share much in common other than the tools of language, but you hint at an important similarity in your post.

In most cases foundations and other organizations that award grants are looking to fund innovative proposals--those that promise a fresh or novel approach to solving a particular problem. But if a proposal is too far outside the mainstream, it's too risky and therefore unlikely to attract funding. In the same way, an author who wants to be published needs to be innovative enough that the story doesn't seem too familiar or stale but mainstream enough that it doesn't scare away the publisher (or agent) who has to sell it.

On the other hand, a query is very much like a grant proposal. If you don't include the essential information and fail to hook the reader, you don't stand a chance.

anne vinsel said...

kinda tough to do anything very different here, since i can't drop and drag a photo into this space!

sometimes the constraints of the format prevent originality. for example, many medical journals have a limit on the percentage of acreage photos can take up, how's that for stifling? and a claymation video of a surgical procedure is out of the question, although it shouldn't be.

about Ghandi, would it be original to mention that he let his wife die of pneumonia rather than accept the british offer of (then new and rare) antibiotics? and that this got him elevated in Kohlberg's system of morality to the highest level?

Krista Rausin said...

.eno tcerroc eht esoohc ot erus eB . tnereffid dab s'ereht dna tne reffid doog s'erehT

That's why I don't dot my i's with a smiley face. I use them at the end of a sentence:)

Brandon said...

It seems like a matter of risk vs. reward to me. The daring of the original weighed against the safety of the tried-and-true. Sad to say that at this point in my own writing development and confidence, I’m more likely to just tweak the latter and hope it gets me at least partial request. “Creep my way” into an agent’s heart, rather than being an obvious showstopper. Perhaps someday, I’ll be more willing and able to try my hand at a more unique query approach.

BTW, Other Lisa, your Buffy quote was awesome! I remember the season 3 premiere with such fondness…

Kaitlyne said...

Great advice, though my fear is that I don't guess well about what everyone else is doing. In working on my story it tends to stand out a bit more, but I think with queries I'm never very certain. Perhaps it's because I just haven't read enough queries.

Actually, on a similar note, reading through the contest entries from the first paragraph and the latest, one of the things I was struck by was how similar many were, many in ways I wouldn't have expected.

So do you think it's a good idea to just second guess ourselves in general, or do you have any suggestions on how to tell if what we're doing is cliche or not when it's not something we have a lot of exposure to?

Linguista said...

It sounds like great advice, but I'm also with Natalie on this one. Sometimes you just can't know. They may all quote Ghandi this year, but last year, they might all have quoted Mandela, or Aristotle.

The only thing to be done is to represent who you are as a person, artist, researcher, etc...

Guinevere said...

I think trying to be original is like trying to be funny. It seems like a whole lot of work, when you could just be yourself and see what happens.

But perhaps that's just my perspective because I'm not very funny!

The Pollinatrix said...

I think we should all just start quoting Christopher Walken.

Anonymous said...

How can we be "different" when most agent blogs have all these instructions that we must follow--or risk being deleted without a read? As creative types, it's fun to think out of the box but if we don't cross all our T's and dot our I's just so, then it's an instant e-jection. I don't make jokes in my queries, so what else do you suggest? Thanks, Nathan!

JFBookman said...

I try not to worry about things I can't do anything about. --Christopher Walken

Why would you need Ghandi quotes (or any other quotes for that matter) in your proposal? Why put someone else's quotes into a query?

Maybe (just a theory) if you rely only on your own words, they will stand up proudly, the representatives of all those other words of yours, and shine more brightly for it.

And anyway, you shouldn't worry about things you have no control over. Produce a great proposal, a great query, a great manuscript, and once you release it, it's pretty much out of your hands.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

May I attempt to interest you in my latest novella "The Porcelain Goddess." Tank so nicknamed for his ability to crush any career stopped by to enjoy the party and found himself entranced by Miss Porcelain Turn's ability to turn a phrase. That is until she quoted Ghandi. Bored, he left. She stalked.
At first it was only quotes in his mailbox. A peace sign was burned into his lawn. His dog was murdered and a note pinned to its body, "A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do nothing else."

Threatened, Tank must now employ all his skills as a career buster to track down Miss Turn. Porcelain can take a lot of crap without complaint but when her ego is cracked, well, truth will out.

The shattered bit enclosed is from outside the rim. Enjoy your career inside the rim.

Sincerely,

Twisted Tortured Writer

RCWriterGirl said...

Porcelain shattering! Given the plumbing problems I've been having lately, the last thing I want is porcelain shattering advice. So, thanks for not giving it. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@4:30-

It's sort of like writing poetry with a meter. Creativity within certain constraints.

D. G. Hudson said...

Okay, now we're second guessing what others will say in a query letter, so we can be unique. That allows a lot of variables into the mix -- the age of the writer, their exposure to the publishing industry, and what they have read.

I understand that we should give a lot of thought into crafting the query letter, but I agree with those that said it makes the head hurt to try and second guess all the competition. I think I'll stick with my gut instinct. Until it fails me.

Ink said...

I like that poetry analogy.

I always tried to think of it as surface creativity versus substance creativity.

Flashy paper, fonts, spacing, colours, gadgets... this is surface creativity. It's buying really nice wrapping paper and ribbons and glitter for a gift. But if inside all that glitter you still only have a nose-hair trimmer... well, the excitement will only go so far.

But if you buy someone a Lamborghini, well, no wrapping is needed. Just give them the keys.

I think in a query (and in a novel, for that matter) it's the substance creativity that matters. What's inside? What's the heart of it? Is the idea and writing original and interesting? Chucking some glitter on to flash it up will only go so far.

Shelby said...

I kinda sorta in a sideways manner of a way .. did that very thing just today.

Cheers.

The Daring Novelist said...

The problem is that people tend to assume their ideas are above average. They assume that everybody else is doing something not very good.

Your best bet is to beat yourself. Figure you've got to beat at least your own top three ideas.

Brandon said...

Can I just say that Anon @ 4:56 is pretty damn clever? :)

abc said...

"When I was a kid I joined the circus. I did that. It is true. But it's not like you think. There was a guy, he had his own circus. His name was Carol Jacobs and he owned it. It was a small thing." --Christopher Walken

Remember how you always wanted to start a college paper with "Webster's Dictionary defines SOME WORD as BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH." I wonder how many papers college professors have to read that start that very way.

Also, I was guilty of having unrequited love in my teenage diary writing prompt contest entry. I couldn't help it--that is just so teenage years to me. But then I read the other entires and thought "oh no".

maine character said...

Love the Buffy quote.

And a good way to remember how to spell Gandhi is to picture him waving “hi.”

Dara said...

Great advice! I think the best thing we can do is just let our voice and our story outshine the others. Ultimately that's what it comes down to--capturing the reader's (in this case, the agent or editor) attention and making our story so compelling they can't think of saying no.

Of course it's a lot easier said than done :P But that's the challenge!

Marilyn Peake said...

I love all the references to Christopher Walken. He’s hilarious! How about the video where he’s dancing (and flying!) to Fatboy Slim’s WEAPON OF CHOICE? Or the video where Christopher Walken reads all the words to Lady Gaga’s POKER FACE! LOL. What a hoot!

Elizabeth Poole said...

As usual, Nathan, you’re reading my mind. Quick, I am thinking of a number between one and ten….seven! Correct! How do you always know?

I am currently working on my query letter. I have found trying to cram an entire novel into one paragraph akin to writing haiku. With my toes. On a stamp. Using the papyrus font.

Anyway, I think you get my point…it’s difficult. But the solution, in my opinion, is no different than any other writer’s problem: practice, precision, and loads of caffeine. I am editing the book I am writing the query letter for (I figured if I started the query letter sooner rather than later I would actually have something decent instead of a letter jotted off immediately following the completion of my editing), and it’s the same process. Write out what you are trying to say. Now edit that back to plain English. Let it rest for a bit. Now edit some more. Lather rinse repeat, until you are about to go insane. Now start over.

Yet, the space limit of the query letter has forced me to find stronger words and tighter punctuation, just like when I am editing with a bloody pen. Therefore, the space limit has forced me to write better. Try to think of the space limit as setting you free, inside of chaining you to just one measly paragraph (at least, that’s what I am currently trying to convince myself, with the query letter on it’s tenth draft and it STILL reads like gibberish).

Quality writing with a clear conflict and relatable characters is going to catch the agent’s eye quicker than a quote, or something creative you do with the font, or format. At the end of the day, it’s about the writing, not the window dressing.

Dominique said...

That's good advice.

I think it's the kind of thing you hear from everyone who has to read similar things for hours on end. By the end of hour five, the person who can still elicit a reaction (laughter, excitement, interest, etc.) gets a lot more attention. The person doing the same old thing gets an eye roll.

Donna Hole said...

Originality in a query is hard to come by these days. Mine was unique - until I started visiting blogs. Agent blogs mostly.

Well, can't help but keep at it, cause my story is amazingly awesome.

......dhole

Jaime said...

Other Lisa -

I am so glad I'm not the only one who pictures that Buffy scene whenever I hear the name 'Gandhi'!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Throw out your first ten ideas. That's what I do, if I ever get an 11th.

Nicole said...

Be careful. You might actually end up encouraging the wrong people. That is, unless you enjoy getting queries on flowered paper or letters coated in glitter or a bag of cookies (..ok, so getting cookies is kind of cool, but still).

But I do know what you mean. :)

Marsha Sigman said...

"No, improvising is wonderful. But, the thing is that you cannot improvise unless you know exactly what you're doing."
-Christopher Walken

Which I think sums up this topic very nicely.

Mira said...

Other Lisa - lol. I still miss Buffy!

But first, the important thing, Nathan's back! Yea! Welcome back, Nathan. The guest bloggers were great, but it always feels like something important is missing when you're gone.

Can't think why. :)

So, this is an interesting post.

In terms of the query - the problem is that if you write a business letter, it will be boring. Business letters are boring by definition. On the other hand, if you don't, it's very risky.

So may I just take a moment to once again say how much I dislike the whole query system? Boy, do I dislike it. But anyway, I think the key to the query is voice. Not the parts about why the author is querying the agent, or qualifications, etc, but the part about the story. That should jump off the page. I think the way to do that is to tell the story from the narrators voice even in the query. With a few adjustments for continuity with the rest of the query.

But I imagine that's just as hard to do as it sounds.

Fortunately I do think the best way to stand out, period, is to write a fantastic book.

In contests...yes. I did that in the last contest. I didn't mean to, it just sort of happened. I was thinking of what to write about, and found an old essay in a teen's voice I could work up that was heartbreaking (at least to me). Then, I looked through the contest entries and thought, uh huh, no way. I need to write something light-hearted.

So, I hope people don't think I cheated, I certainly wasn't trying to. I always take as much time as Nathan gives to think about, write and edit my entry. And I read the entries more of interest than some type of scheming. But in this case - well, the angst on that thread could have powered a nuclear reactor, and it seemed smart to write something lighter.

Really interesting topic. I actually have alot more to say, but this post is pretty long already. So, I'll stop here.

Mira said...

Oh, I hope it didn't sound like I was disparaging the other teen entries, even the angst-ridden ones. I'm so not. If there was one thing I noticed, it was the terrific writing in that contest.

I'm just saying that I thought a lighter entry would stand out, that's all.

Other Lisa said...

Thanks for the Buffy love, y'all...that scene still cracks me up!

Whirlochre said...

Makes you wonder how Gandhi got where he did without all those killer Gandhi quotes to help him.

GhostFolk.com said...

If you want to stand out, think for a second about what you think everyone would do: the joke everyone would make in a query, the approach everyone would take in a writing prompt, the pacifist leader that everyone might quote in a grant. Then do something different.

Probably important advice for writing your book, as well. :-)

GhostFolk.com said...

So may I just take a moment to once again say how much I dislike the whole query system? Boy, do I dislike it. But anyway, I think the key to the query is voice.

Mira, I (kindly) think that the key to a really good query is having a really good book behind it. :-)

Chantel said...

This is what I always tell my creative writing students--first thought is not usually best thought. It's all about invention. Simple, to the point, great post.

Abby Stevens said...

Lol @ Sheila for the Mork reference. Sometimes the most obvious pieces of advice are the most necessary ones, and I think this falls in that category. I think this is where a little research comes in handy as well. If you are up-to-date on your subject, you may at least learn some of the common pitfalls and overused bits.

Christine H said...

This is very easy for me. I don't pay any attention to what everyone else is doing, so I can't possibly imitate them.

Ashley A. said...

I'm echoing others here, but could part of the problem be all that "thinking about what everyone else would do?"

I'm a big believer in the idea that we'll all be better off if we choose to act from a point of desire (I want to use a Gandhi quote in my grant proposal) instead of intellectualization (I think the grant reader will be impressed by my decision to quote Gandhi) or obligation (Here's where I'm supposed to quote some famous do-gooder.)

I'd like to point back to Suzannah's word nerd/grammar rebel guest post: If I follow the agreed-upon, ironclad rules set forth [by an agent,] and I act from an honest and informed place, then I can feel free to express myself within those bounds.

I would drive myself crazy if I felt like I couldn't send out a query unless I had first read the minds of, well, everyone. But I don't have an agent yet, either.

CKHB said...

I'm seeing some pushback in the comments about how hard it is to be "different" without sparking the ire and mockery of agents...

Come on. Is it really THAT hard to be professional and creative at the same time?

Even among those agents who give a list of rules you must follow or suffer automatic rejection... the rules are pretty commonsense and straightfoward. They're not out to trick you. They just want you to do basic research and understand that it's a profession.

Anonymous said...

Since I started writing novels, I have learned so much more about novels. Now I even read differently.
The same-ol-same-ol stands out like a broken record in some genres, can be all too formalistic. And so I am beginning to see how one type of novel may work in one treatment and not in another (similar but missing that something, sometimes way missing it). Of course, I also see the formulas sell pretty consistently. Maybe, there's the rub.
But when the magic is what gets me, even in a genre retelling of a tale, then I get the wow affect.
And original and beautiful writing is such a treat. I am probably also a bigger fan of quirky than the publishing industry (that seems to go more for quirky-with-a-big-name or a-big-award behind it rather than unknown quirky).
But for my tastes, when I have been in NYC and go off-off Broadway, in these little twenty seat theatres, although sometimes what I find is just plain odd, I often feel like I have just entered a special, special world where all sorts of magic can occur.

Carolyn V. said...

I love that thought. As I have read other writers work, I am always shocked at how um....alike they are. It makes the reading boring for me. But when someone has a new idea- I keep reading. I think that is something to keep in mind when writing.

Welcome back!

Moira Young said...

It's funny you should mention that. I analyzed my own submissions after the fact (always after; silly me) and came up with the same conclusion.

e.g. I realized my guest blog entry was a nice piece of personal writing, but wasn't very useful as a blog entry. And while my Teen Diary entry was a great way to start a novel (I hope), it didn't stand well on its own.

Self-analysis is vital for growth. I'm so good at figuring out where I went wrong after the fact. Aside from "stop and think", which has the potential to induce the Am-I-Crazies, do you have any advice to help a person learn how to get it right the first time?

Kelly Bryson said...

This is why I LOVED your first paragraph contest, Nathan. And critique groups. And spending five hours in a bookstore, just reading the blurbs and first page. "No, really, honey, I was doing market research. I promise."
There's just no way to know what's original without surveying.

I'd love a list of jokes that are overdone! (Monkeys are still good, right?)

Reesha said...

This is an original comment. :P

Marilyn Peake said...

CKHB said:
"Come on. Is it really THAT hard to be professional and creative at the same time?"

Of course not. That’s actually quite easy. But there’s no way that writers who spend years writing a book can possibly know how many people will mention a similar theme in their query letters. There's something about zeitgeist - similar ideas often hit lots of people living in the same culture at about the same time. Unfortunately, with so many people writing books these days, agents’ eyes have got to be glazing over having to read so many query letters. Did you know that Stephenie Meyer received rejections from agents for TWILIGHT, including one insulting and angry rejection letter, but an assistant at one agency who didn’t know that TWILIGHT broke too many rules pulled it out of the slush pile and passed it on to those higher up in the agency? Stephenie Meyer talks about it here, under "Getting Published". I’ve worked in jobs where people work very long hours on similar themes, and eyes do glaze over after a while.

The Pollinatrix said...

"Everybody has to be a little lucky, I think."

"Words are little bombs, and they have a lot of energy inside them."

~Christopher Walken

Heidi Thornock said...

So I'm confused, can I still use Gandhi for my query letter?

If you did not get a chance to read it, here is an actual query letter posted by Janet Reid, an agent, that is original, and totally caught her eye:


Absolutely fabulous example.

Heidi Thornock said...

Didn't work the first time, so let's try again.

Janet Reid's "Best Opening Lines in a Query Letter" Post

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2010/01/best-opening-lines-in-query-letter.html

lora96 said...

I had a lit professor who posted a quote on the board the first day. It was something to the effect of: "You have a paper to write. Your professor is going to read 99 essays describing Moby Dick as a whale. You tell her that Moby Dick is really symbolic of the People's Republic of Ireland and you will get an A." :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Sounds like a piece of advice my high school lit teacher gave:

If you're given 3 prompts:

The best day of my life.
The worst day of my life.
My favorite bug.

Go with the bug.

By the end of the day, the person reading will be so sick of birthday happiness and car accident horror that even the driest dissertation on the streaks of a beetle's shell will stand out and make them do a dance.


Eerily appropriate ver. word: "wobetto" -- wobetto any query newbie who thinks they're the first one to use a cliche.

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