At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference I participated on a fiction agents’ panel with many wonderful agents, and it was a pretty great hour. One of the audience members asked to hear our personal pet peeves when it comes to queries, and you could almost feel the excitement among the agents on the panel, as this is without a doubt one of our favorite topics. Who doesn’t like complain about their pet peeves?
Anyway, after I had expressed my irrational and yet passionate disdain for queries beginning with rhetorical questions, the incomparable and awesome Donald Maass had, I thought, a pretty superb query peeve as well, and now that he mentioned it I can’t help but trip up on it every time. And that is: a query that begins with a quote from the first lines of the novel, followed by the words “So begins my xxx novel…”
The man is a genius! I definitely understand why people would want to put their best foot forward and just cut to the chase with their writing. But there’s something about the whole setup of quote followed by “So begins my…” that can’t help but feel a little canned. Not to mention the fact that while it’s possible to have a really awesome first line, the excerpt itself isn’t enough to really give a sense of the novel, which is why the whole query thing exists in the first place.
Now, if you have employed this setup, do not feel bad! You couldn’t have known that it was such a common trope, and no agent is going to reject you solely on the basis of using this opening. But just be aware that this is a very common setup, and when you’re trying to stand out from the query pack, it doesn’t usually pay to be common.
So ends today’s post.