Jun 1, 2010

Query Me This...Discussion Thread

Thanks to everyone who submitted a query and sample pages for our QUERY ME THIS experiment.  Some comments are starting to come through, I hope they keep coming during the week.  I'm going to hold off on posting new queries until Saturday, June 5 (feel free to submit them, though).

Remember, all queries and sample pages were requested to follow this prompt:

Our protagonist has found evidence that the government is being lured into war.  If the country engages in the conflict abroad, its military will not be able to deal with an imminent invasion by a rival nation.  The problem is that the source of the information is a double-agent, and our protagonist is being set up to cause the war he/she is trying to prevent.

Many thanks to the writers who so quickly put together entries.  There are several that would make very interesting books, hopefully you will continue with the stories.

Here are quick links to the 10 entries.  Each entry post has been updated with a link back to this discussion thread.  Please provide specific feedback for an entry on its post, and use the comments on this post for a general discussion on the experiment as a whole:

- Age of Steel and Stone
- Blood Lines
- In Darker Times
- Lions and Tigers and Bears
- On Her Majesty's Special Service
- Star of Aurora
- The Incantata
- The Next Attack
- The Spy I Loved
- Third Daughter

Here are my main questions regarding the experiment.  Please ask your own in the comments, and let's get the discussion rolling:

- Some entries followed the prompt more closely than others, but even given the common plot elements, all entries are unique.  Each writer's voice and imagination brings life to the story.  Are you afraid of other people stealing your ideas, or does this help demonstrate that it's all about the execution?

- There are a few comments along the lines of "If I were an agent, I would request this..."  What does it say about writing queries vs. novels when some people can craft a great query without a novel to back it up?

- As a follow-up to the previous question, even though several entries showed a promising opening, what are the chances the writer can screw it all up in the next 59,000 words?  There's a long way to go for any of these stories to be publishable, however promising they may seem...


Suzan Harden said...

My thoughts on your questions-

1) Honestly I've never been afraid of someone stealing my ideas. Is Anne Rice in any way writing the same book as Stephanie Meyer other than Interview with the Vampire and Twilight both deal with bloodsicking immortals?

2) Queries and novels are two different animals. It's like comparing War and Peace with the Macy's ad in Sunday's paper. Learning to write both competently, now that's the real trick.

3) Can I eff-up my story in the next 59,000 words, even if everyone loves the query? Heck, yeah! LOL

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for the feedback Suzan. I've never been afraid of the idea thief either, but I know many out there are. I'd be more afraid of the person who thought up something similar and wants to sue me on grounds of coincidence. Of course, that would mean I was published and successful, so it wouldn't be ALL bad...

I think you nailed it by saying "learning to write both competently, now that's the real trick." I like the way my query for LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS came out, but it will be a long time to stretch the 900-word page sample into a 65,000-word novel. In that sense, query wins in this case.

And to the final point, the query could win big time if I show too much about my lack of knowledge in the realms of sports, gambling, and "the youth today" in the manuscript. Pull up your pants and get a haircut, kid. What's wrong with you?

Jenny said...

I'm not afraid of theft, but I really liked how very, very differen all of these entries are. It helped that you gave us a prompt capable of being twisted around a lot and freedom of genre--I'd be interested to see how the same experiment went with a more restrictive prompt in a single genre. I still think we wouldn't have to worry about having the same idea as someone else.

I think writing a query and five pages lends itself to a sharp focus more easily. It's simple to flesh out an idea in a two-paragraph exercise; it's not as easy to get everything right in 80,000 words.

I found that creating a novel idea in parallel with a query forced me to tighten up my ideas and build the outline toward a plotline and climax that would sound good in a query. I don't know whether that's a good or a bad thing, but I wonder if it would help me write better outlines (since I do). What did other people think?

Jill said...

I'm one of the folks who submitted to this experiment.

I don't know about the other participants, but I wrote my query first, and found it was fairly easy. How liberating to just pull characters and plot points out of thin air!

I don't think I changed the substance of the letter once I came up with my five pages. (Hmmm... maybe that shows?) Compare that to the 15 bazillion query drafts I've written for my actual novel.

Anybody else notice the trend towards a duped America poised to fight Great Britain? What's wrong with us Yanks? What's our problem with good ol' England? :)

wendy said...

Well, speaking of similiar ideas...

A story I've been working on forever has a few eerie similarities to a published work. I once put this story out on the net thinking that if anyone had the talent to find the success that eluded me with these ideas good luck to them and I'd like to see it. Having said this, I'm positive that any similiarities are sheer coincidence, but it's still annoying, especially when I consider my ideas one of the strongest elements of my writing - everything else is a struggle.

But ideas, I don't think, are copyright. I think that it's only when actual excerpts are taken from one work and transposed into another or when it's so similiar as to leave no doubt of plagorism. But it's just annoying when you discover someone else has used similiar ideas in their project as originality lifts the perceived quality of the work and your own is reduced to being derivitive.

jane@kalmes.org said...

I have to admit that I do remain afraid of theft. (I'm one of the participants, btw; I wrote the query for The Spy I Loved.)

If someone wrote a book today that was about a bunch of academics trying to solve an ancient code... well, it might be a very different book from The Da Vinci Code. But the fact remains that the hook is the same. Which means that the new writer's most important selling tool is compromised.

On my own blog, I used to be very vague about my novel's concept. It's only now, when I'm at the query stage, that I feel comfortable being a little more open. Because even if someone wants to scoop me, they're unlikely to have time enough to do it.

Suzan Harden said...

How much of the similarity of ideas hitting at the same time can be associated with the universal unconsciousness?

Deep Impact/Armageddon and Dante's Peak/Volcano comes to mind. None of these movie ideas were stolen from each other. Sometimes it makes a difference of which project hits the market first. Sometimes it makes a difference which is the better story. Or maybe it's the response of the target audience.

Thoughts from anyone who's seen either set of movies? Or anyone have a better book example?

wendy said...

Suzan, I completely agree with your thoughts on the universal unconsciousness. That's a great explanation for similar trends not only in lit but also in art and music. Perhaps the trend for Western novels a few decades ago might be another such trend?

Rick Daley said...

I think with movies, the studios catch wind that a competitor is greenlighting a genre film, and they rush to beat them to the theaters. I've seen all those you listed, and I'll add DEEPSTAR SIX, LEVIATHAN, and THE ABYSS to the mix. All were released in 1989.

My theory is that rival studios find out about an extensive production (THE ABYSS in this case) that is sure to have a wave of publicity, and they try to rush a film out to ride that wave.

THE ABYSS was an awesome movie, but the other two are more typical Hollywood fodder, no doubt greenlight because the studio execs knew there would be an appetite for deep sea disaster that summer. They could ride on the coattails of THE ABYSS marketing junkets.

Suzan Harden said...

I'll give you the Hollywood rumor mill, Rick. *grin*

Interview with the Vampire was stuck in pre-production hell until 1992 when a modest little hit called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" proved movie audiences would watch vampires on the big screen.

The thing is several writers were shopping new takes on vampires in the early ninties as well, including Sherrilyn Kenyon. I really doubt she knew what Laurell K. Hamilton was doing at the same time or vice versa. Nor did either of them know what Joss Whedon was writing when he was working on the original Buffy screenplay. All three would have been writing their drafts roughly between 1988 and 1991.


Rick Daley said...

Suzan, THE LOST BOYS came out in 1987 (thanks, IMDB!). Maybe it helped inspire some of the projects that would have started in 1988?

After THE DAVINCI CODE there were other books that hit the market about the Knights Templar, I wonder how many were in progress before, and how many were rushed out after.

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks, Rick. I'd forgotten about The Lost Boys.

I'd have to agree with you about folks jumping on the Da Vinci Code bandwagon. The Givenchy Code, anyone?

The thing I'm truly worried about is that some agent or editor would buy my books because it sounds just like something her best friend at Other Firm bought. And Other Firm's marketing department is grooming it for their big release. Then everyone compares me to Big Author even though my poor little books were written years before.