Pub Rants

Phrasing Misfires

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STATUS: Praise be. Finally, a completed contract, ready for client signature, came by FedEx today. By the way, this deal was done in mid-July. Three months. I hate to say it but that’s about normal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FADED LOVE by Patsy Cline

I imagine that most writers read their query letters until they are blue in the face before sending. I imagine they also run it by a few trusted readers for feedback before sending (and if you aren’t, time to rethink that). And yet, despite all your good efforts, typos happen, don’t they?

I don’t even want to think about the number of grammar mishaps I’ve had on this blog, so I understand. Don’t worry overmuch about that. It happens and I have to say that most agents are pretty forgiving. We’ll allow a typo or two. It’s just when the English language gets away from a writer that it raises an eyebrow. As agents, we assume you’ve mastered the tools of your trade—like sentences that make sense, or appropriate and powerful images, or even using metaphors and similes correctly.

When you miss, it really stands out so I’m recommending you go back and give your query another close look. Make sure what you wrote conveys the right image or is actually what you meant to say.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some recent examples culled from query letters.

Something sinister is brewing right under Jane Doe’s feet, and it threatens to ruin her– for good.

It’s okay that something sinister is brewing, but I’m just not sure it can happen under her feet.

Soon the two have passion for each other and a romance starts to bloom. And so does a stalker.

I guess a stalker can also start to bloom (which would be a rather innocuous turn of phrase if you think about it), but I’m pretty certain that’s not the tone or sentiment the writer really wanted to convey.

Phrasing misfires is what I call it. And if they are in the query letter, I don’t want to risk reading them in a partial.

Yep, you guessed it. Even if the story idea is sound, that query is getting a NO.

20 Responses

  1. Manic Mom said:

    What about when you read a query where someone’s life is “spiraling out of control?” I see that in SOOO many book blurbs!

    Share more grammar oopsies with us please!

  2. Tawna Fenske said:

    I laughed so hard at the “blooming stalker” that I spit risotto on my keyboard. That’ll teach me not to eat dinner at the computer.

    Welcome back from vacation, Kristin!


  3. katiesandwich said:

    Mmm, risotto. Haven’t had that in a long time. Guess I know what I’m making for dinner tomorrow!

    Welcome back, Kristin and ipod! I love Patsy Cline.

    word ver: antgt. Sort of sounds like agent, doesn’t it? 🙂

  4. An Aspiring Writer said:

    *LOL* It reminds me of the poor phrasing used by a Christmas Pageant narrator when I was in high school. We in the choir would snicker every night as she proclaimed that the wise men found Mary, Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Man, that was a crowded manger!

    Okay … they could still talk about mangers when I was in high school, does that give away my age or what?

  5. Anonymous said:

    “… using metaphors and similes correctly.”

    For a second there I thought you said “using metaphors and smilies“. You can never have too many smilies in your query. Right?

  6. Kimber An said:

    If a writer writers an 80,000 word novel, a synopsis, a query letter, and maybe even a cover letter, the chances of her making a ‘phrasing misfire’ are extremely high! After all, getting all those 80,000+ words exactly right would require god-like perfection. Still, in my quest to learn my craft, I dearly hope that I will at least achieve a certain level of ‘maturity’ that the mistakes I do make (and miss) are of little-to-no consequence.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Something sinister is brewing right under Jane Doe’s feet, and it threatens to ruin her–for good.

    “It’s okay that something sinister is brewing, but I’m just not sure it can happen under her feet.”

    It can if it’s lava.

  8. Kimber An said:

    What bothers me about that phrase misfire is the opposite of what bothers Kristin. I can accept ‘under her feet’ as metaphor, but ‘something sinister is brewing’ smacks too much of cliche to me. I suppose it’s just another example of how subjective this business is. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.

  9. Kanani said:

    It helps to read one’s work aloud.
    It really helps with the phrasing, and also catching overwrought description. It’s the only way I’ve found to catch errors.

  10. Yasamin said:

    See, reasons like this is why I have an ulcer and I’m scared to death to submit my query.

    On lighter note… I think I have blooming stalkers in my back yard. hehe

  11. Kimber An said:

    Yes, it’s scary, but not that scary in the grand scheme of things. Trying going into premature labor and worrying about your much-wanted unborn baby dying. Now, that’s scary! Submitting a query letter? Not that big of a deal in context. Seems like the first dozen submissions, at least, are an object lesson in the process, which is why I’m thankful for agents like Kristin who go the extra mile with blogs to help us newbies learn.

  12. GutterBall said:

    It helps to read one’s work aloud.

    Amen to that. I used to tutor English in college, and the first thing I told my kids was to read their essays out loud before turning them in. I told them they’d feel silly for a while, but their improved grades (these were mostly ENG 80 students, mind you) would be worth it.

    Inevitably, they went from Ds and Cs to Cs and Bs. One kid went straight from Cs to As just by improving his grammar and spelling.

    I only wish helping with content were half as easy!

  13. Kanani said:

    Hi Gutter,
    Well, for all it’s worth, I often don’t read the stuff on my blog aloud until I revise it. I usually just fire away late at night, which isn’t necessarily wise since it’s being written for newspapermen!

    But each page of my novel has been read aloud. I not only catch phrase misfires and awkward sentences, but places where transitions might be needed. Sometimes I find whole sections that can be taken out.

    And yes, I did feel silly, and even now I wait until everyone is out of the house. My dogs, however, are enthralled by every word.

  14. GutterBall said:

    My dogs, however, are enthralled by every word.

    Dogs are good that way.

    I don’t read my every blog post aloud either, though that neglect has led to some pretty hilarious typos.