5.28.2006

Miss Snark Attacks the Slush Pile

Here are some of the treasures hauled in today:

1. To Whom It May Concern

Even the weirdest advice sites that counsel against using "Dear" in a business letter
(Miss Snark understands you are not professing love
when your salutation is Dear Miss Snark.
To think otherwise is egotism of the most humorous variety)


do not advise using To Whom It May Concern. If you don't know my name (and it's right there on the list you got my address from cause you misspelled my street exactly like they do), at the VERY least start with Ladies/Gentlemen. To Whom it May Concern is just stupid.

1A. "Attention Miss Snark" and "Greetings Miss Snark". Unless you plan to show me my enlistment papers, this is never ever a good way to start a letter. Ever. If you are bound and determined not to soil your missive with the word "dear" you might consider that fresh new bon mot "hello". Now drop and give me ten....dear.


2. "He wore" "his hair was" "his shoes were size"...blah blah blah. Does the description contribute to the story in a meaningful way? Do I need to know he's wearing pressed chinos? that he's bald? that his feet are size whatever? Description just to watch your cursor move on the screen is BORING. Every single thing you do that slows down the pace of the narrative in the first three pages is one step closer to "no". You don't have to be eaten by a crocodile but you also don't need to tell me that she's wearing alligator shoes unless it means something.


3. Pausing the action to take meticulous note of what everyone is wearing right after a gun is drawn. Only if you've never been on the wrong end of a gun would you think this is even close to the realm of possibility. You see a gun, you're looking at the gun. You may, just may, be aware of your heart which has stopped beating, but you sure as hell aren't looking at the gunsel's neck chains. Action is spare. You don't have to sound like James Ellroy, but neither is William Faulkner such a hot idea for action packed narrative. (Ya ya ya, I know what Nobel means)

26 comments:

kis said...

What about "Greetings, Earthlings?"

Eileen said...

Have you ever gotten a letter addressed "To Whom it May Concern" and then written back- "It didn't concern me at all. I could care less in fact."

Frainstorm said...

Yet another reason why this business can lead you to rip your hair out.

From AgentQuery.com, a very reputable website:
"There are lots of greetings from which to choose. Here are your options in order of best to worst."

#1: Attn: [First Name] Snark
#2: Attn: Miss Snark
#3: Dear Miss Snark

Oh, what's a writer to do? Write a good story, of course. But when every word of a query is so important, it's painful to read here "this is never ever a good way to start a letter. Ever."

Guess that recent batch of ten query letters that started Attention [Rejection-sending Agent] isn't off to a great start!

In some bizarre way that I worry about, this confusion excites me. Thanks for that at least.

John

AzGhostWriter said...

I'd like some aliens in Chapter 12, please.

Evil minion #667 said...

"Every single thing you do that slows down the pace of the narrative in the first three pages is one step closer to "no". "

And yet... it gets published. Different agents apparently look for different things.


"3. Pausing the action to take meticulous note of what everyone is wearing"

Ah, yes - the hallmark of the female writer.
(That should get some flames going)

We were at a Worldcon panel where someone mentioned that, so I picked up the first novel in a trilogy by one of the panelists. First paragraph, second sentence was a description of the character's clothing. No joke. This was, let me repeat, the first of a sold trilogy, and they were massive - guessing close to 300K words apiece.

A. J. Luxton said...

"Dear" always sounds kind of cloying and lovey-dovey to me in letters I am writing. If the cover letter can be compared to what I would say to the recipient at a conference, "Dear" feels to me like cornering you in an elevator and insisting on a hug. I've never bothered to find out whether it sounds this way to anyone else, but it seems to be that if even one person shares my opinion on the salutation (and is in a position to be looking at it critically) it's worth avoiding.

Usually I just head up my business letters with the full form of the person's name (or if multiple people, title and last names.)

Like,

Miss Sophisticata Snark:

I have this nifty book, you see...

Or,

Editors Snap, Crackle & Pop:

I have this nifty book, you see...

Sarah Addison Allen said...

**Pausing the action to take meticulous note of what everyone is wearing right after a gun is drawn.**

And imagine how embarrassed the thug would be if his gun didn't match his shoes.

Chacounne said...

Thank you, Miss Snark, for saving me from a faux pas. I am sending out my first query letter tomorrow and had used the salutation Greetings, because, being Canadian, I was unaware of the US connotation.

archer said...

But I like my crocodile opening. And all that's left is a hat.

Termagant 2 said...

I believe this falls under the KISS paradigm. Keep It Simple, Sam (I hate calling total strangers Stupid, but I live in Chicago so I do fail from time to time). When in doubt, any reason not to phrase this query thingie like a simple business letter?

Color me silly, but I feel as though writing a business letter will make me look more like a businesswoman. Which, when I'm not busy creating fiction, I am.

T2

Mad Scientist Matt said...

#2 reminds me of a children's book that was sort of like an African-American version of a Paul Bunyan story. It started with "Big Sixteen was his name, 'cause that was the size of his shoes." I can't picture mentioning an average shoe size in a book, though, unless a character is actually shoe shopping and frustrated at not being able to find something that fits.

Note to Self, did you ever see the episode of "Get Smart" where Agent 99 is packing a bright red handgun in her purse to match her red shoes?

Anonymous said...

the first of a sold trilogy, and they were massive - guessing close to 300K words apiece.

Well, all those clothing descriptions take up SO much page space!

I was goggled by this until a writer explained that some readers are detail junkies. They revel in every little thing and want to know more.

Happily, I write for people who have more on their plate in life than that lot.

Mark said...

I'm from the Hemingway camp. You have to know what to leave out.

Anonymous said...

I also can't stand a lot of superfluous and boring detail. I've found you get a better feel for the setting by the characters' reactions to it, anyway.

But how about an intensely minute description of the gun itself? Or would no one care but a gun-nut?

Anonymous said...

If it's a 'love' story, you may indeed want to know the male character's 'shoe size' *snerk*.

Julia said...

Miss Snark is correct. When you are looking at the lethal end of a gun, you don't notice clothing.

Or people.

Or anything else.

You see a gun. Then you see your life pass before your eyes.

Cheryl Mills said...

I've always thought "Dear" was an invisible greeting. As long as you don't sign it, "Love, Aspiring Author" and add a little XOXO and a lipstick smooch, it still qualifies as a formal, business-type opening.

Sarah Addison Allen said...

**Note to Self, did you ever see the episode of "Get Smart" where Agent 99 is packing a bright red handgun in her purse to match her red shoes?**

LOL. No, didn't see that one, Mad Matt.

But what a great idea, Fashionistas with Firearms. They will save chick lit!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I believe the traditional business greetings are still the best.

I hate Ms. and won't use it unless the person to whom I'm writing does.

"Dear Mr./Miss/Mrs.:" is still the best. If I don't know the person's marital status, I go with Miss.

In my misspent youth, I worked briefly for an obscure government office that had it's own style. One headed their letter with an all caps summary of the contents. One omitted the honourific and spelled out the name. It was an irritating and dysfunctional system. And, we Pixies are sticklers for tradition.

Mazement said...

Neil Stephenson's sci-fi novel "Snow Crash" starts with a paragraph about the protagonist's clothes, and then moves on to describing his gun, his swords, his car, and the restaurant where he works...all in elaborate detail. The first bit of plot is on page 9.

It actually works pretty well, but not every author can pull it off.

Rei said...

What you describe should convey what your viewpoint character feels about it. Is your character alone with someone that they love? Longingly describe every last detail of their face. Is your character spying on their worst enemy, someone that they rage against day and night? Describe them in great detail with bitter words and phrases.

Is your character in a car, whizzing past a stranger on the side of the road that they don't care about? Don't give them more than a few words, if that.

Anonymous said...

evil minion, you left out the most important part of Miss Snark's comment: "right after a gun is drawn." If the description in the first paragraph wasn't at gunpoint, your comparison is misleading.

Cudd said...

Thank you so much for including #2 on that list. Of course, I generally run into the opposite problem when writing stories... not enough description, -_-

BuffySquirrel said...

Then again, a character who's accustomed to having guns pointed at him might still retain his fashion sense. No?

Evil minion #667 said...

Actually, Anonymous (will you anonymous masses please pick names? Under "Choose an identity," select "Other" and then just make something up): That was in response to #2. Why should I care what a character is wearing, when I haven't even met her? It was boring.

JerseyGirl said...

Cudd said...

Thank you so much for including #2 on that list. Of course, I generally run into the opposite problem when writing stories... not enough description, -_-

That's my problem, too. ::sigh::