3.09.2007

More on the reproductive habits of frogs

Yesterday I posted a 13 point rant on what I found in my slush pile that made me quite cross.

I've been reading your comments.

Some of you feel I'm too harsh.


Let's have a basic review of what your query letter does:

1. It is the first piece of your writing I read.
2. It talks persuasively about the book you'd like me to read
3. It tells me the first things I'm going to know about you.

This is not the place for "good enough". It's certainly not the place to think "I've seen very badly edited actual books so why is Miss Snark in an uproar about such petty details like the implication of the word 'bear'".

There are people in your office right now with a run in their stocking, unshined shoes, three weeks past due on a haircut and drenched in Eau de Gauloise, but that is NOT how they showed up for the interview that got them the job.

A query letter is like a job interview: put your best foot forward.

And remember, the default answer on query letters is NO. What I look for is something that makes me say YES. I assume from the start of ripping, reading and responding that I'm going to say no. You don't get dinged cause you think Missouri is in Central America. You didn't get chosen cause people who write that Missouri is in Central America don't know how to write well. Missouri in Central America is the visible symptom of the underlying systemic failure.

And if you didn't get the frog reference here's the lowdown: first, frogs being reptiles (ok, I'm wrong, you're right in the comments section/they're AMPHIBIANS) lay eggs. "Bear young" is pretty much a mammalian (NOT a frog like) thing. Second "entire species" hatching infertile offspring means instant extinction. It's also wrong. There is an increased incidence of frog infertility. See the difference? Not only is one right and the other wrong, one makes the point clearly and the other doesn't.

It ain't easy being green.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not to beat a dead frog, but many people have already pointed out that frogs bearing young is an OK turn of phrase. Look it up. Google it. It may not be the phrase YOU would use, but it's a fine phrase in many professional circles.

And since we didn't get the context this was used in, the many of us who write science fiction/fantasy/horror no doubt thought this was related to an event in such a novel, and that frogs on the way to "instant" extinction might be a portent of some kind, so were not off-put by the fact that's happening.

May I also point out, since we're picking nits, that it wouldn't be "instant" extinction. There would be a whole generation of frogs that would have to grow up and die before they could be said to be extinct. That could take anywhere from 2 to 40 years depending on the frog species under discussion.

Marva said...

So, how do you find an agent that just stepped out of being a lackey and decided to start repping? I want an agent who is hungry enough to not be so picky about the query. If everybody is querying the "dream agent," surely the not-so-dream agent is more likely to ask for a partial.

Everybody started somewhere, so I'd be happy to find an agent who'd like a client or two.

Anonymous said...

Frogs are egg laying amphibians not reptiles, but the point is well taken.

Chumplet said...

Rant away. If something irks you, you have every right to tell us that we're being idiots.

I was thinking the same thing about the frogs. It's the same way I think when I observe oblivious drivers who think we know which way they're turning even though they didn't turn their signal on.

This is why the government feels the need to print the following on those big cardboard thingies you put on your windshield to keep the car cool, "Do not operate vehicle while sunshield is in place." Except they're a little less snarky about it.

Christine said...

Wow, that makes me feel really good. One of the agents on your little list over...there...hasn't said yes, but didn't say no yet. She asked for pages.

(no, can't send pages with query. You need a special code to send pages)

So I wasn't on the default setting.
So I might not suck.
This just made my day.

Dave said...

Fertility, it seems, is a biological imperative. Even among frogs.
Nitwits, however, seem to spawn like dust in the purest of air and the weakest of sunbeams.
;)

Anonymous said...

Reptiles? :-)

--Jeff

KingM said...

Er, frogs are amphibians, not reptiles.

KingM said...

"Not to beat a dead frog, but many people have already pointed out that frogs bearing young is an OK turn of phrase."

I don't know, Anon1. It's the sort of phrase that doesn't raise eyebrows in casual conversation, but it fails to carry the precision we expect in good writing. I'm with Miss Snark on this one.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Mental note:

Never EVER write about frogs.

Anonymous said...

Not to beat a dead frog, but many people blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blahblah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah BLAH blah blah, blah blah blah blah.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah/blah/blah blah blah blah blah blah "blah" blah blah blahblah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah "blah" blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah depending on the species of frog under discussion.

Thank Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Way to wrestle that cheetah, Jim.

Now back to the agent blog.

leatherdykeuk said...

I'm sorry I didn't say it yesterday, but I loved the 13 points. While not guilty of any of the points (to my knowledge) it did point out that I should read back what I send properly.

They also made me laugh and that's always a good thing.

quietly writing said...

You don't get dinged cause you think Missouri is in Central America. You didn't get chosen cause people who write that Missouri is in Central America don't know how to write well. Missouri in Central America is the visible symptom of the underlying systemic failure.

This is the crux of it. I agree. And it's a hard truth, but a truth it certainly is.

Anonymous said...

Just had to weigh in here when I saw the blog posting above about "knowing your agent." So you can have researched her as thoroughly as the Web allows, sent her a solid query for a solid manuscript, then still get rejected since no person can know everything and her life experience may have her tossing your query because you used acceptable language that was simply not in her knowledge base.

It's all a crap shoot, guys. You either connect with an agent or you don't. The next agent on your list may well reject your query, not because they misunderstand the phrasing, but because they have a phobia about frogs, and since that factoid didn't show up on your Web search, and neither agent tells you why they tossed your query, you decide your query must suck, your manuscript sucks and your life sucks... When it doesn't have to do with YOU or your query at all.

Anonymous said...

For all of those still arguing about the validity of saying anything about frogs bearing young – regardless of whether one is allowed to use it or not, if your query is rejected over it, then your query failed its real purpose. Play it safe.

Heather said...

Or God forbid, you could just suck it up as "not the agent to represent this work".

There's more fish in the sea, folks. Miss Snark won't cry if she can't represent your opus.

VErification: oorky - we REALLY need to start using that word around here. It has a LOT of potential.

Mark said...

Yeah, that's what my comment was: "Entire" and "only once." The egg/tadpole/adult I just conflated for the purpose of the statement "bear young."

There are live bearing fish that aren't human either. Unless a meteor hits, extinction is a slow evaporation, but this can be sped up. Humans are experts at this. My job asa a biologist has been to attempt to undo the damage.

Mark said...

Only to add if you're writing a novel it must be thoroughly researched. Only then will you know what you can get away with, or ala Hemingway, leave unsaid. Reading all the entries at the S&S contest is a testament to that. Most haven't.

ec said...

Loved the Mutual of Omaha post! :)

Dave Kuzminski said...

Speaking of frogs. Our friendly yard frogs have returned just today to our backyard artificial ponds. I know they're our friendly frogs because they just sit there when we approach. The newbies always jump into the water to hide until they realize the old timers are just sitting and watching in case we happened to bring along an earthworm or cricket. Then they slowly conclude that they're not on our menu and we might give them a treat. After that, some even let us pet them.

Anonymous said...

Taste like chicken.

Matt said...

Missouri isn't Central America? But here in Columbia, Mo., I live 45 minutes from Mexico?

Anonymous said...

What if your novel is in the future after a series of REALLY HUGE earthquakes, and Missouri really is in Central America? Oh, never mind. You'd probably want the bit about the earthquakes to be brought up somewhere in the query.

Anonymous said...

Giving birth to live young is a mammalian thing, but egg-laying animals bear young just as ancestors bear descendants, trees bear fruit, and efforts bear results. The sense of "bear" is "put forth," "beget," or "produce." The author is silent on the reproductive biology behind how the young were born.

Amphibians are considered a canary in the coal mine by environmental scientists, and instant extinctions are occurring. Also, the author does not say that 100% of the offspring are sterile.