Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scary Mary

Last time I posted the Shining's recut trailer. A horror movie made to look like a sweet family comedy. This time I have the beloved Mary Poppins movie recut and called "Scary Mary."

The beauty of these recut movie trailers are how misleading they are. If you watch the Shining recut and expect a happy family drama, you are going to be incredibly surprised with the real movie. Similarly, if you expect a horror film with the Scary Mary trailer, finding yourself in a Disney musical would be quite a culture shock. So how does this relate to writing?

Have you ever read a book jacket and been excited about the story only to find the book didn't live up to the promises? Or the book cover has nothing to do with the story inside? I have had this happen several times, to the point where I wonder if the people designing the book packaging actually read the book they are working on.

And I thought this could also happen in the whole query process. Think about it, writing a good query letter is incredibly hard. Trying to make it as interesting as possible so we can snag an agent's attention is our entire objective. Sometimes you want to make it sexier, more unique, maybe more so than your actual book really is. But we have to be sure that the query letter lives up to the manuscript in order to avoid being misleading. Would we even know if we are being a little misleading in an attempt to get agent's attention in the first place? And is it ok to make it a little sexier than your actual book? Perhaps the tell tale sign is in the correlation of rejections to partials or fulls read. Maybe there is a sign in there.

I think my query letter lives up to my manuscript. I feel very comfortable about it. But then again, maybe I'm pulling a Scary Mary.


Anonymous said...

And is it ok to make it a little sexier than your actual book?

I think the trick is to focus on strengths, just as people do in resumes. The agent knows the query is wearing some makeup, just as the reader knows the jacket blurb is hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

To avoid unpleasant surprises, I always read waay too long into the book before buying it. Unless it is something I've already heard of, part of a series, etc, when I would be buying it anyway.
But in case of a 'new' book, I always read into it in the store.

Anonymous said...

Boy, does Julie Andrews look sinister in this! Now I'll have to go and find the Shining's squeaky-clean, wholesome trailer.

The point you make is interesting. I have often marveled that the same query can interest some agents, but fail to attract others. And quite often you get the feeling that some of those who request partial, but not full, submissions were expecting something entirely different.

I want my query to be as close to my manuscript as I can get it so as to keep disappointment at a minimum on both sides. Quite honestly, though, I live in hope of snagging someone with an idea they were not anticipating and managing to capture their interest. But then I tend to be an optimist.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Stephen.
A bookcan be blurbed towards different markets depending on what elements are emphasised.

Anonymous said...

Scary Mary is definetely funny. For my book Cold in the Light I definetely tried to play down the gore aspect when talking to potential agents.

Anonymous said...

Great anology and great post.

Top this ppoint I think my queries have mostly failed to capture the essence of my novels (least that is why I tell myself I am still unagented and unpubbed in novel length) so I need to work on this.

Also I never read book jackets since they give to much away in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

this is RATHER nonsequitor but.

re: book packaging: most designers (and a lot of copywriters) DONT read the books they're working on. my cover designer, who, by the way, is AWESOME, has told me he finds it more difficult to design a jacket if he's read the book, because then he gets bogged down with symbols, references, and meanings that in fact mean nothing to a reader who hasn't read the book (eg Ghostwalk--that cover's really cluttered to me, with lots of randomness on it, but people who have read the book say the symbols are all meaningful. nevertheless, to me, joe schmoe who knows nothing about the content and is just browsing in a store, wouldn't something simpler and more accessible have been better?).

in terms of copy, there's no excuse there. but it is definitely a constant frustration to find books whose jacket copy doesn't match or help. that's why i like to read books blind, without knowing anything about them (except that maybe someone else liked them a lot).

Anonymous said...

I bought a book earlier this year on the basis of its blurb implying the protagonist was an early twentieth century historical figure. I felt a little cheated when it became clear that said figure was really only a supporting character, and the protagonist a fictional creation. Thankfully it was still a very decent read so I didn't mind too much that I'd been tricked by a clever sales ploy.

Anonymous said...

Great post, ello, and timely, too. Pubrants is doing a series this week as a sort of blog query workshop. I like the way she explains query, because it's a hard thing to wrap your mind around; giving a vivid picture of your novel in a paragraph or two. Really, by her first post, you only want to look at your first 20 to 50 pages when writing that blurb, which is considerably less stressful than the idea of the whole... it's the first time I've heard it explained that way and it makes a heck of a lot more sense. Another positive point to this method, if your main conflict hasn't become clear by the first fifty pages, you know there's a problem.

I don't put too much stock in the book blurbs normally, I just skim, if it's interesting I like to read the first page - mind you, there have been a number of books I passed on because the first page was nothing special, only to read them later and adore them... readers aren't perfect, I don't know why we expect agents or editors to be.

Anonymous said...

AHA!!! Moonrat totally validated my theory!

Stephen - I agree and that is what I do but just wondered if it is a little deceptive, I don't think so and I really like your resume analogy. That really put it in perspective for me!

And I'm glad to see I am not alone in my thoughts on book jackets and books and also the whole query process.

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