I’m going through queries very carefully and very slowly. I’m trying to not drift. But: when you’re reading tons of queries in a row– things that rely heavily on tropes can make your mind glaze right over. Boy/girl travels through portal, is the chosen one to save the kingdom. An outsider has special powers that manifest, but a mysterious organization wants to stop them. A divorcee returns to a small town and falls for an old flame that awakens feelings she thought she’d buried long ago.
Sound familiar? I hope so. They’re common ideas that are used over and over again, with lots of little variations. Different genres have their own tropes, and you should be aware of what they are for the genre you’re writing in.
Now, this is not to say that you can’t use them, or that they’re inherently bad. They’re familiar. This has some advantages and some disadvantages.
But one of the clear disadvantages is that your trope-y query runs the risk of being boring. A boy with magical powers? At a special school? I’ve never heard that before! Your heroine can’t pick between the hunky nice guy and the sexy bad boy? I’m not saying it won’t work, but I gotta confess: I’m not sitting on the edge of my seat.
How do you deal with this? Don’t lean into the trope! Not for your query. If you write fantasy, you’re pitching to agents that KNOW fantasy. (I’ve got a SF/Fantasy agent, and let me tell you, she knows the genre backwards and forwards.) So don’t lean into the vampire hunter falling for a vampire, (if that’s what your book is about.) Mention it, obviously– explain the plot. But there’s nothing novel about that– that’s the skeleton, not the meat. Lean into what makes it different. It’s the 1920s, and the vampire hunter is a flapper? Lean into the flapper! Don’t just mention it– develop that in the query. That’s what’s new– that’s what I’ve never seen before.
Don’t mention the flapper, and then spend a paragraph on vampire lore, especially if its the usual stuff.
Find what’s unique about your manuscript and make it front and center.
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I wish I had read this BEFORE entering #NoQS. As a first-time novelist trying to shop a post-apocalyptic romance, I just realized (with the help of this post and an incredible Naomi Hughes query critique) that I’ve leaned into the trope and not the truly unique parts of my novel. Yeah, yeah…it’s a post-apocalypse romance like hundreds of others, but how many of those are south Louisiana mash-ups of GONE WITH THE WIND and THE ROAD? One, as far as I can tell. Mine. Lesson learned. Thank you!
Naomi Hughes is amazing.
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