Apr 3


Posted by A Writer


It never fails: just when I think I've seen and heard everything in the writing world, along comes something to remind me how young I am in the ways of the Force, so to speak.  A few weeks ago brought the arrival of #queryfail, the brainchild of agent Colleen Lindsay (who we've had the pleasure of welcoming to RR before).  Maybe, Colleen thought, we could get past the vitriol and frustration between agents and authors if we could just explain how to avoid the common query mistakes.  Maybe, she reasoned, we could take a step forward in the industry if we could just work together to create better queries–less work for the agents, better results for the authors…everyone wins.  Maybe, she hoped, we could all make a difference in this process.

And then she thought "Nahhhh, let's just make fun of the stupid authors instead."

And so #queryfail was born–a Twitter (social networking for twits, apparently) experiment in which a number of agents and editors twittered examples of how not to submit queries.  A lot of the examples were indeed egregious:

This is my first attempt at writing a fictional novel.

Like my protagonist, I definitely could be described as overachiever, and I naturally have hair like Lady Godiva.

My credentials for writing this book include: A divine mandate to speak the word of God.

[That last one's pretty solid, actually…I'm going to file that one away.]

Yep, those are pretty hideous.  And assuming that all the agents did was post them, and then basically say "no," seeing that kind of stuff could be helpful…at least for the authors who do read Twitter (somehow I think the divine mandate person has bigger fish to fry than microblogging…just a guess).  Unfortunately, the agents went, uh, a little further than that.

"What if everything you knew to be true, turned out not to be true? What if it were, in fact, false?" Wow, a first sentence.

Say you don't know how to paste the first five pages of your manuscript into your email? Please get your 3-year-old to teach you.

"I am writing this query letter to request permission to submit my proposal to you." Permission denied.

Hilarious, huh?

Yep, and there's the rub.  For all the protestations of "this was educational," and "we weren't trying to be mean," and "no, really, get over it, this is the nature of the business," the truth is that the professionalism went out the window the minute this idea was hatched, for two reasons:

1.  The authors never gave permission for their letters to be torn apart in this way, even anonymously.  Now some have already argued that this kind of thing is done all the time: at Absolute Write, at Query Shark, writers' groups, and so on.  This is a great argument, except, of course, that in each of these cases the authors submitted their queries with the full understanding that criticism–even harsh criticism–was the intended purpose of the submission.  Here authors were submitting their queries in good faith, with the (however misguided) intention of acquiring representation.  That this somehow became a golden opportunity to "educate" a desperately interested public is absurd at best and incredibly disingenuous–i.e. BS–at worst.

2.   This was never, ever intended to be "educational," no matter how much the apologists stamp their foots and insist it was so.  Don't believe me?  Consider Colleen's opening line:

What is #Queryfail Day, you ask? *rubs hands together gleefully* 

Mr. Chips, we hardly knew ye.

The idea that anyone sane would write some of the queries listed here, or learn anything from this process but "wow, glad I've never done anything like this," is absurd on face.  But even if this was just a joke–like comments suggesting one consult one's three year old on how to use a word processing program–it's obvious from the word go that the chances of any person who would send a query like this having enough technical knowledge and interest to get on Twitter and read hundreds of #queryfail entries are, er, very low.  And if they do read these things?  Is their reaction more likely to be "ah, now that I've been publicly humiliated I'll definitely start querying the right way!" or "Oh my God, how awful.  I can't believe how stupid I was.  I can't believe what a terrible writer I am."

I'll give you two guesses.  You shouldn't need more than one.

Of course this was entirely anonymous…except, of course, to the people who do read their queries here, and are angered / horrified / and not likely to change.  For them, there's no question what the "point" of this exercise was.  Of course, if such writers do stop querying, that's probably better for everyone, right?  Save everyone aggravation, cut down the static, everyone's happy.  Oh…except for the poor sap who's been shot down.  But who gives a damn about him or her, right?

The truth is that this had nothing to do with education and everything to do with blowing off steam.  And while that kind of thing might be understandable at a bar after work, it's a lot less understandable on the Internet, advertised beforehand, with (apparently) sequels to come.  It's especially incomprehensible coming from the agents who asked for queries to be sent to them in the first place.  Does that mean authors shouldn't follow the rules?  No…but it does mean that listing utterly egregious query examples and mocking them mercilessly isn't likely to lead to the allegedly desired result.

But worse than all of this is the promise that Queryfail 2 is right around the corner, and the repeated insistence by its apologists that it's an incredibly valuable activity (and so much FUN!), and that authors are too thin-skinned, and they're all prima donnas, and they need to get over themselves, and chill out, and let it go, all indicates that no one has learned from this experience the first time around. 

I note with some irony that #agentfail has just hit the web, with all the resulting bitterness and anger resulting thereunto.  Many agents are, apparently, shocked at the upset being expressed in the comments.  Hurt.  Appalled.

Hmm.  I can't imagine why anyone would have that reaction, can you?

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