I’ve thought long and hard, and I just have to weigh in on this. I’m fairly certain my opinion isn’t going to make me popular among some, but I’ve never given a rat’s ass what people thought of me, anyway. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, as long as it’s kept professional and respectful.

Therein lies the problem.

Last week on Twitter, a few NYC agents came up with a brilliant idea to have a “#queryfail” day. The hashtag gives the subject its own Twitter  “stream”, similar to a group chat. Keep in mind the “group chat” reaches thousands and thousands of people. Maybe millions, who knows? Anyway, the point of this chat group was to “educate” new writers what exactly causes a query to an agent to fail. Thus, “#queryfail”.

It sounds good, in theory. Didn’t go so well, in practice. You see, even though “identifiers” were not used, actual excerpts from the failed queries were. Snarky comments were made by not only agents, but other writers. Jokes, sniggers, and mocking were also known to have happened. (And before you even ask, yes, I Twitter, and yes, I read the stream. Some have accused those not such fans of #queryfail to have not read the stream.) What started out as a simple “education” process soon started to feel like recess in an elementary school, where the “cool” kids make fun of the “not-so-cool” kids. It got ugly, to the point one of the hostesses has recieved threatening letters.

How did it go so wrong? Well, to be sure, there were good things about it. I’ve edited hundreds of stories, a few novels, and even did stints as a guest editor for a couple of ezines. I can understand how frustrating it is for an agent to receive 26 queries only to find 24 of them didn’t follow guidelines. I can understand the need to vent, and the need to educate. What I fail to understand is the need to humiliate people in a public forum (and Twitter is about as public as you can get) and hide it under the term “educate”. Sure, names were not used, but the actual excerpts from the letters were, bringing up another issue of public domain and copyright. The snarky comments started slowly, then built up a head of steam resulting in a train wreck.

In order to be in this business, you need a thick skin. This is a given. Some aspiring writers are clueless, and while unfortunate, this is also a given. However, this was not a chat among agents and writers in a private room; this was in full public view, and I would hazard a guess it revealed a LOT more about the participants than it did about the poor hapless writers who have problems writing a query letter. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what is done in public, what the hell goes on in private? But then, it’s private and I don’t have to know. I also wondered if these agents, who took time out of a busy day to skewer the hapless writer, ever took the time to contact the writer and tell them, in private and in a professional way, just what it was that made the query fail. Feel me?

It stirred up a hornet’s nest. There’s one faction that defends the practice, and another which is horrified and outraged, and worse yet, another faction that thinks sending “hate mail” or threats is the way to handle it. I think this may be an instance of good intentions paving the way to hell. There are just so many other constructive ways this could have been handled, rather than holding anonymous writers up for ridicule, even if that wasn’t the original intent. Even though I don’t have a query currently making the rounds, I was really shocked and horrified at some of the comments made. I wonder too, if agents start out like this or do they become burnt and bitter after years of people ignoring the guidelines and submitting to inappropriate markets?

Will there be another #queryfail? I don’t know. Probably. It seemed to be very popular. Which makes me very sad, not just as a writer or an editor, but as a person. There’s already enough negativity out there to wrestle with, and I was better off not knowing the darker side of people I had come to respect and admire. Not to mention elementary school is many years behind me, and rightfully so.

Or maybe… I wasn’t better off. Ignorance might be bliss, but it blisters your ass when you’re not looking.


12 thoughts on “#queryfail

  1. And this is why I’ve not tried to publish too much.

    Not what happened in queryfail, but that I’ve still got too thin a skin for it.

    I’m glad I don’t know how to follow things like that on Twitter, from how you describe it though.

    Bronwens last blog post..Puter Fried

  2. Hi Netta,

    While I usually don’t comment, I have to admit that this is quite the controversy. And, rightfully so.

    On the side of the editors, I can see a want..no…a need to vent after the millionth submission that failed to follow guidelines. After all, you would think if you had put that much thought into a written work, you would have spent at least some time learning about the submission process.

    I have no idea how hard it is, but from what I had read of #queryfail, I have to say a lot of the reasons behind the rejections were very basic and valid points.

    On the other hand, I noticed that, as I reached towards the end of the main stream, comments appeared less guarded. I’m not saying hateful, just not as reserved as the first half. This would only be natural given the tone by others who made comments as things progressed.

    On the side of the writer, I have to say that had one of those been mine, I would have seriously consider querying again to anyone (at least in the foreseeable future). I’d like to think that I take criticism well. In fact, I generally thrive on it so long as it’s constructive. However, some of the comments made were far from helpful. That others in the industry (I have no idea names or which ‘side’ they were on.)would behave this way was disappointing. I’d like to think of writers and editors as being above this.

    Did I learn from it? Yes. Will I bite the bullet and query anytime soon? Umm…no, which is perhaps the reason I toss stories after they’re written.

    I agree it started with good intentions and could continue with those good intentions. However, I think a few tweaks are needed in the way it’s presented so that they are less identifiable. Or, not as open to those who would use it as a source of sad entertainment.

    Regardless whether you’re an editor, a writer, or just an interested reader, the focus should be on unity and achieving a higher quality rather than division.

    Thanks Netta!

    Angie Haggstrom
    Freedom Freelance

    Angie Haggstroms last blog post..Everyone’s a Critic — How to Deal with It

  3. #queryfail started out, I believe, as a good idea.

    It’s unfortunate that it turned out to be a negative experience for so many.

    I don’t plan to follow the next one. I don’t need the internet drama!

    Nixy Valentines last blog post..My WAG#2

  4. Yeah, see, um, not so much.

    For me, anyway. I’ve always believed in education, no matter how harsh the schoolmistress. If a rap on my knuckles moves me forward, well, rap away! I’ve always looked for the people to critique my work who didn’t pull punches.

    I understand why some people found it not to their liking. On the other hand, to openly criticize the agents who engaged in this educational opportunity is I think both short-sighted and a bit over-defensive. I appreciate your stance on this Netta, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. I’ve sat in front of twenty peers while a name writer (who I won’t name) held up my manuscript and said, “People, do try to write the best story you can while you’re here at (redacted). It’s the least your classmates deserve.” Did it hurt like hell? You bet. Did I ever consider downing a tumbler of Irish Whiskey before writing again? Nope. But I needed a’slappin.

    Just my two cents, and please, don’t spare the ruler. 🙂

    Joseph Paul Haines

  5. Bronwen, it’s true. You have to develop a thick skin for this profession; it’s certainly not for sissies (and you are far from a sissy.) It’s good that you can gauge your own progress — I remember a time when ANY criticism, good or bad, would cause a shut-down. Not the case now. 🙂

    GG, there was a lot of good information in the stream, don’t get me wrong. But it was uncomfortable, and I think a lot of that good was lost in the shuffle, which was unfortunate. (And thanks.)

    Angie, those are great points. I can see it from both sides also, and I agree the focus should be on unity and not division. The good thing I can see coming from this is open dialog. Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Nixy, and I agree. I learned what I needed from the last one, I’ll take a pass on the next.

    Ah, Mr. Haines! So good to see you! I don’t think we’re too far apart on this — I too, want honest feedback. Demand it. And I know you’re the same way, and I’ve spanked you a couple of times myself. But I think it’s a different thing in a workshop environment or with people you trust, and I know you trusted the people at (redacted.) You’ve spanked me hard as well, but it was always done with respect. Some of the comments in this particular venue were not. At all. It was like a hen-pecking party, and that I do not think is necessary.

    I’ll be happy to bend you over anytime. Heh.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Just want to pop my head in here and clarify something important that seems to get overlooked or left out whenever people start discussing queryfail: The majority of us, including myself, did not post *actual excerpts from any queries.* We paraphrased, changed character names, place names, and did not mention writer’s names or the titles of books.

    In effect, we did exactly what every blogging agent already does anyway.

    Yes, one agent stepped over the line by mentioning a writer’s name and he was immediately called on the carpet for doing so.



    Colleen Lindsays last blog post..Better late than never: Query Haiku Contest Winners!

  7. Thanks for clearing that up, Colleen.

    In effect, we did exactly what every blogging agent already does anyway.

    I’m sure not EVERY blogging agent does it, and even if they do that doesn’t make it right — but that’s not the point. I think part of the problem is the visibility of Twitter — it’s a much more public flogging due to Twitter’s popularity. One blogger might not receive a lot of traffic, where Twitter reaches a huge amount of people.

    It seemed to get out of hand, especially at the end, as Angie pointed out. And there were snarky moments, you have to admit that, although I will say there were more from other writers than agents. I can appreciate the original intent if not the eventual outcome.

    Thanks for popping in, Colleen. I’m sure it’s been a learning experience for all involved.



  8. Weighing in a bit late… I don’t Twitter; I’ve got enough on my plate as it is. I think if I’d been querying and had recognized my own words, even with what seemed to be identifying information changed, I’d have been mortified. And angry.

    And that’s what bothers me. That this was done with queries sitting on a desk. They hadn’t been submitted for this express purpose. Permission hadn’t been given. And even if the people in charge removed names (except in one case. Think how that person must feel and even if the person who named the name was reprimanded, the damage was done) and other details that they felt hid the writer’s identity, anyone recognizing themselves would feel like they were standing in a spotlight, wearing a neon sign that said “I’m a F-up.”

    Maybe it’s because what I do is pretty specialized. I’ve got an online following who might have picked up on details that TPTB at QueryFail thought were innocuous enough to leave unchanged.

    I hope that if this happens again, it’ll happen in a way that educates without identifying people — even to themsleves — and without the snark. Sadly, I don’t think the latter can happen.

    And in the meantime, if I query again, I’ll probably try to protect myself by not querying the agents who participated. Or I’ll include a note that indicates that the query is not to be discussed online.

    Susan Helene Gottfrieds last blog post..Susan’s Promo Tales: Travels

  9. Hey Susan,

    I think that’s what bugged me the most. As the event went on, the atmosphere became more about the “funny” than the “education”. I’m not down with that. I also think your idea of including a note is a good one. CYA, right?

    Hi Jenn,

    Like I said in my comment on your blog (which looks really great, BTW) this thought occurred to me:

    #queryfail was intended for educational purposes. By their own admission, many agents have stated that the people who would benefit the most from it would most likely not be reading it. Then what is the point?? If you already know you’re missing your target market, all you’re doing is making a target OF the market.

    I’m not saying there wasn’t good information that came out of it. I’m saying the snark was unprofessional and disappointing.

    Thanks for the congrats and for popping by 🙂

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