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.