Friday, March 06, 2009

#queryfail was NOT agents "mocking" writers!

I thought about Tweeting my thoughts on #queryfail yesterday (when people were bashing it), or commenting on Nathan Bransford's blog today (where the comments flew off in an anti-#queryfail tizzy), but I think I'm too wordy to be contained in those spaces.

Look, people: if you don't like it, don't read it. Why is this so hard to figure out?

Seriously. All the people Tweeting yesterday about how much they did not like reading #queryfail? STOP READING IT. And go do something else.

Now, to all the people with their panties in a bunch for those poor writers who "worked so hard" -- NOT reading submission guidelines or spellchecking -- and who never "gave permission" for their "intellectual property" to be "used": uh, do you know much about the purpose of a query? Let me explain it to you. See, you send an agent a query, so that the agent asks for your novel. If your query is good, the agent tries to sell your novel to a publisher. Then the book gets published.


If you can't handle less-than-140-characters of your query anonymously quoted in a thread moving almost too quickly to read, then how in 'tarnation do you expect to handle being published?

The agents were not being "mean." They were telling it like it is, and they WERE providing information to writers. They were also not "cherry-picking" queries to make fun of -- the point of it all was to show HOW MANY bad queries they get a day. The agent is sitting in front of his laptop, reading the queries as they come in. He reads a crappy one, and copy/pastes the line to Twitter and adds the hashtag #queryfail. OH MY GOODNESS THAT TOOK SO MUCH TIME.

Seriously, most of the people griping about #queryfail (on the two blogs I've read tonight where it has come up) DON'T EVEN TWITTER. This was not Query Shark with unsuspecting queriers, posting the full letter which yes, would be totally recognizable -- this was TWITTER. 140 characters -- actually, 129 because "#queryfail" is 10 characters, plus a space). And many of the Tweets were not even quotes from the letters, but explanations of what the person did wrong. Look, if you weren't there, or if you don't generally hang out there, then you don't know what's going on. You don't know what it's like, how we Twitterati communicate. So don't bash when you don't know.

As a teacher, I felt the agents' pain. How many students REFUSE to follow directions, and turn in the assignment however they want to do it? TONS. Guess what happens to them?


As in, literally. A fifty if I'm in a good mood; less if I'm utterly fed up with that kid.

And guess what happens to them when they graduate into The Real World? They go on to write stupid queries that irritate agents.

(But that will make my query look golden when they open mine right after one of those gems.)

Also, as a teacher looking for a job outside the classroom, I learned A LOT from #queryfail.

You see, I've never had to apply for a real job. I've applied for teaching jobs, which is kind of a joke. I have a degree in the subject I teach; I teach a high-needs subject; I am actually certified (through an accredited university, through a full teacher certification program). I send in my application and the district will hire me.

If there is one thing you can say for teaching, it's job security.

So I've never been in a position where I've had to fight other applicants or impress the recruiter. (The fact that I want to teach is impressive enough; that I actually know my subject just blows their brains away.) Now, I'm fighting for jobs with other people who are as qualified as I am, but have more impressive resumes (because they have not been wasting their talents in a classroom).

Yesterday I sat down to write an email to a higher-up at my teacher union, pretty much asking her for a job. I've written a few of these emails lately. Before I started reading agents' blogs and studying query letters and hearing agents gripe about dumb mistakes in query letters, I would have written an email similar to this:
I want to work at TSTA. Are there any jobs open?

:) Criss.
Instead, I started out with a proper, professional salutation. I made a personal connection with the person. I Googled information I could have easily found for myself instead of asking her, and making myself look dumb and lazy. I sold myself, giving her a quick run-down of my skills/talents/qualifications, without boring her or pushing my entire resume and letters of recommendation on her. I did it the smart way, following common-sense query guidelines.

I am eternally grateful to Colleen Lindsay and other agents who have helped me learn these things.

If #queryfail was not your cup of tea, then don't follow it next time it comes around. But let's all pretend we're grown-ups and deal, please.

[Edited to add links I forgot to link. This is what happens when you write angry.]


  1. I really enjoyed #queryfail when I watched it the other day, but I do understand @NathanBransford's point about why he chooses not to participate. And, although I learned a lot, it did make me stop and think about the format and tone of it. Yes, it's helpful to learn what agents do NOT want to see. On the other hand, I would be horrified if my query was held up as an example of awfulness with a big FAIL! after it. A few of the mistakes held up as pathetic were things I'd done in the past. A couple of them are things that I actually include in my current query letter, and I have seen some agents say it's information they want, so why did it get held up as a FAIL point?

    Some of the tone WAS mocking by a FEW of the agents & editors involved. Not all. But some.

    So, I can see both sides of it. Neither is wrong, IMO. There is a good side and a bad side to #queryfail, IMO

  2. There was one agent who didn't follow the rules and gave identifiers, and sure you're going to make a snarky comment when someone crosses the line by miles, but overall I did not find it mocking. (And others have pointed out that the snarkiness came mostly from on-lookers replying to/commenting on what the agents had said, not from agents/editors themselves. I haven't gone through and categorized them, though.)

    Two things I think we need to keep in mind: A) this is an art, and everyone has a different opinion when it comes to art. What one agent will love, another will hate. What one agent requests, another will specifically say he/she does NOT want. Those gray areas, where one agent may like it another may not? We just have to learn to deal with those.

    B) These people are hoping to get published. They need to brace themselves for the snark.

    In the classroom, I have used a student's essay (with, of course, all names/personal identifiers removed) as an example of what not to do. Put it on the overhead projector, and the class and I have gone through it. This is a valid teaching tool, and I've heard it recommended at several in-service sessions. This is what the agents did, but here we were talking about adults, and adults who wish to have their work read by the world (I doubt I can say the same for my students and their essays).

    Also, a lot of the less-than-super-nice comments I read... I've said them (and worse) in my head when grading assignments. Maybe I feel the agents' pain, and that's why I feel all this backlash is a little overly-sensitive. :P Also, I'm really good at backlashing at backlash...

  3. I remember one time, the math teacher posted up stupid mistakes from a recent test. I was mortified to see one I had made go up on the board. They were anonymous but I recognized my answer. However it helped me to pay attention next time and I grew from that experience. I know I make dumb mistakes, but the more I make the more I learn.

    Sounds like #queryfail is a good tool for encouraging good work.

  4. Hey, thanks for the shout-out and for your kind words about the #queryfail project.

    I'm so glad that you got something useful out of it!

    All the best,


  5. AMEN! As a writer, I want to know what NOT to do as well as what to do. I find the submission guidelines for most agents to be quite clear, yet some people apparently are able to read plain English but not comprehend it. Which would be why I, who can do both, had my query rewarded with the request for a partial and those who can't do both ended up mentioned in #queryfail.

    Thanks for sticking up for #queryfail. I think it is valuable information for all aspiring authors--those who don't let their bruised egos get in their own way, that is.

  6. I agree! < in 'tarnation do you expect to handle being published?> Sure, #queryfail might be an 'ouch,' for the squeamish, but it's an ouch that will remind you to dot your I's and cross your T's.

    Actually, I just like the way you use 'tarnation, so I wanted to use it too. :) Language is fascinating. says it's spelled without an apostrophe, but the origin - from 1775-85, was 'tarnal, which was a combination of the words "eternal" and "damnation." It's kinda like "chillaxin."

  7. Now you have given me a research project! Because a friend of mine said she looked it up and "'tarnation" is a cut-off contraction of "entire nation" (which is why I gave it the apostrophe, to represent the missing letters).

    I must solve the mystery of these conflicting etymologies...

  8. What a great post! While at a certain point I felt watching #queryfail was a bit like standing around gawking at a train wreck, I now understand more of what agents are seeing when they open queries and how they can become so easily frustrated.

    Looking objectively at my own queries, I know why some (early versions) have been rejected. Others I think just didn't work for the agent in question. But knowing what an agent does or doesn't like is powerful and will (hopefully) make the queries they receive better (at least from those of us who care).

    I believe it was Angela James from Samhain Publishing who tweeted yesterday that someone threatened to contact the bosses of all the agents who participated in #queryfail to complain. All I have to say is if the powers that be of those companies are too short-sighted to see that #queryfail is a GOOD thing, I hope Colleen, Angela, and all the other agents join forces and start their own business.

    While it would be nice to have an agent hold my hand when they walk me through a contract and such, I also want them to be able and willing to kick me in the ass when I need it. But maybe that is just me.

  9. I saw that, about someone writing to "tattle" on the agents! Good grief. Seriously?

    That's like when my students tell me they're going to "get me fired." Once I heard the students were getting signatures on a petition to have one of the assistant principals fired -- for doing his job and asking a kid to follow dress code and remove an eyebrow ring. *rolls eyes*

  10. Great post, Criss. I absolutely *loved* #queryfail! I found it very helpful!!

    Yep. Definitely the same laziness I see in my students, and I teach at a Community College. They learn fast that I don't make up for their laziness, and I find that they thank me for it. Although I'm "intimidating" at the beginning of the semester, by the end they always tell me how much they learn... because I was tough on them and held them responsible.

  11. Amen. You put it well.