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BookEnds Weighs in on the #QueryFail

Out in the book writing world (which, on a Venn Diagram, is a separate by slightly intersecting sphere of the reader world that DA inhabits), there was a controversy over a series of twitters with the hashtag #queryfail. #Queryfail represented a number of agents and editors giving out advice, in 140 words and less, about how NOT to query. Many of the tweets had to do with blatant disregard of the agent or editors’ stated guidelines.

Nathan Bransford, an agent, took a stance that he would never publicly humiliate an author for a submission, no matter how egregious the submission was in ignoring the submission guidelines. Other agents were branded “mean girls” for participating in #queryfail in the fall out. (I took this opportunity to appreciate the “if you don’t have anything nice mantra” is one that is expressed in circles far beyond the romance genre).

Jessica Faust of BookEnds, who did not participate in #queryfail, made an important point today. Rejection is not about the author but the submission which is what I believe about books and book reviews.

Ned and I watch American Idol and he views Simon Cowell as the nicest guy on the show because some people need someone to finally tell them that singing just isn’t their thing. Simon is better than say, Paula, who will foster the impossible and ludicrous dream. In some ways, I saw the #queryfail exercise as one of kindness. It was harsh, true, but the fact is these things need to be said and sometimes, they need to be said in a harsh way for the advice to finally sink in.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kristen
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 07:47:29

    Thin-skinned writers don’t get far in this business, and while I agree with the “if you don’t have anything nice to say” mantra, the truth is sometimes the nicest thing you can hear. You may not think so at the time, but that doesn’t make a truth any less true.

  2. theo
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 08:41:33

    Jane, Ned and I are Cowell minded. I agree. Everyone boos him every week for his remarks, but it’s a rare occasion when I don’t agree with him. If one has to be ‘mean’ by telling the truth in order to be kind in the long run, so be it.

    Jessica is absolutely right. It’s not a personal rejection, has nothing to do with a person the agent doesn’t know, has never met and has nothing more than the query in front of them to go by. It’s the words/story/failure to follow guidelines that they ultimately reject.

    Yes, I know, every writer feels they’ve put a part of themselves into their story, the blood, sweat and tears (hello old group :) ) and they have. But with sometimes up to 500 queries a week, the agent just cannot consider that. They have to consider what will sell.

    I have to agree with Kristen on this one. Writing is a subjective business, regardless of the genre. If all one wants are accolades and flowers, this isn’t the business for them. Because what happens the first time a reviewer slams not the story they’ve written, but the author him/herself? How will they handle that?

  3. Lori
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 09:20:19

    Queryfail was an excellent resource for a number of reasons but for me, I have to applaud Angela James who also gave insight into query-win also. And in 140 words there wasn’t a lot of snark but rather fast awareness into what will throw you onto the fail pile immediately.

    I’m not of the say something nice school, I’m of the be honest and polite school myself. Simon’s snarks are fabulous and queryfail was also. Looking forward to the next one.

  4. Anion
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 09:26:01

    I am so tired of hearing wannabe writers* whine about Queryfail. No names were given. Very few identifying details. Half the writers doing the complaining didn’t even follow it as it happened, and are simply grinding their axes as a bitter little revenge against agents who rejected them or the industry that doesn’t recognize their genius. Even more infuriating is seeing that some of the people doing the whining are the same ones who constantly whine elsewhere that agents don’t provide them with personalized feedback to their queries.

    As Theo said above, this is a business, and it’s one where if you’re lucky you’re going to get feedback, and it may not be the kind of feedback you want. If you’re such a sensitive little flower that having an agent tell you they didn’t like your query, or your wordcount was too high, this isn’t the business for you, period. Lots of people learned something from Queryfail. It wasn’t mean-spirited and it wasn’t done to make fun of people, and I’m tired of seeing good agents being villified for trying to do something fun and educational.

    I understand that not everyone who had issues with Queryfail is a wannabe whiner with an axe to grind. But the majority of people I’ve seen have been.

    (*Yes, I say wannabe writers, you know why? Because I have yet to see a single professional writer complain about it.)

  5. theo
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 09:34:24

    @Anion: You know, I never thought about it until you brought it up, but you’re right. I haven’t seen one professional writer complain about it either.

    And I’ll admit, I’m a ‘wannabe’, but I loved Queryfail. I learned a lot that I didn’t realize before as to the process many of the agents go through with the queries they receive. Several blogged about it after, giving insight into the fact that they really do receive up to 500 queries a week (which totally astounds me!) No wonder they look for the ‘perfect’ first. Not that they don’t anyway, but as the economy fails and the idea that writing will make those affected a lot of money, agents don’t have the luxury of reading through an entire query that looks interesting but doesn’t strike them right off.

    I can’t wait for the next one.

  6. AQ
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 10:16:01

    Okay, this isn’t exactly about books or about American Idol but I found this blog entry by Tony Toss to be very good. The title to the post is The Essential Need for an Honest Critique.

  7. JulieLeto
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 18:34:46

    Amen. All those mamby-pamby writers need to put on their big girl panties (or briefs, as the gender may be) and stop whining. If you can’t take the slings and arrows of anonymous tweets, then you’ll never make it in this business.

  8. XandraG
    Apr 01, 2009 @ 13:10:37

    I’ll be honest–it made me uncomfortable. Not because #queryfail was a boatload of snark and all (in 140 characters, you have to have laser-guided snark to score a win anyway), but because I probably have spent too much time around HR-types who see all the ways it could go wrong.

    However, it made me *uncomfortable* which =/= *butthurt*

  9. SonomaLass
    Apr 03, 2009 @ 18:17:26

    I thought #queryfail was hilarious, mostly, and contained some excellent examples of what not to do. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy that sort of thing could easily have avoided it, I think, just like you can choose not to watch “What Not to Wear” if you find it mean.

    There was one exception, I think, where one of the agents involved made a joke about the submitting writer’s name. That was a #queryfail fail, because the initial rules were clearly “no identifying info.” That got pointed out pretty quickly at the time, as I recall, and at least some of the recaps I’ve seen posted had that portion removed.

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