Queryfail!

March 5th, 2009 • Kate

Wondering what I’ve been up to today? I’ve been participating in the brainchild of Colleen Lindsay, an agent with FinePrint Literary management, aka Queryfail day on Twitter. Search #queryfail on Twitter (or Colleen recommends Monittor.com, with which I’m not familiar) for a round-up of agents and editors reactions to some of the queries that come across their desks or inboxes.
Galleycat even picked up on it, so you know it’s newsworthy.
Anyway, for those of you who’ve wished for a liveblog of my queries, check it out — it’s the next best thing.

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11 Responses to “Queryfail!”

  1. Jamie Says:

    It's awesome, right? haha I can't stop reading it!

  2. Kiersten White Says:

    What I caught was great. And I appreciated that you posted all of yours to facebook, as well–made it easier for those of us new to Twitter!
    By the way, did I mention my new book? Every single child in the world LOVES IT. Also, it's my mom's favorite book! And my best friend can't stop raving about it!

  3. Julia Says:

    It was fun! Finally got me to Twitter!

  4. Dara Says:

    Those were fun to read! It amazes me how many people really just don't know how to follow the submission guidelines…

  5. stina Says:

    I can't believe writers actually made those huge mistakes. Obviously they've never read any of the agents' blog. Of course, sometimes it takes something like this for a writer to see what they're doing wrong. It isn't until an agent hits you over the head with your writing (with a not so subtle hint at what you did wrong) before you can see the errors and are able to improve on your work. I should know. I've recently been there ;0)

  6. surprised Says:

    I can't believe the unprofessionalsim of the agents who participated.
    You have chosen a profession where you are going to get requests for your services. Not all of them are going to be well-written requests–nature of the beast.
    Get over yourselves.
    People don't even read street signs and you want them to read every word of your guidelines before they submit. So this gives you the right to act equally as unprofessional by Twittering about submissions?
    And all of you, stop complaining about the number of queries you have to go through. If the queries suddenly dry up–your business dries up.

  7. Kate Says:

    Dear Surprised –
    While I appreciate your comment and I'm glad you shared your thoughts, I don't, in fact, believe we were being unprofessional. Just as when I live blog my queries here, I spoke only in generalities in order to convey information about what DOESN'T work for me. How is that unprofessional?
    As for your comment about some of the queries not being well-written, and that I should "get over" it, I respectfully decline. What I do for a living — what my clients, in essence, pay me to do — revolves around good writing. Without it, none of us are working or getting paid. I don't believe I should have to suck up and deal with people who disregard guidelines — like street signs, which are in place for society's safety — submission guidelines help direct literary traffic to the appropriate places.
    I recognize that your's is just one voice out of the many who responded about the Queryfail project, and I respect your right to disagree with how I handle my queries — but I think you'll find I don't complain about the number of queries I receive. I'm grateful for all of them, and going through them is how I've found almost all of my brilliant clients — writers who followed guidelines, got my attention in a good way, and wowed me with their writing. If they can do that, why shouldn't I be able to expect others to do the same?
    Thanks for commenting.
    Kate

  8. chocolateinspir Says:

    Kate,
    I'm still new to Twitter but I'm loving your new queryfail project. It's a great way to figure out what not to do.
    Thanks for sharing

  9. Maureen Johnson Says:

    I'm really surprised by the number of people who don't understand the great benefit that was being offered by queryfail. I think the majority of people got it at once, though.
    But if you didn't, here are a few thoughts to add to the two cent collection.
    Being shown what NOT to do is a classic and useful way of demonstrating a concept. And when you submit things, you have to be mentally prepared for the fact that people are going to read it, judge it, and say things about it. The things they say won't always be nice. This works on every level of the game. In graduate school, for instance, our pieces were read aloud and ripped to shreds by one of the most frightening and esteemed professors there . . . not because he was a sadist, but because he had spent fifty years teaching (some amazing writers) and knew that you need to see the problems. "This is what does not work . . . observe the reactions from people around you and learn."
    And you know what? Once you get into the business, it's like that EVERY DAY. Everyone is doing this to you. Editors, readers, the marketing people, random bloggers, dogs, cats . . . If you are under the impression that once a book is out, all you get is an unceasing volley of praise . . . unthink this thought, because it's a wrong thought. To be a published writer is more or less to walk around offering everyone an open invitation to knock you around a little. Everyone's a critic.
    Most people don't do this out of sheer love of cutting you down (though some might) . . . but to point out something they see that doesn't quite work for them. They could be right or wrong. It's up to you to figure it out. But you can't be precious. Writers are covered in bruises and scars from this kind of stuff, and frankly, after a while you revel in it. You make mistakes. You learn. You improve. You get some lumps along the way. You learn to take criticism. This is a good thing. When you write, you aim to make yourself understood, to hone your skills. People have to show you the broken bits so you can fix them.
    Also, in this case, the writing is the entire name of the game. And yes, you have to read all the guidelines. I don't even know what to say to someone (I refer to a comment above) who doesn't think you have to read street signs and says that likewise, you do not have to read guidelines. This is, I'm sorry, I have to say it . . . perhaps the worst example I have ever read. Not only should you not be writing, you should probably not be driving. I know that's a harsh thing to say, but it's not nearly as harsh as the impact of your car as you go careening through stop signs and into school zones. Do you skip all instructions? Do you just stick food in the oven because who has time to read directions and then wonder when it burns?
    INSTRUCTIONS ARE THERE TO HELP YOU.
    Also, to that commenter . . . I think you're kind of alone in that thought, because logic that strange is rare and precious and kind of self-correcting.
    Also, the guidelines aren't that hard, and they're there for a reason–to get everything organized and read correctly. It takes, what, a minute to read them? If you can't correctly comprehend three lines of instructions, it calls into question your ability to read analytically and to handle the many complicated negotiations that a career in writing entails. If you can't make sense of "do not send the full manuscript unless requested," then what are you going to do when you get your fifteen or twenty or thirty or fifty page contract? Are you just going to ignore your deadlines because "who reads e-mails with numbers in them, anyway?"
    When you don't pay attention, you are actually holding up HUGE WARNING FLAGS about yourself. Because not only do agents have to deal with your writing–they have to deal with you as a basic, functioning human being. The agents are saying that you should do yourself the MASSIVE favor of taking the FIVE MINUTES to submit correctly and check the spelling. Seriously! You put yourself so far ahead of the game! Queryfail showed the number of people who don't do that! And you look at it and you say, "Wow. Okay. Note to self, take a little extra time and check it again."
    And if you go off in a huff and say, "Well! The NERVE! I will never query you!" (as I have seen people do in other responses to queryfail) . . . this is unlikely to make anyone lose any sleep. There are a lot of queries out there–thousands and thousands and thousands. All you do when you say something like that is make an agent thankful that they aren't going to get strident and insane e-mails from you, because it makes you sound like someone who is hard to work with. (This is me speaking from my own analysis of the comments, not from anything said to be my any agent. I'm guessing!) Think about it . . . how scary is your threat? It's like a complete stranger coming up and saying to you, "Well, YOU won't be getting a Christmas card from me this year!" And the person, drowning in stacks of Christmas cards, looks up and says, "Who are you? Also, thank you."
    So,to writers reading this, I say . . . read queryfail and be glad. This kind of new, raw, real information has only been offered in the last few years, and the agents putting it out there are doing so as a way of helping you. And they want to help you because they want to find good books. They aren't sitting around thinking about ways of screwing things up for people. If I was starting out now, I promise you, I would be glued to that kind of thing–because it's about ten times more useful than any strange or distilled advice that's out there.
    If you want to write and publish, take any opportunity you can to learn something. This is one. That's what I think. That's why Kate did this. She's deeply committed to working with and developing writers. And her professionalism is without question. It makes me sad to see people suggest otherwise.
    Again, I feel that most people are down with this. And I know some people have more nuanced issues with it, and I get that. I think we come from the same place of wanting writers to be well served, and we have different thoughts of how to do that. We all want more good things to read, and we all want people to be treated fairly and well. At least, I do. I'm guessing you do too.
    Silly ranters, however, will be teased by me. Kate may be too professional and polite, but I am not. I'm a loose cannon!
    -mj

  10. Rexroth Says:

    To Maureen: preach it, sister; Amen.
    I only married into the business side of writing a year or so ago, and my creds as a published fiction author as far from MJ's as Denver is from NYC, but I can tell you that the lady (and loose cannon) speaks sooth, as did the agents sharing their insight during #queryfail.
    None of those #qf insights were new to me, because I'm lucky enough to live with a professional agent (a fact my *own* agent is often and loudly grateful for), so I have access to that stream of information; that insight.
    For lots of authors – many many thousands of aspiring authors – Twitter (and great blogs like Daphne's) are providing that insight into "what works and what doesn't" for the first time ever.
    The smart ones are seeing it for the kind of treasure that it is.

  11. davehill47 Says:

    Speaking as someone not in the writing (per se) biz, I would say the same thing pertains for applying for *any* job. As a hiring manager, I usually have more applicants than I can handle, and someone who can't be bothered to create a clean, articulate resume, or follow the instructions for the application, or for how to contact the person they need to contact for an interview … has most likely disqualified themselves from a job.
    A query letter is, in many ways, a job application, a cover letter, a resume. The agent is very much like a hiring manager in this regard. He or she has every right to expect the applicant to adhere to the guidelines set forth, whether the author thinks they make sense or not. That's life in the real business world — which is what this is.