It happened a month ago. Apparently a group of agents designated Thursday, the 5th of March, as official Queryfail day. Throughout the day they’d Twitter those little 140-character descriptions of the worst queries they read (either that day, or had ever gotten in their careers).
From The Swivet:
Today is #Queryfail Day on Twitter, the first of what will probably become a monthly or semi-monthly experience. What is #Queryfail Day, you ask? * rubs hands together gleefully * A group of online agents, book editors and periodicals acquisition editors are posting about their queries in real time. The idea is to educate people about what exactly it is in a query that made us stop reading and say “Not for me.” We’re being very careful not to include personal identifiers of any kind. The idea isn’t to mock or be intentionally cruel, but to educate.
Word got out, as will happen when you make a public announcement. MediaBistro picked it up.
FinePrint Literary Management agent Colleen Lindsay kicked off Query Fail Day on Twitter this morning, inviting agents and editors from around the Twitter-sphere to contribute 140-word memories of the worst queries they ever received—rocketing up the list of popular topics on the microblogging website.
Why is #Queryfail popular right now?
Agents explain to authors how NOT to pitch a book. Everyone’s an author. Ergo, #Queryfail rocks.
By close of business, QueryFail had started to morph into QueryFlail. From JacketFlap:
Originally I had reposted many of the QueryFail examples here. But after hearing from several writers who were upset by the event, I have removed the specific entries. Instead, I’ll focus on what I learned by following QueryFail.The summary sounds remarkably like Teresa’s venerable Slushkiller.
I apologize to those writers who felt disrespected. My intention in reposting was to share what I thought was good information. I still think it’s good information. But if you know me personally, you know I’m an empathetic soul and I don’t wish to cause another writer distress. Frankly, we’re distressed enough.
So onto what I learned, sans examples…
1. Failure to follow directions is an automatic rejection.
Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. Their submission guidelines help them work efficiently. If you don’t follow those guidelines, it takes more time to read and respond to your query. The easiest solution is therefore not to bother….
I just gotta ask, though, and meaning no disrespect to any author living or dead or wholly coincidental, what are guys thinking when they send a pair of panties to a female agent along with their manuscript? Do male agents occasionally get a manuscript packed with a new pair of boxers?
By the following Monday a full-fledged flap was in progress.
Query Fail Day Debated
Last week, literary agents blogged about failed queries on Twitter—generating a query fail feed, an agent fail thread, a GalleyCat post, and an emotional debate. Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford decided not to participate, declaring “positivity week” on his blog instead.
To what should have been no one’s surprise, authors who found out about it got upset. Variously described as a “brouhaha”, we hear, for example, the widely-published “anonymous” say,
Were my plot or premise to be published on Twitter or anywhere else without my permission, I would sue the poster for intellectual property theft, and probably win. Even if it were held up in a good light. The ideas are sacred to me, they are worth $$$$ and shall not be used for any purpose without my permission.
Now that person has a point, of sorts. I’ve never approved of the “It Came From The Slush Pile” panels at cons. When I submit a work, either the editor can buy it, or not. If you didn’t buy it you can’t use it. If someone wants to buy public-mockery rights, well, talk to my agent. I’m sure y’all can work something out. On the other hand, a 140-character snark likely doesn’t contain any of the original words, and neither titles nor ideas can by copyrighted. What can be copyrighted is exact words in an exact order. (Even if their exact words were used, I bet fair use would cover ‘em.) “Probably win” though? More like “certainly lose, if it ever got that far.”
So, tacky, perhaps.
The story grew legs long enough that The Guardian noticed, nor were they too squeamish to post examples. Their story leads off with, “There are some hurt feelings in online ego-space this week….” And so indeed there were.
By the end of the week we were seeing stories like The Queryfail Trainwreck:
One of the most interesting things about social media is watching ideas form and take-off in real time. Unfortunately, sometimes those ideas run off the rails as quickly as they form.
Take the queryfail exercise on Twitter for example. Many of the agents on Twitter, under the leadership of Colleen Lindsay, participate in this day in which agents review queries in their slush pile and offer feedback. The names of the writers sending the queries remain anonymous.
Amid stories of authors planning to boycott the agents who took part in the first Queryfail, a second Queryfail is apparently being planned for the end of this month.
As of yesterday, The Guardian was still on the case:
The literary Twitter wars: writers hit back at agents
It was bound to happen - the only surprise is that it’s taken a whole month. Writers were angry and wounded by March’s “Queryfail” on Twitter, which saw a group of agents tweeting about the worst submissions they’ve received from would-be published authors (“My credentials for writing this book include: A divine mandate to speak the word of God”). So when agent Jessica Faust decided to give writers a forum for their fury, asking for examples of agents failing authors, she was greeted with an outpouring of bile from hundreds of writers that went on for days.
O brave new sciencefictional world! Robert Burns has gotten his wish:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion….