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April 7, 2009

QueryFAIL
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:29 PM *

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.

And so they did. (HTML, RTF)

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.

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…

The summary sounds remarkably like Teresa’s venerable Slushkiller.
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.

Educational, though.

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.

See also: AgentFail, WriterFail.

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….

Or maybe not.

Comments on QueryFAIL:
#1 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 07:53 PM:

I find it amusing that this naturally led to AgentfAIL. The reaction from the agents was unimpressed. Of course it was ok to laugh and point at the queryers but, heaven forbid agents get criticized. Glass houses etc. etc.

#2 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:19 PM:

When does the XFail meme expire? I'm ready.

#3 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:23 PM:

and neither titles nor ideas can be copyrighted...

See, if more aspiring authors got that concept down cold, that alone would be a good outcome of #QueryFail.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:26 PM:

XFail?

Isn't that the sequel to Wolverine?

Boy howdy, there's nothing quite like looking at someone else's flamewar to bring perspective to our own.

#5 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:27 PM:

Mmmm. (almost) everything I know about the publishing business I learned from the slushkiller thread all these years ago.

I probably should write a novel at some point, just so I can reference the Nielsen Hayden Slushkiller Scale somewhere in the query. (I mean, if it's going to be rejected, it would be nice to know whether it's a 13 or a 7. I'm pretty sure I can manage a 7 even on the bad days.)

#6 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:34 PM:

So how exactly would you phrase "jumped the shark" for twitter, then? 'twitshark' seems more like a species than a comment.

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 08:42 PM:

What can be copyrighted is exact words in an exact order.

It's gotta be a bit looser than that, otherwise translations wouldn't need to be licensed.

Still, you're right about that anonymous commenter being wrong. I see he also writes that his "ideas are sacred" to him, meaning he's probably one of those people who believes that the ideas in a work of fiction are more important than the writing, so I doubt he's going to get published any time soon.

#8 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:13 PM:

Yay! A writing thread!

Amid stories of authors planning to boycott the agents who took part in the first Queryfail

Less slushpile for the rest.

I feel like tacky-yet-educational gossip actually does serve a purpose, though it's a somewhat dysfunctional activity. As a sometime teacher, I am morally obligated to hate ratemyprofessors dot com, out of a sense of academic solidarity - and yet, I feel like I know a lot more of what to expect from the courses I'm going to take this summer because of the information people have posted there. The Internet would be less infuriating without its lawless places, but also less useful.

#9 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:19 PM:

AJ Luxton @8

Yes, the author boycott was pretty much the funniest thing I read.
"Wait, we vent a bit of spleen about bad queries, and actually get fewer bad queries... and you think we're going to stop?"

#10 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:33 PM:

"stories of authors planning to boycott the agents "

And this is supposed to be a bad thing?

::sigh::

Why would the agents be upset because they were to be boycotted by people who don't want to follow the guidelines?

People, get a clue -- to these agents this is their job. To be successful they need to be working for writers who will work with them, so they can place publishable work with acquiring editors.

If these agents can't get writers to give them work, in a form that is usable, that they can sell for them *they* don't make any money.

The prospective author can keep running the forklift, or doing sysgens, or selling houses. The agent is doing this for their entire employment.

#11 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:48 PM:

Agent criticism is a lot more justified if the agent's actually taken on the author as a client and then behaves unprofessionally. Some of those criticisms I thought were quite valid. Not all, of course. It's a different relationship than that of the slush pile.

#12 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 09:49 PM:

It both disturbs and amuses me that my first thought (as a proofreader/copyeditor) on seeing this was: OK, people, YOU try to write nice, polite, terse, cogent queries for some of the stuff I have to deal with, and see how good YOU sound out of context!

And then I laughed like a drain. :-)

#13 ::: Shawna ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:07 PM:

Please, by all means - all those offended, boycott everyone you like... that'll make more room for the rest of us who actually want to get published rather then baby our egos.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:15 PM:

The only possible downside I see to the proposed boycott is that some of those wannabe writers will doubtless end up in the claws of PublishAmerica. While this might seem like a case of the punishment fitting the crime, it still means more lifespan for vanity publishing, which is not a good outcome.

#15 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:36 PM:

Lee @ 14: That assumes that any publishable work in that sample will not be sent to other solid agents who haven't participated in the Twitter show-and-tell. I'm not the kind of writer who would take enough personal offense over an informal "what not to do" seminar to hurt my own chances of publication over it, but I don't think that being more easily offended makes a writer necessarily less able than they already are to tell the difference between a good opportunity and a scam.

Good work does go to vanity presses to die sometimes, and it sucks, but it usually happens when writers aren't sufficiently connected or informed to have even heard of agent blogs and other Internet advantages which we enjoy - which is sad; or are so bullheaded as to have found the information and rejected it, taking the quick satisfaction of a printed book over any chance at real publication. Which is also sad, but harder to do anything about.

#16 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 11:02 PM:

On another blog (sorry, don't remember which) someone pointed out that the opposite of #queryfail would have been #rejectionfail. Not AgentFail. That probably would have led to more constructive criticisms.

One thing a lot of agents hadn't apparently given much thought to was the "no answer=rejection" policy, and so many querents complained about that in particular that several agents have decided to stop doing it. One positive thing, at least.

There are so many places you can voluntarily submit your query letter for evisceration, I would be upset to recognize mine during something like that. Then I would take notes.

#17 ::: Tim Keating ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 11:35 PM:

At least it pushed the previous brouhaha ("Writing the Other") onto the back burner.

#18 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 11:55 PM:

FYI, Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown explains the reason for her "No response = rejection" policy as
part of an interview about the whole kerfluffle.

#19 ::: LWE ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:06 AM:

Hang on, let me get this straight -- would-be writers are upset because agents told them what they were doing wrong?

I specify "would-be writers" because I can't imagine any actual professional writer getting upset about this.

Wow. I mean... wow. I knew a lot of would-be writers are hypersensitive and, well, kinda dumb, but this really takes it to a new level.

What A.J. Luxton, Scott, and Shawna said -- you think not sending these agents more crap is a punishment?

#20 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:10 AM:

Hey, let people keep complaining - the more they complain, the fewer really dreadful queries we agents receive. Leaves room for those folks who are really trying. =)

Cheers!

#21 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:13 AM:
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?

It sounds like the cargo-cult analogy applies here like it applied in the recent scammer threads. Like how the mark is vulnerable to his own misconception of how people become rich, the submitter is subject to his own misconception of what it takes to draw attention to his own creative work.

I worked my way through college as a cashier, and I've worked in a vault, and people everywhere seem to dress themselves up in weird pretenses where they can get away with it. Or maybe the self-delusion can't help but work its way out from an unrelenting, passive-aggressive "soft bigotry of politeness" trying to pass itself off as leadership.

It's like that onion article about the guy claiming he was getting worse at sex as he was entering middle-age, going on and on about it, and the last paragraph quotes his college ex-girlfriend saying he was never good to begin with. What's to wonder isn't the guy sending underwear with his submission. It's that no one opens some kind of agency to send people "a clue." And I say this admitting I'd have to get a bigger mailbox for the service. For some of us, our choices are to risk doing something stupid, or being resolved to be dead on the inside.

#22 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:25 AM:

Rachel@18:

The "well, screw you, too" responses that agents seem to get on a regular basis boggle my mind, but I can't imagine that not responding at all wouldn't get just as many from that same, spoiled, self-entitled guy who would write that in the first place.

I would think the silence of "no response=no" would get more "Did you get it? Now? How 'bout now?" emails than a simple auto-response form rejection.

That's one of the things that kills me about the internet, is how many people think they're entitled, since you put yourself out there, to tell you what you should be doing with the time you blog about. PNH posted a particle not long ago, wherein a writer responded to complaints he was "wasting his time" not finishing the latest book in the series for them. He was a lot nicer than I would have been.

#23 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:43 AM:

A sidelight. Apologies.

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:11 AM:

I've had enough e-mail go into the bitbucket for no discernable reason to be at all comfortable with dealing with someone who has a "no response = no" policy. At least on the first few submissions....

I'm not a fiction writer, but I've written a bit of non-fiction. And I still treat people better than that.

#25 ::: FrancisT ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 02:16 AM:

The "no response = reject" problem shows me that agents need some kind of query processing email system that automates the reject thing and stuffs the replies to the rejections in the bit bucket where they won't upset. This might also help if it added webpages where authors could track the (lack of) progress of their query and so on. A simple list per agent of query queue length, queries received yesterday, queries read yesterday queries definitively rejected yesterday would help. As would a system that automatically filtered out the obvious "fail to read the instructions" queries.

Of course I fear that most agents are sufficiently non technically minded that they wouldn't use such a tool if it were developed...

PS my ultimate bad query letter when the wonderful Miss Snark was still blogging - http://www.di2.nu/200609/09.htm

#26 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:56 AM:

It's amazing how easy it is to assume that all the people who are upset, or all the people who for whatever reason didn't follow guidelines, or all the people whose queries amused the agents, are by that token bad writers.

I don't see any correlation between writing ability and thickness of skin.

#27 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:11 AM:

I've had stuff go missing in the mail.

Before the days of email, I recall seeing a claim that the Royal Mail in the UK had an error rate of between 1% and 2%.

Heck, I've just had one of those "you didn't reply within X days" moments. Something went astray.

There are no easy answers.

#28 ::: JDC ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:25 AM:

Thena @ 5,

Exactly! I'll probably never do anything about it for all the usual lame reasons, but I have what feels like a decent idea for a book. If I ever do start writing it, it will be in large part because of the Slushkiller post. I figure I'm at least a 9 on that scale. Why not go for it?

Jonathan

#29 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:40 AM:

Zander @26

You are, of course, correct. Skin-thickness and talent are orthogonal. But the question is, if they're thin-skinned, and did things correctly, why are they getting offended?

Are they're so thin skinned they're getting offended on other people's behalf... well... the world is a tough place, and it'll probably take thicker skin to bring their work into the world. I'm not sure if editors and agents are midwives of work, or authors... but I have my suspicion.

#30 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:43 AM:

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?

Well, it would be handy - another pair of boxers is a good thing to have. Though you know what would be even better? Socks. Were I an agent, I would definitely look kindly on a manuscript accompanied by a pair of socks. You can never have enough socks. (But, despite this, corporate freebies always seem to be ties or pens. How many ties do you think I need, guys? Unlike the people of Rome, I only have one neck.)

#31 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 07:39 AM:

Writing ability is orthogonal to thickness of skin -- but thickness of skin isn't only required when you're still an unpublished writer shopping around for an agent; you need it when you get your marked-up manuscript back from your editor, you need it when marketing hates your title, you need it when reviews come in. I'm profoundly grateful that I didn't write a publishable novel until I developed a slightly thicker skin.

ajay@30, a couple weeks ago I whined on Facebook that, would my editor just please accept hand-knit socks, in lieu of my revision? Now I'm tempted to throw in some socks with it for real.

#32 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 08:27 AM:

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.

Exactly! It's not that I don't think information about why query letters are rejected is a bad thing, but it is so easy to do it as an opt-in exercise. Nathan Bransford will blog about your rejection if you give him the OK in your query, Evil Editor posts queries with sarcastic and useful comments, and there are dozens of web sites where you can submit your query and get an opinion. Many, many agents have asked for queries to analyze on their websites and been inundated. A piece like Teresa's Slushkiller honestly tells a writer everything that he or she needs to know.

All of these sites get plenty of traffic from people wanting to learn about how to rise up out of the slush pile, so why start grabbing queries without approval and gleefully taking them public?

Does anyone really think that people learned more about queries from this twitter session than from the websites out there? Especially as to even know about #queryfail and see the responses, you would have to already follow agent blogs and twitters.

Personally, I came away with the feeling that it was an opportunity to let off steam at the expense of the people submitting to slush. In my opinion, it's about basic respect for the submitter even though those people who saw the fails were almost certainly not the people who had submitted.

Zander @26 wrote
I don't see any correlation between writing ability and thickness of skin.

Quite. The dismissal of anyone who disagreed with this as a bad writer and incompetent query writer is disturbing.

There's been a few times when I've disagreed with something I've seen an agent do publicly. In many cases, I would not submit to that agent in the future. That doesn't mean I'm too emotional to write, it just means I'm not desperate to have an agent - any agent - regardless of my opinion as to how professional they are.

#33 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 09:14 AM:

No-reply rejections are annoying in another context too: job hunting. That's one of the bits I am determined to change once I get high enough to be hiring people; every applicant get a reply, even if it's just a cut-and-paste rejection.

#34 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 11:35 AM:

Zander @26

True but being a successful writer and having writing talent are not at all the same thing. The one is certainly a minimum condition for the other. But at every level skin-thickness has a strong correlation to writing success. You can live without it, but....

Without something of a thick skin it is harder to honestly assess your own writing and change what needs fixing, doubly so if you workshop. Without a thick skin surviving the query and submission process is harder. Without a thick skin surviving copyedits and editorial letters is harder. Without a thick skin reviews are harder. Without a thick skin dealing with readers is harder. Hell, without a thick skin dealing with family scoffing at your ambitions to be a writer is harder. A thick skin means that your agent and editor know that they can be honest with me about things and not have to dance around tough issues.

I'd put thick skin very high on the list of professional assets for a successful writer. Not absolutely necessary, but it makes everything else easier.

#35 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:00 PM:

Recall that commercial publication is commercial art.

And the words "commercial" and "art" have equal weight.

#36 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:16 PM:

I got caught in the moderation queue for using lots of links. Do I need to do anything or does someone check for false positives as a general rule?

#37 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:42 PM:

Sylvia: Depending on what's going on in our lives one or another of the moderators checks the Unpublished queue a couple of times a day.

#38 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:44 PM:

While I'm not about to take part in a queryfail twitter event, partly because I'm not an agent and partly because twitter is not my cup of tea, I'm wondering a bit about the idea that agents shouldn't talk about queries that they've received. If someone is posting the majority of the text of a query on a website and dissecting it bit by bit, yes they need permission. But in most other jobs you're allowed to discuss what you're working on - what bugs you and what is good.

I read many, many submissions. I respond, or someone else responds, to all of them. Most of my responses are sorry, you just don't fit my list. All of them thank the person for submitting. But does that mean I shouldn't talk about completely inappropriate submissions sent to me with another editor? Maybe even a laugh a little, and then go on to the wonderful author I read next? Or is it just the fact that anyone could post to the twitter feed or read it that makes it objectional?

#39 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 12:45 PM:

Kelly, #34: I am not at all convinced that having writing talent (beyond basic literacy) is a necessary condition for being a successful writer. As evidence, I offer... well, an awful lot of the books that have made the best-seller lists in the last 10 years. Wasn't there a thread about that sometime last year?

#40 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:18 PM:

About thick skin. It's weird, but for me, it's something I grow as I go along, and I don't start out with it every time.

Form rejection: I have a thick skin for that. It says what it says, and trying to find something else hidden in there is like trying to cast the bones(but we do try, anyway.)

Partial request: Oh my god, if this person reads it and turns me down, I will be crushed. Form rejection two months later: strangely not crushed because this person saw something promising (though I don't know if was the premise or the writing.) I am newly determined.

Request for full: Oh please god, if I've gotten this far and he rejects me, I'll die. He rejects me six months later: I suddenly am excited and thick--skinned enough to write him back and ask if I may resubmit if I revise and cut the length.

If I have even a tiny amount of success, it stimulates my skin to thicken so I can survive the environment. What wears it down are endless form rejections, because as pathetic as this sounds, what almost every beginning writer is saying with every query letter is the same thing--
"Believe in me."

Every rejection is "I don't."

I have had two big-time agents request fulls (one of them twice, when I queried him after a revision based on his kind one-sentence explanation)even though it was far too long for a first-time author. That gives me a thick skin for real rejections, and that wasn't something I had before I started. (Also, those three rejections? A year and half of my life, because they wanted exclusives.That tends to grow nice, thick pads on everything tender.)

Noelle@38:
We laugh at customers all the time. Bitch, complain, and mimic their rudeness in unflattering voices. But we go into the stockroom to do it. I think that, with all the websites available where you can voluntarily submit, QueryFail should have stayed in the stockroom.

#41 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Sylvia@32: Obviously, I can't know what was going through the those agents' minds. Also, I've only read through the first 18 pages (out of 89!) of #queryfail. They seemed quite matter of fact about the queries they received and gave sensible advice on how to avoid the mistakes they're seeing. I didn't read any sense of glee or blowing off of steam in their words. While I have no way of knowing what's going on in people's minds, witness the number of irate people quoted in Slushkiller who chose to speculate then treat that speculation as fact.

Also, in every case, the person querying sent the letter to the agent. That letter is now the agent's property. If it's ok for the recipient of a rejection letter to make its contents public, it ought to be ok for the recipient of a query to make its contents public. (Otherwise, the position is inconsistent. We'd also be left without great posts like Slushkiller.)

Even if there is a copyright claim, #queryfail strikes me as most likely fair use since they are excerpting a small portion of the text specifically for the purpose of criticism. e.g., they are not posting the entire writing sample or the entire query letter.

BTW, reading the transcript, I see that a bunch of people found out about #queryfail when they saw it highlighted as a trend at the twitter website. Clearly, some people found out about it without following those agents in the first place.

Of the 18 pages I read, I think the agents were quite respectful. They don't identify anyone. They don't call anyone names. They don't make aspersions on anyone's talent or lack thereof. They do point out clunky sentences, queries that don't follow the guidelines, and the kinds of work they don't represent. Reading about errors you or someone you empathize with makes is inherently painful. From what I've read so far, they've been admirably restrained in the face of what they had to put up with.

For the record, on average, I receive a rejection from one short story market or another approximately once every ten days. I'm not speaking out of ignorance of what rejection feels like. It hurts. I don't think I'll ever get used to it. Even if I reach a point where no one ever rejects my work again (yeah, right!), if that's even possible, I will never forget how rejection feels. This is even though I have never gotten an unprofessional rejection.

From what I've read, the agents comported themselves professionally, treating those who queried them with respect. This doesn't mean that those querying aren't hurt by the rejection anyway. I don't think there is any way for a rejection to not hurt. However, on the whole, I thought the agents were good at minimizing the pain. (Maybe it all goes to hell in a hand basket after page 18, but that doesn't seem likely...)

(Incidentally, once every ten days is not impressive. That's only 36 rejections a year.)

#42 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:51 PM:

"That letter is now the agent's property."
Yeah, I hate the sound of that. Is the partial I send them also their property, because I voluntarily sent it? Bleagh.

Also, with the making rejections public? That should stay in the stockroom, too. My opinion, of course.

#43 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Lee @ 39, it all depends on how you define talent. I figure that anyone who write and sells and is successful in the business is possessed of some basic writing talent. It may not be a talent for writing anything that I think of as readable, but it is clearly a talent for writing things that appeal to some sub-set of the reading public.

Since there are things that I loathe that are lauded as great works of literature and things that I love that are derided as genre drek, I tend to err on the side of thinking that the only remotely objective measure of good writing (and by implication writing talent) is that which generates an audience.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 02:27 PM:

The physical partial belongs to the agent. The words still belong to you.

#45 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 02:45 PM:

James Macdonald@44:

Thanks. But now I have another question. Let's just say someone decided to have a PartialFail (no, I know they wouldn't) then they could legally post pieces of my submission to illustrate a point? I would guess they conceivably could, since it was done with queries without permission.

So, is this question one of professional conduct, rather than...um, something else? (tastebuds absorbed the word I wanted, sorry.) I don't expect anyone would ever post a partial to dissect. But why do I expect that? What makes an actual excerpt of a work sacrosanct, where a query letter is fair game?

#46 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 02:55 PM:

James @37: Thanks. :)

Noelle @38:
But does that mean I shouldn't talk about completely inappropriate submissions sent to me with another editor? Maybe even a laugh a little, and then go on to the wonderful author I read next?

There's a big difference between talking about submissions sent to you with another editor and a public performance. I feel the same way about people who blog about their colleague's incompetence.

Blowing off steam is understandable but not always professional. In my opinion, this event may have been interesting or even enlightening but still strikes me as generally unprofessional.

John Chu @41

They seemed quite matter of fact about the queries they received and gave sensible advice on how to avoid the mistakes they're seeing.

So did Teresa. The difference is in holding up specific examples - I don't think it is necessary.

There were recognisable descriptions and direct quotes in the initial tweets and also reprinted all over including national press. Friends and family would certainly have enough detail to see your public failure. I don't think those people who submitted their queries knew what they were letting themselves in for - and I see no reason why they should have to accept that sort of treatment as a part of the query process. For me, it's not about copyright, it's being treated decently in what is, effectively, a transaction.

I do take your point that people who don't follow the agents may well have heard about it or seen it anyway so possibly yes, someone who thought it was a good idea to use pink glittery paper has now learned that it is not.

I don't think there is any way for a rejection to not hurt.

I've had a lot of rejections as well (including one that was so bizarre that I admit I quoted it in an online discussion) and I daresay I feel confident that my submissions would not be held up as an example in an event like this. I also agree with the general principle that anyone submitting needs to expect criticism and rejection.

However, I don't feel that publishing excerpts of those queries as examples of what not to do should be an accepted part of the process.

Yes, writers need need thick skin to deal with rejection and editing and events and especially family. I just don't believe that bending over and grabbing your ankles is strictly necessary.

#47 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:10 PM:

40: "Also, those three rejections? A year and half of my life, because they wanted exclusives.That tends to grow nice, thick pads on everything tender."

Six months each to reach a 'no' decision? Wow. That's an awful lot of time.

#48 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:15 PM:

Better job of saying it than I did, Sylvia;) I guess what my thick-skin post @40 really boils down to is that it's a lot easier to have a thick skin when you're prepared.

I wouldn't have been prepared to recognize myself on that Twitter feed, and yeah, I probably would have been really upset.

Luckily, this is the only forum I post in, so I would have kept my mouth shut about it and developed an ulcer instead of publicly venting.

#49 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:25 PM:

Doug@47:

Yeah, it is. But, at the same time, I was prewarned by both agents that it could take that long, so I was ready. It wasn't precisely six months for each, but on one occasion I submitted at the exact wrong season, and the holidays fell somewhere in the middle, when I would assume he had other things to do.

Honestly, while it was disappointing, the fact that two agents who already had full lists would ask for a full (at a truly absurd wordcount) made me believe that maybe I had enough talent to really do this.

Those were the only two that haven't been form rejections, though, so I can't swear that they weren't both just feeling really charitable the day they got my query;)

#50 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:31 PM:

A query letter is not the same kind of thing as a partial manuscript. The latter is a creative work and the former is business correspondence. I think it is a mistake to equate the two when considering questions of privacy and 'rights' and so forth.

#queryfail was not about judging fiction writing skills, but about improving one's business correspondence in a particular area: pitching new work to a stranger, engaging her interest, persuading her to invest in your project. If I saw myself, my email habits reflected in the examples of queries rejected out-of-hand, I'd for darn sure be glad to know about it.

#51 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:32 PM:

Haven't read the comments yet, but Agent Nathan Bransford offered writers the chance to agent for a day for prizes and renown. He invited the loudest complaining authors to step up and pick five published stories out of 50 queries submitted.

He's collecting queries this week and will start putting the volunteer "agents" through their paces on Monday the 13th.

http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2009/04/announcing-be-agent-for-day-contest.html

#52 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 03:36 PM:

Pericat@50:

"A query letter is not the same kind of thing as a partial manuscript. The latter is a creative work and the former is business correspondence."

Thank you, that was the distinction I was looking for. I may not have made myself clear, but I wasn't equating the two myself, and wasn't sure why.

#53 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:13 PM:

That contest over at Nathan Bransford's blog sounds like a blast. See? Voluntary. I would be prepared.

I could never be an agent. I would starve to death because the temptation to create a Mad Libs-style form rejection would be difficult to resist. I would be hated, yet conversely famous... This is why the Universe will never let me have super powers.

#54 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:28 PM:

46@Sylvia:

(I wrote:)
They seemed quite matter of fact about the queries they received and gave sensible advice on how to avoid the mistakes they're seeing.


(You replied:)
So did Teresa. The difference is in holding up specific examples - I don't think it is necessary.

But Teresa held up specific examples too.

#55 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:31 PM:

But Teresa held up specific examples too.

Of ones that the original submitter had placed on the Internet, and thus in the public eye, themselves. That is a difference, I think.

#56 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 04:42 PM:

Is it me, or does Agent Nathan Bransford sound like the hero of a modern swashbuckler to anyone else?

#57 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:06 PM:

pericat @56, if "swashbuckler" means what I think it means, then that's my impression, too.

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:09 PM:

J. Austin, #40: It doesn't always stay in the stockroom. And just for balance, here's the other side doing the same thing. I don't regularly read those sites, but the existence of neither of them surprises me.

#59 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 05:23 PM:

Lee@58:
I'm not surprised either. Someone posted awhile back about a True Porn Clerk Stories blog, and the writing was wonderful, and I enjoyed reading it. I have lots of pissy stories about mean, egotistical, lazy, outright rude customers, but if I post them somewhere, you're not going to be able to tell who they are, or which store I work in. At least I hope you aren't.

#60 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 06:01 PM:

I found #queryfail amusing right up until I recognized one of the tweets as possibly being about an acquaintance's query, and then it was Totally Not Cool. In fact, after that the whole thing made me feel kind of icky.

I don't know how helpful it was anyway. The people savvy enough to follow #queryfail are already (I hope) savvy enough to know better than to make #queryfail types of mistakes.

#61 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 10:50 PM:

I guess it bears repeating because in nearly every discussion I see of #queryfail, one major fact is left out: We didn't use identifiers.

We did not use real names, titles, character names, location names or any other identifiers. The vast majority of examples used were actually paraphrased.

The whining and hang-wringing and gnashing of teeth that followed #queryfail was actually kind of funny considering most of the complainers had their facts wrong.

Afterward, I got a couple of emails from clearly delusional people who threatened to kill my cats, steal my car (I don't own one) and stalk me until I made a public apology. But the conversation officially went into the loony-sphere when Godwin's Law was enacted and I was compared to a Nazi on one comment thread.

Seriously? These are the people threatening to boycott agents? PLEASE! By all means, boycott me and every other agent and editor I know. Do us a solid, man! =)

Cheers!

#62 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2009, 11:32 PM:

Colleen:

I guess it bears repeating because in nearly every discussion I see of #queryfail, one major fact is left out: We didn't use identifiers.

We did not use real names, titles, character names, location names or any other identifiers. The vast majority of examples used were actually paraphrased.

And yet, what K. C. Shaw said:

I found #queryfail amusing right up until I recognized one of the tweets as possibly being about an acquaintance's query, and then it was Totally Not Cool. In fact, after that the whole thing made me feel kind of icky.

Exactly. Not naming names is not the same succeeding in making everything anonymous. Even if it's anonymous to everyone except the author themselves... imagine being that author, and stumbling across your work held up without your permission as an example for educating the public. I'd feel icky, all right.

One of the things that keeps me able to submit stories month after month to editors is knowing that the process is somewhat confidential - JJA might keep a blog, but he isn't in the practice of posting "Look at everything that's wrong with this really inadequate attempt at fiction I received last week..." or even "Look at this interesting example of fiction I had to reject last week." If he were in that habit, I might be too terrified to ever submit anything to F&SF.

I agree with Sylvia - there are plenty of opt-in versions of this process all over the internet, and those teach just as much, if not more (given the limited format of Twitter), than this exercise did. (Someone brought up Ms. Snark--she specifically solicited submissions for the purpose, and the submission window tended to be defined by hours, not days, because even in that brief time she would be indundated) Why do we need one in which the authors did not willingly take part? Why are people who complain about it automatically branded as too thin-skinned for prime-time?

I mean, it's the difference between bringing a first draft to my writing group for critique, and hearing that one of my fellow students has been reading bits of my draft to uninvolved people. I signed up to be thick-skinned about the former, but not the latter.

#63 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:02 AM:

Colleen:

That's terrible about the threats, and all the hateful mail. There's no excuse for that.

But unfortunately, that it turned into PublicRelationsFail is not surprising, no matter the original intent. Writers will fall all over themselves and trample each other for a chance to be critiqued. Given the choice.

I actually threw up the first time I dropped an unsolicited manuscript in the mailbox for a publishing house's slushpile. Done. No way to get it back. Naked.

Some of those complainers are just plain nuts, but some of them, I can totally feel.


#64 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:08 AM:

I'm conflicted here - on the one hand, I understand the general rule that #queryfail was not, in general, polite or civil to the authors cited. Even if specific identifiers had been removed, there were apparently sufficient specifics several times for individual authors to identify themselves, and I recognize that this is painful.

At the same time, I really understand this urge, because it's hit me too - not about writers, but about interviewees. (I often do the front-line interviews for people wishing to become software engineers employed by my employer. As a consequence, I'm often the first engineer an applicant talks to, and so get largely unscreened candidates.) This urge didn't hit me with my first bad candidate, or my second, or even when I did the interview that still makes me shudder and stands out in my head as "worst.candidate.ever". Those interviews led to griping to my spouse and commiserating with my co-workers.

But then, the economy went south and the volume of interviews I was doing went up. Although I don't think the aggregate quality went down, something felt different. The increase in volume (and I was still doing only ~ 1 interview/week) led to an urge to be public about the worst of it. (Let him that hath understanding google for it)

I can only imagine what it must feel like for agents with the volume they deal with.

#65 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:35 AM:

Clearly the query letter is, technically, copyright by the author. However, I think you can make a fair-use claim; Query Fail was a serious exercise in criticism, and twitter-size excerpts from a query letter are probably small enough. (If it had instead been an exercise in mockery, then you might still be able to make some fair-use claims, but you're not writing a direct parody, so it's harder.)

The "precious ideas" guy triggers all my "hopeless wannabe" detector circuits, and I suspect that's also why other people are responding as they are. That's an attitude that cannot survive any significant professional involvement with the field, and is in fact antithetical to the way real writers report themselves as thinking (see me not reading their minds).

#66 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:55 AM:

Years ago, some marketdroid types got the unbrilliant idea of handing out boxer shorts at trade show promo items....

#67 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 12:59 AM:

Paula Lieberman@66:

Dare I ask what was printed on them?

#68 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 01:11 AM:

Kelly McCollough @ 34: "But at every level skin-thickness has a strong correlation to writing success. You can live without it, but.... "

Yeah, I'm not too sure where I stand on QUERYFAIL from a ethical perspective, but it seems to me that from a purely functional one, no writer who gets upset about something like that would be happy as a published author. I'm pretty sure that the chances of being critiqued and/or insulted by anonymous strangers only goes up over a writer's career.

#69 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 03:34 AM:

It's probably worth distinguishing, when considering QueryFail, that while the rejected authors are all amateurs, the editors are all professionals. The amateur has a reasonable expectation of professionalism from a professional. The professional has no reason to expect professionalism from an amateur.

As aspiring professionals, the submitting authors would be wise to adopt professional standards of behavior. Knowing the quality of work in a slushpile as they do, editors would be foolish to expect it. But as professionals, the expectation that they act professionally doesn't go away for editors, just because they're dealing with amateur/unprofessional slush-pile writers.

And one of the things one expects of a professional is confidentiality and discretion. Posting about poor-quality query letters in a way that allows the poor-quality letter writer to be identified is neither confidential nor discrete.

If the goal of QueryFail was to educate would-be writers on common pitfalls of query letter writing, Twitter seems a poorly chosen method of carrying out that goal. The short posts don't allow for much analysis of the faults of the query, so the result seems mocking rather than helpful, particularly to those who don't already know the pitfalls. And the live, unedited nature of Twitter means that the posts will be put up without careful editing, ensuring that even careful editors are likely to have a few slip-ups when trying to make the letters anonymous.

Both QueryFail and the website that inspired Teresa's "Slushkiller" have issues of unprofessionalism. But "you're being unprofessional" is a complaint that has significant teeth only against the professionals.

Which is probably why QueryFail feels wrong in certain ways, while the websites of complaints by rejected authors seem merely sad.

#70 ::: A Nonny Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 08:31 AM:

(Don't want to be recognised myself, to keep this person anonymous.)

I've a friend who's been a visual artist in a couple of media, a technical journalist, plus various other 'day jobs', & is now attempting to be a published (non-genre) book author.

They've partially-thick skin, but after nearly 30 years acquaintance, my understanding is they need a fair few quivering exposed sensitive nerve ends to be able to feel the people & relationships enough, to soak in a place's atmosphere, & understand how places & times & situations affect people; then have the emotional & intellectual sensitivity as well as intelligence & discipline to express it cogently & affectingly.

They also need a protective carapace for those sensitive bits, & I can imagine that it might be tricky to deploy in just the right way & time. I've angered or hurt them unknowingly many times, but we do care deeply for each other, & have, with pain & difficulty, 'worked thru' these.

Someone similar with less control or intelligence or different upbringing & ethics could behave much worse to a stranger.

#71 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 09:08 AM:

Matthew Brown@55: That's not actually a difference. In both cases, it's the received letter that was placed on the internet. i.e., In Slushkiller, the original submitter put the rejection letter, words written by the editor, on the internet. (I do want to make the distinction that TNH didn't put those letters on the internet. She was analyzing what was already there. In #queryfail, the agent commented on received queries, quoting them at times.)

Ursual@69's comment notwithstanding, I'm uneasy with the notion that it's ok for writers to put rejection letters on the internet, but it's not ok for agents to extract portions of query letters for critique. Even if we feel that the former is a bit sad, the lack of outrage is an implicit acceptance. I mean, one thing that everyone stresses to the aspiring professional is that she or he must behave professionally. (It's like an interview. Dress for the job you want.) I don't think we should get a pass just because we haven't published yet.

I should probably make it clear that I'm don't think publishing either rejections or queries to the internet should be something that someone does lightly. Having a day where agents make comments on anonymized queries for the purposes of improving the quality of queries passes muster with me. However, I can see why it might not with others. In that case, not submitting to agents that participate in #queryfail in order to avoid having one's query tweeted about seems like a rational thing to do. (Or maybe there's a polite way to say "Please don't tweet about this query" in the midst of the query?)

We may be in for a sidebar about what the standard for anonymizing a query is. We clearly have competing standards swirling around. One is that no one should be able to tell who wrote the original query. i.e., the writer who queried should be unable to recognize her or his own work. Another is the querying writer (and anyone who knows the submitted work well) might recognize it, but no one else. i.e., just because you know who wrote that sentence doesn't mean the public at large does.

Simply stating "Posting about poor-quality query letters in a way that allows the poor-quality letter writer to be identified" makes it sound like the agents, while avoiding any names, still tweeted incriminating details that allows any random tweet follower to work out who had written that query. That's not what happened. At worst, the agents tweeted short quotes that allowed someone who had read the query letter to work out who had written the query. What's happening is that we're talking about the latter using the language of the former when the impact of those two cases are not the same.

Everyone agrees on the need for anonymity here. There's a definite disagreement on what constitutes anonymity.

[Skip the upcoming paragraph if you subscribe to an expansive definition of "spoiler", know absolutely nothing about Watchmen and want to stay that way.]


(Weirdly, there's an analogous discussion about what constitutes a spoiler. i.e., is a spoiler which requires knowledge of the work being spoiled to understand it still a spoiler? e.g., John Scalzi's blog pointed to an image of a movie theater marquee for Watchmen that had the words "Bring your own squid." Explaining "Bring your own squid", of course, involves massive spoilage.)


[And we're back...]
Incidentally, even with the highest standard of anonymity, I think some quoting of queries is still in bounds. e.g., I seriously doubt quoting the words "fictional novel" will allow anyone to identify his or her own query. I suspect if you had written that in your query, and saw the "fictional novel " tweet, you'd still be mortified anyway. I know I'd be.

Sadly, this means that this discussion is really not about how agents can avoid embarrassing writers when critiquing queries. That seems impossible. Any discussion will likely embarrass someone. It's about avoiding needless embarrassment.

Niki@62: Nick Mamatas, when he edited Clarkesworld, blogged about his slush. No, he didn't take stories apart. However, he did occasionally quote poorly written passages, the rejection letters he sent, and responses to the rejection letters if they were unprofessional enough. Obviously, he subscribed to the lower bar of anonymity. I'd expect the writer recognized his or her own work. I doubt anyone else could identify the writer unless, say, she or he had beta-ed the story and still remembered it.

The main reason I started reading his blog was to check if he blogged about my submissions to Clarkesworld. (I stayed because he's an interesting blogger.) He never did, but if he had, I'm likely the only one who would have known. (Maybe people who critiqued my stories might too if they remembered, but that's it.)

If JJA started blogging about slush, I'd read with interest as long as it wasn't just snark, knowing full well that he might rail about my story. Personally, I can use the feedback. However, I can also see why that might stop you and others from ever submitting to F&SF again though. i.e., the personal embarrassment is bad enough even without having been shamed to the rest of the world.

(I think we all have our standards for such things. I've definitely gotten rejections where, on one hand, I recognize that it's an absolutely professional rejection. But, on the other hand, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. I imagine someone else getting the same rejection might think nothing of it. Yet another person might find it unprofessional perhaps. Like I said, I didn't find it unprofessional and despite the initial pain, ultimately found the comment useful. But that's me.)

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 09:19 AM:

"Silence = no" is, by its nature, abusive.

Silence could also mean "Never received because the submission was eaten by Net Weirdness (including, but not limited to, mistyped addresses, spam filters, odd glitches)."

Silence could also mean "I'm still thinking about it/haven't gotten to it. Don't despair."

Silence could also mean "My enthusiastic response was eaten by Net Weirdness."


#73 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 10:05 AM:

Ursual@69's comment notwithstanding, I'm uneasy with the notion that it's ok for writers to put rejection letters on the internet, but it's not ok for agents to extract portions of query letters for critique. Even if we feel that the former is a bit sad, the lack of outrage is an implicit acceptance. I mean, one thing that everyone stresses to the aspiring professional is that she or he must behave professionally. (It's like an interview. Dress for the job you want.) I don't think we should get a pass just because we haven't published yet.

I wouldn't say that it is right for authors to put rejection letters up on the internet. It doesn't reflect well on a would-be professional writer as someone editors would want to work with, and it's generally better to keep private business correspondence private.

But it isn't a violation of trust in the same way that editors making things public is. Would-be writers have to place a lot of trust in editors they barely know. They have to be able to trust that the editors won't just throw away manuscripts without looking at them, that editors won't pass the story idea on to other writers, that editors will look at the manuscript in a timely manner, and that editors will let them know if the manuscript is rejected so they can send it on to other writers.

In that context, one indiscretion by an editor can lead authors to (somewhat legitimately) question whether the editor is being properly discrete with other aspects of the interaction. And an indiscretion in which many editors participate can lead authors to wonder about the overall professionalism and trustworthiness of the profession.

"Can I trust these people with my baby" is a question every new author has, and one where the answer isn't always "yes" - many people wind up unwitting victims of thing like PublishAmerica and the like.

So an indiscretion by an editor is troubling in a way in which an indiscretion by an author about a rejection letter isn't. There is little professional risk to an editor if a (not completely inappropriate) rejection letter is made public. There is considerably more risk to an author if editors make a habit of going public with things that are sent in.

#74 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 10:29 AM:

I have to concur with Ursula here - I am in a position where I routinely correspond with customers. It would be a tremendous breach of trust (and a huge source of drama) were I to post even remotely identifiable snippets of my customers' correspondence publicly - however, it is a basic assumption of my profession that everything I say to a customer, in any context, in any medium, is likely to end up on the internet fifteen seconds after it's sent. That's just the way it works, and we build our corporate communications policies around that assumption.

#75 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 10:52 AM:

A question for the inhabitants of Making Light. If the same group had done the same thing only used successful queries and called it #querywin, would you be just as upset/concerned?

Taking that same question one step farther. What do you suspect the general fall out would be among the people held up as examples?

#76 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 11:07 AM:

At school we read a poem which compared the task of writing a poem with that of building a pigsty. The poet (no, can't remember) emphasised the need to incorporate a channel to drain off the slurry.
If we fail to do this, and fail to maintain the drainage channel, our writing will be found to contain unacceptable levels of pigshit. Informing us of this is a kindness, as sometimes we don't notice the smell.

#77 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 11:23 AM:

re: John Chu - I think the differing comfort levels with discovering your private communication/submission in an extremely public venue ("Surprise! You're on Candid Camera!") is exactly why this needs to be an opt-in process, with "permission denied" the default. Also, what Ursula said about having a right to expect professional behavior from professionals. But I'm glad that, were this you, you wouldn't have a problem with it. That's one less stress for you. Me, I'd probably feel violated, on a trust level, and I can't convince myself that it's just that I'm too thin-skinned to be a professional writer.

Someone upthread referred disparagingly to "people who are so thin-skinned as to be offended on other people's behalf." That quote bothered me all night, and not just because "hey, I resemble that remark." In the cool light of morning, and with coffee in hand, I think I can finally pinpoint what really bugs me about it: "You call that 'extremely thin-skinned'? Funny; my phrase for that is having empathy."

#78 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 11:49 AM:

Colleen Lindsay, thanks for the clarification.

Sylvia @46: I'm afraid I'm going to have to argue with you.

There's a big difference between talking about submissions sent to you with another editor and a public performance.
Yes. The editor already knows the general outlines of what you're talking about. Most writers don't. Thus, the benefit in discussing it in public.

I think Queryfail was a good thing. I can't remember when I last saw multiple professional agents discussing specific submission issues that openly.

Blowing off steam is understandable but not always professional. In my opinion, this event may have been interesting or even enlightening but still strikes me as generally unprofessional.
If "professional" means "how the professionals behave" or "how the professionals behave in front of their peers," then it was unquestionably professional behavior. Everyone who works with slush has to sometimes blow off steam by talking about it.

Slush can be surreal and disorienting. Every description of a book relocates you to an imaginary space where you try to model what the author is talking about. Some of those imaginary spaces are deeply weird, just wrong. Your mind gets bent out of shape trying to encompass them. You need the reality check provided by seeing your fellow humans' reactions to the material.

In short, needing to talk about slush is the natural outcome of engaging with it.

Most writers who get a good long look at a slushpile find the experience encouraging. They hadn't previously understood how much of the competition is obviously unpublishable. They also learn a lot about things not to do.

Most public discussions of slush submissions have focused on the manuscripts themselves. Occasionally they've focused on cover letters. I haven't seen many discussions of queries. Queryfail did a lot to fill that gap.

(Quoting John Chu @41)

They seemed quite matter of fact about the queries they received and gave sensible advice on how to avoid the mistakes they're seeing.
So did Teresa. The difference is in holding up specific examples - I don't think it is necessary.
But I did quote specific examples in Slushkiller. The only difference was that I quoted rejection letters and author responses that the authors themselves had posted online.
There were recognisable descriptions and direct quotes in the initial tweets and also reprinted all over including national press. Friends and family would certainly have enough detail to see your public failure.
Forgive me if I'm behind on the news, but are we certain of that? The incidence of multiple authors coming up with roughly the same idea at the same time is seriously underrated. Their execution is always different; but when you're describing book ideas at the query level, there are inevitably going to be duplicates and near-duplicates.

Another thing that's seriously underrated is the ability of authors to hear a nonspecific general description and "recognize" it as a reference to their own work. There are scam agents who for years have used the same vague, generic editorial letters, and had hundreds of clients read them as specific responses to manuscripts the scam agents had of course never read.

I don't think those people who submitted their queries knew what they were letting themselves in for - and I see no reason why they should have to accept that sort of treatment as a part of the query process. For me, it's not about copyright, it's being treated decently in what is, effectively, a transaction.
I don't like public readings of slush. This wasn't that. They were discussing the misconceptions that lead writers to submit bad queries. And as Colleen Lindsay pointed out, they didn't use recognizable identifiers -- names, titles, character names, location names, etc. -- and the vast majority of examples used were paraphrased. Most of the hand-wringing was done by people who'd misidentified the subject(s) of the agents' remarks. (Note the first item in the list.)
I don't think there is any way for a rejection to not hurt.
If there were, we would have found one by now.
I've had a lot of rejections as well (including one that was so bizarre that I admit I quoted it in an online discussion)
There's no impropriety in it. That need to check others' reactions to something bizarre is the same one that leads editors and agents to compare notes on slush.
However, I don't feel that publishing excerpts of those queries as examples of what not to do should be an accepted part of the process.
They were almost all rephrased. Ideas are fair game. And you have to use specific examples, because nothing else will get the idea across.

#79 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Teresa, thank you for that comment, it clarified a lot of my unease about some of the reactions to queryfail. It also captured an aspect of slush pile reading that I was intuitively aware of, but hadn't really thought about. I've read some disturbing submissions, some were disturbing in a good way and others in a bad way. And sometimes it's hard to know if you are reading a piece of writing openly or if your innate biases are getting the better of you. Talking about it helps to clarify things.

#80 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 01:53 PM:

I have to say, I'm over in the camp that finds queryfail and related exercises to be tacky . . . guilty pleasures at the best of times, and at other times outright squick-producing. And I'm not sure it makes much difference whether you're humiliating someone in public for their own good, or for the good of a more general audience.

#81 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 02:05 PM:

Niki@77: The only way in which I disagree with anyone is with the casual demand of professional behavior without ever describing what professional behavior is. We all agree that agents ought to behave professionally. I don't think we all agree what professionally means in this context.

I can imagine some version of #queryfail where they tweet stuff like: "The term 'fictional novel' does not exist. That's an instant rejection." (In fact, that's very nearly a direct example from the actual #queryfail.) Or perhaps "[paraphrase of idea description] has been done many times now." (I believe the same goes for this.)

Now, clearly, someone's query inspired each one of these. It's impossible to tell which query did though. However, if I had written a query that used the words "fictional novel" or proposed a novel based on [idea], I'd be mortified even though I have no way of knowing whether that tweet was about my query or not. In fact, statistically speaking, it's more likely that it wasn't my query that inspired the tweet. And it wouldn't make me feel better even if I knew said agent wasn't writing about my query.

If I take what you're saying literally though, then I have to conclude that this is unprofessional behavior on the part of agents because they have made someone who has sent a query to them uncomfortable. One logical conclusion is that in order for agents to behave professionally, they would have to, for example, ask permission of everyone who has sent a query to them using the term "fictional novel" before they are allowed to use that example in a public arena.

And my first thought is that you can't possibly mean anything this draconian. Being a literary agent should not come with a gag order. I honestly don't see why it's unprofessional if even you can't be sure that the agent is talking about your query. (I didn't do a running count, but given the paraphrasing and wholesale redaction of proper nouns, I suspect this is the case for much of #queryfail.)

I'm obviously not saying that agents can say whatever they want willy nilly and still adhere to standards of professionalism. What I am saying is when the request is for agents to simply treat writers professionally, I don't know what that means in this context.

#82 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 02:20 PM:

You know, it's sort of disturbing how jaded I have become. I'm an online community manager - I moderate, create content, run events, that sort of thing. And I've found that when looking at this kind of internet dramastorm, I have a weirdly skewed set of priorities. I look at this, and rather than think "this is kind of a skeevy idea and raises ethical issues around expectations of confidentiality" I think "this will incite a substantial percentage of the "aspiring novelists" group to complain loudly and publicly about this kind of behavior. Is the expected return worth the drama?"

I really, genuinely don't care about the ethical issues - or, at least, I care about them after making the potential-drama calculation. And I begin to think that should bother me.

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 03:05 PM:

Nicole @77:
Someone upthread referred disparagingly to "people who are so thin-skinned as to be offended on other people's behalf." That quote bothered me all night, and not just because "hey, I resemble that remark." In the cool light of morning, and with coffee in hand, I think I can finally pinpoint what really bugs me about it: "You call that 'extremely thin-skinned'? Funny; my phrase for that is having empathy."

Without in the least disparaging the quality of empathy, of which I am a big fan, I would point out that offense on other people's behalf is not necessarily the same thing.

Empathy focuses on the person being hurt. The sharing of their experience may lead to feelings about the people doing the hurting, but empathy leaves the control in the hands of the victims. When they are ready to move on, the empathic person helps them to do this, and joins them in it.

Offense on another's behalf has another focus: it is primarily aimed at the perpetrator. In extreme cases, not even the victim can call and end to it.

I've noticed this during many online discussions of topics like race and gender, often enough to identify it as a pattern. There is nothing so unquenchable as outrage on behalf of another (or, in many cases, a group of others, whose collective experiences provide a greater pool of triggers).

I think that the impulse that the phenomenon springs from is noble, but I note that its effect is more often destructive than constructive.

#84 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 04:09 PM:

Perhaps like the prisoners in the joke*, the editors and/or agents could merely refer to the submissions/queries by the Slushkiller Number (SK#).

Thus: "Thursday, April 9. Twelve SK#4, four SK#8, one SK#11. Regrettably, one SK#13 that I reluctantly returned."

"You think you have it bad? Nothing but SK#1 all day."

#85 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 04:21 PM:

It was always SK#12 that freaked me out. What do you do if you've written the wrong book? Write the right one about the same series of events?

Worrying about this kind of thing, along with epicyclic editing and other serious mental problems, is what keeps me (mostly) from finishing anything beyond the crappiest little story. Analysis paralysis, one of my old bosses used to call it.

#86 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 04:36 PM:

Xopher #85, my solution, when I realized I was writing the wrong book, was to switch viewpoint characters and move from third to first-person perspective. It seems to be working.

#87 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 05:33 PM:

Jeremy@74: why is your case analogous? The customer is dealing with your employer; the wannabe is asking the editor to spend money to make the wannabe a public figure. I'm not entirely in the camp of the-agents-were-100%-right, but I think they were more right than you'd be.

#88 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 05:46 PM:

CHip@87 - it's not a question of "right" or "wrong", it's a question of "will this cause predictable outrage?" In my experience, it certainly will. Outrage is not good for my particular business - perhaps the agents in question have a different view, but I doubt it. I suspect they simply didn't anticipate the outrage.

The point Ursula was making, that it's no more right that writers post correspondence they've received, but tends to cause less outrage, also matches my experience. That's all I was saying.

As I said above, I actually don't really care about the ethical questions. #queryfail fails my drama test, and therefore is not something I think is a sensible business move. If it didn't fail the drama test, then I'd have to think about the ethical issues.

#89 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 08:17 PM:

Jeremy, #82: I don't think you need to worry. As you say downthread, if it got past your drama test, then you would worry about the ethical issues. To me, that just says you're approaching the situation pragmatically, dealing with the aspect of the issue that's most relevant to your position first.

#90 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 08:36 PM:

Victoria@75:

I think you're right; if it had been QueryWin, the response would have been different. I was thinking about something else on my long walk to work today, and it's probably only interesting inside my head, but here goes:

How many people freaked out on the defensive side simply because the fact that it was a group (pack) of agents tripped all their bully meters? In that case, a professional, amiable tone to the tweets wouldn't have even registered.

The mano a mano sense of balance is thrown off--a solitary author is suddenly faced with several of the other tribe--and feels like he's just been given a critique wedgie in front of the whole class?

I mean, that loud, boisterous group of guys at the next table sounds like a fun group, right? But maybe the waitress doesn't feel the same way...

That's just the impression I got from the negative responses, and could explain the origin of some of the general "icky" feelings a lot of people were left with over the whole thing.

#91 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2009, 10:15 PM:

Being neither a writer nor a literary agent, I observed the #queryfail conversation without participating. (My interest in it comes from my interest in process, in how people do things, how they decide what to do and when.) What I took away from reading the tweets is that agents have an enormous number of queries every day that they must deal with somehow. At the same time, they have only so much spare time to devote to dealing with them, since their contractual obligations are elsewhere.

It became clear to me that an agent fielding queries is making or seeking to make decisions on discrete proposals on an average of one per thirty seconds. That's more than exhausting. To keep that up, over even thirty minutes, you have to have a crystal-clear set of criteria, which is I presume the impetus for crafting rigorous submission guidelines.

And yet, rigorous subbing guidelines notwithstanding, there's still so much drek to wade through; not drek as in 'bad fiction writing', but drek as in unusable proposals whose subject is a particular piece of writing, which the agent might ask to see if the proposal, the query, matches up with what the agent says she handles, AND doesn't read like it was composed to the dictation of dancing fauns sporting uzis.

Twitter has a silly name, but for real-time discussion where participants are not wanting to cloak what they say and think, or how and why they make decisions, it's not a bad venue. All day it was 'decision; reason', 'decision; reason'. No clue what book is about, since book not mentioned in letter. Intriguing premise, but I don't rep that. Germ of a half-formed and frankly frightening idea, and boy, am I glad I don't rep *that*, or know anyone who does.

For someone whose success or failure depends on how well they cold-call strangers, that particular discussion has to be a goldmine.

#92 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 10:11 AM:

I'm having a processing issue here and I may be missing something but...when I send a piece of writing off to an editor (I've got an agent already, but the principal is much the same) I'm sending it off with the express purpose of convincing the editor to publish that piece of writing as widely as possible.

The whole point in going through the process is to make your writing not private. So I'm not entirely sure that I buy the the agent/editor must keep my writing private to show respect argument.

Now, I realize that some of the ancillary materials aren't expressly intended to be published, and certainly things like contract negotiations should be considered confidential, but even with those, most of my materials are going to end up going off to NIU where they archive my papers, so that people who are interested can access them. That includes some pretty embarrassing stuff from my early years of writing and I'm including that because that's part of the process.

I guess my point is that the whole purpose of the industry is to make writing public, and since (no matter how successful or competent the writer is) that often leads to things like negative reviews or people saying nasty things about the work, I'm having something of a disconnect on trying to see this as anything but a bunch of agents making a positive effort to educate authors about ways to make their work better.

#93 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 12:03 PM:

I had some thoughts about QueryFail, but I decided I should go read it myself before deciding anything.

The #1 thing I learned is that Twitter is much, much worse than I had ever imagined. Reading this is like being in an AOL chatroom with five hundred tweens awaiting the arrival of the latest boyband heartthrob. The sheer weight of "Look at what QueryFail is! We're going to post the term 'fictional novel' five dozen times! LOL! What's QueryFail? QueryFail is going on! LOL @ QueryFail!" made my head explode. I couldn't actually see anything useful being posted. ("Don't be crazy" isn't at all useful, and seems to be what 99% of the "advice" boils down to. Crazy people won't listen, and non-crazy people don't need to.) Any single entry on Miss Snark's blog would be more valuable to the aspiring query-writer than reading this.

So it looks to me like a steam-blowing exercise, which is fine, but not necessary to make a big fuss about in public. Sure, everyone does it (hang out with nurses sometime), but there's no need to pretend it's somehow noble or educational. Yuk.

(In case anyone's curious, my pre-actually-reading-it position was "well, it's never ok to demand someone not take offense at what you've said/done, but I don't think this is a bad thing.")

#94 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 12:07 PM:

Kelly @92: I think much of the problem stems from the fact that authors send their material off to an agent or author with the intention that it be publicised as widely as possible as wonderful writing. Even those of us who understand the point made in Slushkiller are going to find it painful to be publicly rejected, and there are a lot of would-be authors who hate any agent or editor who fails to recognise their brilliance.[*] The thing that I immediately thought of when I first saw the complaints about queryfail was something Teresa said in Slushkiller: That’s why reading it put me in mind of those long-ago jerks whom I dated once apiece. The writer’s dropped the pretense that there were any other human values that mattered to her in this interaction. The bitch didn’t put out, and that’s that.

And it is public rejection in the minds of many. The anonymising doesn't matter, because an awful lot of writers will see their baby^Wbook in a vague 140 character description, and some of them are going to be convinced that everybody else will as well.

[*]There are also a lot of published authors who really shouldn't be allowed to read online reviews on a net connection that allows them to post in reply...

#95 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 12:42 PM:

For some perspective, here's the level of mockery aspiring musicians have to put up with.

#96 ::: Mike Cooley ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 02:26 PM:

@95:

Such gnashing of teeth! As a musician and a
writer I relish being mocked and humiliated
for my words, lyrics, music, and fashion sense.

QueryFail is awesome and instructional. I think
I need the condensed version though, so I don't have
to see all the failures repeated endlessly.

Z

#97 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 03:13 PM:

Cat Meadors @ #93: Agree. The main thing I learned from this is that I really really have no interest in being involved with Twitter. It manages to make even seemingly intelligent people look like idiots.

#98 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 06:08 PM:

One of the maxims of John Paul Jones is:

Praise in public; reprimand in private.

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 06:27 PM:

More thoughts on the flap: Where is the power?

Agents have the power in the unpublished author/agent relationship.

Essentially, imagine the agents were the most popular young ladies in high school. And various young men asked them for dates every day. And, suddenly, without warning, the young ladies posted DateFAIL messages. Even if no one else in the whole world knew which one was your request, you'd know, and be ... not happy.

Even if thousands of other would-be suitors learned from this that "Box of candy lame lame lame" wasn't the right way to win that particular young lady's favor.

#100 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 07:19 PM:

One thing that's being lightly touched here that I would like to strike a little more solidly: the enormous power imbalance between writer and agent. There's a six-month wait for a 'no' answer (#40 and #47); there's the 'silence=no', which is accurately summarized in #72. If the numbers in #91 are right, agents are making judgements on a year's worth of a person's work in less than a minute. That's a huge disparity.

How the agents, individually and collectively, deal with the power imbalance says much about them, and I think that #80 ('humiliating someone in public for their own good, or for the good of a more general audience') is a fair summary.

#101 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 07:20 PM:

Comment #99 posted while I was writing #100.

#102 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 08:51 PM:

Debra Doyle #80: "Tacky" is a very good word for the the whole endeavor of QueryFail. Not really evil, and it's "interesting" in the prurient sense (that is, as a guilty pleasure), but... not entirely wholesome either. (And Jim at #99 gives a big hint as to why!)

#103 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 09:29 PM:

Cat Meadors (#93) "Don't be crazy" isn't at all useful, and seems to be what 99% of the "advice" boils down to. Crazy people won't listen, and non-crazy people don't need to.)

Help with defining or examples of crazy and non-crazy, and how one thing can be seen as both in different circumstances could be very useful, though Miss Snark could be a better source.

I think I'm 98-99% non-crazy; feedback says maybe only 90-95%. So I've had to, with much struggle and still not always successfully, modify my (identifiable) public behaviour, writing and media output to make it more acceptable. I am rather angry and bitter about that, still sensitive on certain points — another bit that needs to be controlled (so I can understand, if not accept, some reactions). Honest feedback, even overhearing you being criticised between two other people, can be useful, if hurtful. Maybe QueryFAIL would work better if you could ask "what is it about $EXAMPLE that you think is crazy" (Twitter mayn't be best conduit.)

Many times I've heard people being mocked, called crazy, weird or otherwise unacceptable for expressing thoughts or behaving in ways I've found truthful or very understandable. It hurts, but it does show how I need to mask and modify to be acceptable (and perhaps try to argue or express those thoughts in ways the 'mainstream', 'normal' (mundane?) culture can digest); and, sometimes, consider the rightness of my thoughts <g>.

Surely this community can empathise with that.

OTOH, Cat, yup. Lotsa crude, rude, stupid vapidity (IMO) in lotsa comments (and blogs) in lotsa places. Lotsa baaad writing. Sturgeon's Law? It's wearying to get to the good bits — why I like ML <g>
(Disclaimer: I make no claim to be a good writer, and have little authorial ambition. I do like to read.)

#104 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 10:42 PM:

Mez, sympathies. I understand what that's like.

Some of the real me is different in ways that will never be acceptable to show. And also, sometimes it's unacceptable to be a few percent less crazy on subjects which society demands you be more crazy about - which is crazy-making in itself. Learning those, and sorting out the difference, and finding (sometimes) communities where you can safely express more of what's unacceptable - never all! - is a slow and excruciatingly painful process.

#105 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2009, 11:29 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 104...

"They said I was crazy at the University, but I'll show them! Muahahahahaha!!!!! For Science!!!!!"

#106 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 12:16 AM:

xeger, actually Uni was a good place for the science geeks and environmentalists (as they're now known), sf readers and watchers (SUSFA), committed photographers (SUPS), mediaevalists, and other unPopular Culture "people like me". Including many keen on things I wasn't interested in, but we could all be un-weird and accepted there.

Clifton (#104) Thank You.

#107 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 12:25 AM:

"They told me I was mad. I told them they were mad. They outvoted me."

--a Bedlamite quoted in Peter Ackroyd's London: the Biography, as near as I can remember it without the book to hand

#108 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 03:13 AM:

That's also quoted in The History of Bethlem, by Jonathan Andrews and Asa Briggs, page 356. The book costs USD$350 on Amazon. heh.

#109 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 07:52 AM:

Mez wrote at 103: Maybe QueryFAIL would work better if you could ask "what is it about $EXAMPLE that you think is crazy" (Twitter mayn't be best conduit.)

That does make sense, and, aside from the rejected author's voluntarily making the letters public (and therefore open to public discussion) it's a major difference between QueryFail and Slushkiller. Teresa chose a handful of examples, and took the time to discuss what problems were going on. QueryFail, by nature of the medium, took many, many tiny examples, and threw them out with very limited commentary.

If the goal is to educate writers, then it would have made sense to adopt the methods of Slushkiller, which provided enough information that someone who is an outsider to the system could actually learn the nature of the mistakes. If the goal was to amuse frustrated agents, then the Twitter method works, but pretending that it was a good way to help writers avoid mistakes, and therefore educational, is disingenuous.

(Not that amusing agents and giving them a place to vent their frustrations is a bad thing. But it's the sort of thing that's best done backstage, not in public view. That's why water coolers were invented.)

Everyone's been in a situation where people start laughing at your mistake, and then when you're upset that you're being laughed at, the laughers insist that it's for your own good, as you'd never learn from your mistakes if they didn't point them out. That's what QueryFail feels like, as a form of writer education.

#110 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 10:27 AM:

Julia Jones, et al, okay, that makes more sense to me. I still think the agents' motivations were good and that the exercise was probably a useful one, but I can better see the harm and why people are upset about it. One of the downsides to developing a leathery hide in relation to publishing is that it sometimes takes a couple of whacks to get my attention focused in the right direction.

#111 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 01:21 PM:

Kelly @110: one of the useful things I got out of Slushkiller was points 11-13 on the scale -- the ones that equate to "we don't want this book, but that doesn't mean that it's rubbish". It does make it easier to to grasp that it's a rejection by that agent/editor/publisher of *that* *book*, not by the publishing world as a whole of the author.

I didn't have a huge amount of sympathy for the people taking offence, because I felt that a lot of the early critical comments I saw boiled down to people complaining about the mere fact of rejection. But it did still make me feel slightly icky, for the reasons Jim gives in 99. I never read the Twitter stream, because I loathe Twitter, but I believe the agents when they say they anonymised the queries. Trouble is that the anonymising and very short comments make it easy for *lots* of authors to think that any particular comment is about their book. And "This is all about me, isn’t it—me and my books? That is what you’re talking about, right?" is one form of authorial insanity I'm very prone to, so I can understand the angst generated.

#112 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 02:35 PM:

Dear sir or madam, will you read my book?

How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?

You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper.

#113 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2009, 02:56 PM:

Here's another data point for response times.

#114 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2009, 09:04 AM:

Like DonBoy #2, I am waiting for the Fail meme to go the way of Beenie Babies and ass-crack pants, Humvees, and Sarah Palin's "popularity." It's a hostile and dehumanizing way to talk about other people, especially other people in the field.

I do not disagree with Teresa that mistakes people make when writing queries, and how queries are received, needs public discussion. But the Fail meme was an unfortunate choice to structure it with.

No more Fail, please. Bye bye, Fail, bye bye.

#115 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2009, 09:14 PM:

Kathryn @114, so that's a FailFAIL, then?

*ducks & runs, dodging & weaving*




(Someone hadda do it! Dinthey?)

#116 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 12:21 PM:

I miss rejection letters. We used to post them on the wall of our homeroom in 4th year (with the banner "PLEASE F*** OFF" - stars and all). I've called them PFOs ever since. The public collection of and commiseration over the PFO was healing in many ways. You could see it wasn't just you, it was the "smart people", too, for only one example.

I think it is the thing-that-is-the-essence-of-the-thing (argh, can't think of the word right now(*)) of the idea that employees are now considered fungible resources by businesses, as opposed to people (but are still so surprised when the employees treat them the same way). "When you care enough to send the very best" is a slogan, true - but businesses now seem to think that it's not necessary to care enough to do the absolute minimum for people (who may be future, or even current, clients/consumers/competitors/evaluators) they choose not to interview. Not sure that's entirely long-term beneficial. So says this "Human Resource".

I understand the "wierdo effect", but there are technical ways around it (you'd lose 90% of the replies-to-replies, and probably 95% of the wackaloon replies, by simply setting reply-to and from to non-read mailbox addresses (even if you put "Replies to this email address are not read"/"Please do not reply to this email - this address is not read" or the like). On your domain, of course, and accessible - otherwise you're playing malware-type games, and the replies may be dropped as spam).

As a result, even though I will never have this issue as I'm not a writer-type writer, I would find "I don't reply to submissions I reject" agents at the bottom of my "I think this person cares enough about people to fight for her clients" list.

(*) google gets me "p'akga a p'akaga-ad". I was looking for the Morporkian.

#117 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 12:29 PM:

Mycroft: Quintessense?

#118 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Xopher: yes. Thanks.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 01:16 PM:

Meh. I misspelled it: quintessence.

#120 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 03:42 PM:

I wasn't going to say anything (cheers for Firefox spellcheck and the EN-CA dictionary)...

#121 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 03:48 PM:

Okay, that sounds smug. What I meant to say was:
"I'm glad that my spellchecker catches me when I'm about to make a post with a supremely rare word in it misslepped. Saved me don't know how many times."

That doesn't stop me from looking like an idiot through lack of context. Sorry, Xopher.

#122 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2009, 03:54 PM:

I saw 120 & 121 at the same time, and don't think I'd've been offended by 120 even if I had seen it alone. I think I'd've taken it as good-natured teasing, even today when I'm so pissed off about the Amazon thing that I...might be a little hypersensitive.

No harm no foul, in other words!

#123 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 03:44 PM:

Sorry - I went away from the thread due to a mixture of scheduling and the general awareness that a raw nerve of mine was being hit and thus it would be wise if I took a break. And of course now the last response to the thread is a week old. Pleh.

In response to John Chu: no, my objection is not simply that people's feelings were hurt.* It's to do with, in order of appearance...

...what D. Doyle said (80) about humiliating people for their own good, regardless of whether the humiliation came from an inappropriate application of the "they're talking about me" author insanity,**

...what J. Austin (90) said about bullying and what JDM and Doug said (99, 100) about imbalance of power,

...and a heaping helping of what Ursula L. said (109) about laughing at people and then scolding them for being hurt because being laughed at builds character, puts hair on one's chest, and so forth.

And in response to abi, I can only defend my own "outrage on others' behalf", no one else's. Yes, empathy is not an infallible indication that Something Ought To Be Done. Yet it's a useful impulse. Without it, things would not be done even when Something Ought To Be Done. Which is not news to you, of course. My point is, I'm uncomfortable with complaints of "people being so thin-skinned as to be offended on others' behalf," because it sounds like a complaint not just about inappropriate action taken in response to the empathy impulse, but about empathy itself. I mean, that's how it sounds to me. Mileage varies & yadda.


* Can we agree that although "don't hurt people's feelings" would be terrible as an ironclad rule, "don't hurt people unnecessarily" remains a reasonable guideline? And that the symptom of "hurt feelings" is reliably present both in oversensitive whiny cry-babies unreasonably expecting others to self-censor for their benefit as well as in recipients of unjust treatment?

** A very effective bullying technique some schoolmates of mine had was to sit next to me, whisper loudly and unintelligibly, shoot overt looks in my direction, and toss in a few audible words guaranteed to catch my attention. The next step was to loudly chastise me for paranoia when I reacted predictably to this. (The teacher was no fool, thankfully, and they got in trouble for it.) The experience left me with a lasting sympathy for people who are accused of paranoia, and a reluctance to just assume that the accusation is accurate. I try not to let that tendency push me too far the other way, of course; sometimes paranoia really is paranoia. But even then, the suffering they feel is real.

#124 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 04:36 PM:

Nicole, #123: I read the "people so thin-skinned as to take offense on other people's behalf" as carrying a tag of "when the other people themselves have not been offended". That may not have been how it was meant, though.

I do believe that it is important for people not directly affected by an offense to speak up and say, "Hey, that's not cool with me either!"

#125 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 03:56 PM:

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