You are either completely sheltered or measurelessly brilliant if you have not been following, on some level, the goings-on known as Queryfail and Agentfail. The former took place on Twitter; the latter in the comment box of a blog.
No, I'm not posting links. If you are insatiably curious, look them up (they're all over the Net, and have even made their way into the UK Guardian).
Here's the nutshell version: Queryfail was a forum for agents to point out ridiculous errors in queries that garnered an immediate rejection. Agentfail was a forum for writers to voice their complaints about agently behavior.
The latter quickly deteriorated into vitriolic bitterness the likes of which no agent deserves to see.
So. Here's what I see: The problem, methinks, lies in the word "fail." Use of the word is almost de rigueur online when one is referring to anything that falls short, doesn't meet expectations, or is downright wrong. I've seen some belly-laugh-inducing photos on the Fail web site, after all.
But think about it. "Fail" denotes, well, failure. As in, it can't get any worse. Once you've failed at something, you can't "unfail."
Writers don't need to hear that kind of language. And, frankly, neither do agents.
So let's turn to Marriage Counseling 101 for a bit of wisdom, shall we? When confronting a spouse with behavior that makes us unhappy (or furious, as the case may be), a good counselor will instruct us to use "I" sentences; that is, begin the sentence with "I" instead of the more accusatory "you."
"You always come home late when I need the car and it screws up my entire evening."
I don't think there's a spouse on the planet who will respond favorably to the above sentence. However, a simple rephrasing makes all the difference:
"I feel frustrated when you come home late when I have plans that evening."
Now stop snickering. It sounds much nicer, and you know it.
(Disclaimer: Authoress is in no way implying that she invariably speaks to Mr. Authoress in the prescribed manner.)
"You never pay attention to me when I'm trying to tell you something important!"
"I feel ignored when you don't listen carefully while I'm talking."
Now let's apply this to authors and agents.
The query-deluged agent might say, "I feel annoyed when writers don't pay attention to the guidelines on my web site."
The disgruntled writer might say, "I feel frustrated when agents take 12 weeks to reply to an original query letter."
And so on.
Ultimately, this kind of conversation would quickly become stilted. And sound, yanno, stupid. But the point isn't to create conversation; at least not in the author/agent arena. It's to produce a PRODUCTIVE list of so-called "fails" instead of an unproductive, and often downright disrespectful (i.e. Agentfail) list.
If we would only remember to start our sentences with "I."
Let's give it a try.
Use the comment box to express everything that's on your heart concerning the writing/querying/publishing process. Begin your sentences with "I."
You see, I happen to know that I've got an amazing bunch of aspiring authors hanging around this blog. I believe the standard here is higher; the pickins are more prime.
Yep, I feel strongly about this. As you already know.
I'll go further. I believe that many of you will go on to be published. I'll see your books on the shelves; heck, I'll read your books. And it'll feel like sharing in the success of a family member.
So. Share your "I" sentences. Even if you don't have a gripe or sorrow or question. Because "I love chocolate" certainly counts as an "I" sentence, don't you think?