Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Friday! Tra la!

There have been some questions pertaining to the upcoming Special Thing in December, and I wanted to let you know that I will post more information next week after SA submissions close. I promise!

(Have I mentioned how excited I am about this?)

So here's something to chew on in the comment box today: Somehow the idea of tweeting query bloopers has become controversial. And I wondered how you, as querying writers, feel about it.

For those of you not in the know: Various interns and the occasional agent have been known to tweet their reasons for rejecting certain queries as they go through slush. Sometimes they will (anonymously) quote a small tidbit from the actual query. (Well, it would HAVE to be a small tidbit, since Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet.) Sometimes they will point out a (ridiculous) spelling error or misused word. Often, it's done humorously.

I've never read one in which the actual title or name of the author was divulged. To my knowledge, this is always done anonymously and with the intent to enlighten and teach.

As in, "Hey, all you aspiring authors: DON'T DO THIS."

Yet there are some who say "invasion of private email!" Or "hurtful!" Or "tacky!"

Personally, I don't have a problem with tweets like this, so long as they're not rife with name-calling or undue snark. And honestly? I haven't seen any like that. But then, I'm sure I don't follow every single intern and agent on Twitter.

What about you? Does this sort of thing bother you? Does it affect the way you feel about sending your queries out there? Or do you see it as another vehicle for learning how to avoid mistakes? What about privacy? Does an anonymous eight or nine words quoted from your query constitute breach of privacy?

Do you really think someone might figure out those eight or nine words came from your query letter? And if that were true, would you absolutely die?

Or not?

I think answers will vary depending upon whether a writer has begun to query or not. I am a "seasoned query-er" (how sad is that?) and the whole thing doesn't bother me. I might feel differently if I were teetering nervously on the edge of the querying abyss.

Chat! Share! I'd love to take your pulse on this one.


  1. I've queried before and no it doesn't bother me when the person tweeting is being kind and trying to help. As far as being professional or not, that I'm not sure about.

  2. A smart person learns from their mistakes. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others. I want to see what not to do. While I would be upset to have a mistake of mine shown publicly, I guarantee you it would so burn it into my psyche, I would never make that particular mistake again.

  3. I think one attribute a writer must have is a good sense of humor, more specifically, the ability to laugh at oneself. When I read some of those comments, I cringe. I remember doing something similar. You live. You learn. As long as the agent isn't posting them with derogatory comments, I don't have a problem with it.

    This is a tough business, if you make it, this won't be the worst criticism you're likely to receive.

  4. I have to agree with Lynne Roberts, above.

    If reading blogs and writing a novel and getting to the query process hasn't made someone capable of taking a little criticism (140 words or less, how damning can it be?) - they're not ready.

    As far as I'm concerned? Crucify me. I'll take the publicity, I'll make myself better and we can share a wink and a laugh about it after I'm published. :-)

    We'll call it a character building exercise.

  5. Who has time to Twitter? If I got caught up in all that drama I'd never have time to write. It sucks you in like a really bad soap opera.

  6. I'm a seasoned querier too and I had no problem with the query-tweeting interns on Twitter, mostly because I know that I've done my homework and am not making these mistakes. I'm also assuming that anyone who is into learning about the query process so much that they are following anonymous agency interns on Twitter, either (a) are well-schooled enough to no longer be making these mistakes or (b) really, really want to learn about how to write a winning query. If the latter, honestly, they need to take it as it comes. We're humans. We learn better through mistake than through accomplishment.

  7. I'm a querying author and I have no problem with #queryfail

    Most of the errors they tweet are obviously mistakes made by writers who either haven't been querying long or haven't ever taken a class or read a book about the publishing business.

    I think the moment you lose your sense of humor about the publishing industry it will eat you alive...

    Lisa :)

  8. Personally, I couldn't care less, but on a professional level--perhaps. An agent has no responsibility to an unsigned author, yet there is a level of privacy assumed in the query process. For example, I doubt any of us would deny that sharing a premise, a plot line, a character quirk that the agent thought was clever would be 'all right'.

    Here is the possible problem on a professional level. First the new practice of not replying to queries places another layer of anonymity and distance between agent and prospective client. In that environment, imagine the possible anger when author sees their query picked apart publicly later? And remember, prospective authors can fill an agent's being followed list. A tweeter would probably be following the agent they query, so it is certainly well within the realm of possibility. Tweetdom is public, blogs are public, forums are public--agents are not without responsibility when in the public eye.

    Agents are professionals. Professionals do not use their knowledge or expertise to snark or ridicule others. The agent should have replied courteously with the obvious error and then could have asked to share on a blog or tweet or whatever without naming names etc. Then it would have been a true learning experience for all, without the vague possibility of harming another.

    Signed Ann Landers... or maybe Pollyanna in the heartland. :-)

  9. I don't have a problem with it. After all, how long have writers been sharing their rejection letters? A lot of writers will post entire rejection letters on line, minus the name of who sent it. And as someone else said, it's 140 characters. How bad can it be? If something I wrote ended up there, I'd be laughing along with everyone else. And if you're embarrassed by what you write, you shouldn't be sending it out anyway.

    On the other hand, if we're talking ethics, they probably shouldn't post anything without asking the writer first. And then, it's just common courtesy, and pointing out people's flaws is not kind. But it seems we're talking interns, who are young, who have grown up in a MySpace and FaceBook world where nothing is private and entire lives are discussed on line for all the world to see, so . . . .

    As my grandmother used to say, if you don't want people talking about it, don't do it, or say it, or be it.

  10. i view emails as private matters - much like a phone call. what is exchanged remains between the sender and the recipient. anything beyond that breeches a level of trust.

    do i think these tweets are harmful? probably not. harmless? not entirely. helpful? well, to the people who follow the tweets, i would wager to say they already know the rules of "what not to do in a query." i would assume that the people who are sending these mistake-laden queries aren't following tweets, blogs or anything else for that matter. so, i'd say that they aren't really helpful.

    btw: did you hear the one about....just kidding. :P

  11. It doesn't bother me, even though I'd be embarrassed if something from one of my query letters wound up on the internet. I sent it to them and if there is something from it they want to post, I think they can, as long as it's not divulging personal information.

  12. I linked the info about your December contest on my blog today. Now I just have to get my three sentence logline down to two.

    I have no problems with those tweets if they're done in a helpful way. And usually they are.

  13. I don't follow tweets, but I do follow agents who more and more say they don't have time to respond to queries, but tell me on their blog what song they're listening to and what they had for dinner last night, and if I don't hear anything in two or three months, they're not interested. Seems like an abuse of power for some. Why not spend that time figuring out an easy way, such as an automatic response, that says, "This isn't for me."

    On the other hand, a terrific agent called me ON THE PHONE yesterday to tell me it was sweet of me to think of her, but my book just isn't for her. She was so polite, so personable that I wanted to reach right through the phone and give her a hug.

    Now, that's the kind of agent I want, not someone who makes fun of my errors or maybe is too young to be in charge of reading others' queries if they can't be professional. My question is, why are they so young?

    I also got a response from someone's reader saying no one wants to read about something that happened fifty years ago. Oh, then I guess all those books on the Revolutionary and Second World War that sell are just phantoms in the night?

    Readers and agents seem to be getting younger every day...or is it just me getting older?

    Nuff said...

  14. If the query-fail examples appear professionally, in a blog or website, I view that as helpful advice.

    Twitter? Facebook? Not cool, not professional.

    To me, it smacks of a cliché of cool kids, snickering at the attempt of a new girl who is trying to join their elitist group.

  15. I've always preferred seeing examples of queries agents think work really well, especially when the agents break down why the query appealed to them (think Kristin Nelson's blog). I've never learned anything from a bad query, whether the example is the whole thing or just a snippet.

    Generally, in the queries I've seen lambasted for their faults, it's clear the writer hasn't done much, if any, research into query construction. Those are not the sort of people who will follow an agent's twitter account to learn and improve their querying process so I doubt they'll even know a portion of their query was used.

    To me, picking apart a query for cheap laughs doesn't seem professional. Querying is part of a business relationship and should be treated accordingly. You don't see many HR departments tweeting about bad resumes they receive, do you?

  16. Every time this comes up, I am astonished and puzzled.

    I am thrilled agents and editors take the time to teach writers (like me). I take note anytime they say "don't do this," especially when it's coupled with "it is foolish/amateur/annoying" because I want my query and my writing to be the best it can be, taken seriously, and of professional quality.

    Instead of getting offended that agents might be holding up our query/writing as an example of what not to do*, perhaps we should focus on why it was wrong so we don't make that mistake again? And, yes, it is embarrassing to be the one who did it wrong**. So is walking around the office with your zipper open.

    I'd rather someone told me about the open zipper than let me walk around like that all day. And if my co-worker told me, I wouldn't shout at her. I'd say thanks, zip up my pants, and go do my job. And if no one told me and I discovered it hours later, I wouldn't shout because no one told me. I'd zip up my pants and go do my job.

    If you want to be a professional writer, then be one. Making mistakes and being rejected is part of the job. [Insert metaphor about writing and life here.]

    * Chances are it isn't your query. The numbers are against you. Seriously. I read slush. There is a LOT of it.

    ** I would like to point out that no one will ever know unless you tell them.

  17. I second what Huntress said!

  18. I also agree with Meg & Huntress. There is one well-known agent I won't query because she took the snark too far. There's helping and then there's making fun of. Some of the tweets have crossed over and are just not professional. I get the thick skin thing, trust me I've nearly got elephant hide, but if agents aren't even bothering to send me a form rejection on the basis that they're too busy then how do they have the time to tweet/snark my query?

  19. What agents do in their spare time is their business, even when it's tweeted under their name. Of course, I don't twitter at all, so if my query ever ended up on a tweet, I wouldn't ever know about it. (I'm one of the folks who think twitter is a huge waste of time.)

    All the agents I've ever queried have been incredibly respectful in their replies. And that, really, is all one can ask.

  20. Meg, trust me, agents can't respond to query writers pointing out their errors - it starts a fusillade of emails that won't cease. It's also why some agents don't respond at all to queries they aren't interested in.

    And Anonymous - Twitter is an incredible marketing tool and source of news - much faster than conventional news media.

  21. I don't tweet. It's a bit like playing the pokies and getting hooked I guess.
    Unprofessional tweets are unprofessional. It's mean. Making fun of people. It's like farting in public. Not polite. Making fun of a handicapped person.
    The fact they do it doesn't worry me. But somewhere out there are some people who rejected JK Rowling. Wonder how happy tweets are making them feel now?
    Query needs thick skin. You have to be resilient and bounce back. But unkind tweets and nasty and mean spirited. There's a lot to tweet about without poking fun at people who aren't there to defend themselves.


  22. Agents have to read tons of queries a week. If they decide to get a little snarky - why not? I mean, it's anonymous, they aren't calling the author out or stating too much to give away an idea.

    Most of the tweets I see are funny little things. Like calling women 'sirs'. My favorites are when they express an idea that is overdone or a saturated market.

    Agents aren't just form filling machines, they're people with tastes, opinions and lives outside their jobs. As long as it's anonymous, give them a place to joke about some of the horrid stuff they have to read. Don't like reading it, stop following them on Twitter. That simple.

  23. Seasoned query-er here, too. I don't use Twitter. (Like I need another time-suck to distract me from writing.) I do follow certain blogs like QueryShark and SlushPile Hell. I follow them for the express purpose of seeing what NOT to do, and yes, I see some of the mistakes I once made in the things they snark about. I don't think these agents and interns are trying to be mean. I think they're trying to be helpful and at the same time, blow of some of the frustration that comes from seeing the same stupid mistakes over and over. If one tweet can stop a few writers from making the same mistake, it's probably worth the time and trouble. I know I'm grateful for whatever advice they can provide.

  24. I thought the issue this time was more along the lines of how the anonymous intern was ripping apart queries that weren't actually addressed to her, and thusly, she was being unprofessional.

    I think Janet Reid said it better.

  25. I've learned a great deal from #queryfail and I think they can be a great service to aspirants. However, I think agents should watch their tone and be professional.

    In my job I could never belittle a "stakeholder" or crack jokes about their account or business etc. If I did and my boss found out, I'd be out on my ass and rightly so. It just looks unprofessional for an agent to belittle and snark.

    I can understand the desire to do so, given some of the queries I've seen excerpted, but one can teach without ridicule. Tone is really important.

  26. I wouldn't care, as long as my name wasn't mentioned. And I would probably be grateful something was said before I queried further. Part the querying process is growing thick pig skin, right?

  27. I haven't read one, I don't tweet or read tweets. But, I think it's unprofessional. Why bother? And if these people are so very busy as they always are saying they are, how could they possibly find the time to tweet someone's mistakes? There are so many venues for classes, conferences, meetings, and writing/critique groups, online and in person, etc. from professional agents and editors to educate aspiring authors, that to say this is a way to give input or information to the unpublished is a poor excuse for just making fun of people's writing and their mistakes. To me this is more of a minimizing the less experienced writer and/or calling out just plain human err.

  28. Hi, just popping in to tell you how much I like the new design. And that's quite something since my favorite color is green. ;-)

  29. Thanks, Cat! It's temporary, until I can get my customized one done. But I think it's more calming than the other one. (Odd, since green is supposed to be calming. :P)

  30. I think there is too much snark in the world, so I tend to frown on comments that are nasty rather than constructive. I love reading constructive criticism, whether of my work or others, and I love seeing useful reminders, but people throwing stones for the fun of it might want to think twice.

    The worst though are the people who want to be snarky, and manage to sound foolish. The following is a tweet from yesterday. See if you recognize the flaw in the logic.

    Always use spellcheck. When referring to one's writing and education experience in a query, college shouldn't be spelled "collage." #omg

    While the word is spelled incorrectly, the tweeter should have recognized that autoimated spellcheck would not catch it. The advice winds up making the tweeter look foolish.

  31. Even outside of professionalism, and outside of hurt feelings, interns tweeting about rejecting queries tears down the illusion that agents are actually reading these queries.

    In the case of the most recent Twittering intern, it became apparent that the agent she worked for was in no way actually diligently reading every query that came in.

    Kind of makes the whole process seem more impersonal. That agent you fantasize about picking up your work may never actually read your query - and instead, an intern will use it to attract attention.

    I agree with the sentiment that these aren't actually that helpful: if you're following the tweets, you're probably following other blogs and reading books and soaking in knowledge. There are much, much better ways to get this information.

    On a personal level, I wouldn't mind my query being "responded to." Although, quite frankly, I'd prefer to know why I was rejected "to my face" than anonymously on a website.

    If my first five pages are "dull" and full of "showing" it is useless information to the masses, but it's very acutely useful to ME. And I might never know the difference, because it's all anonymous.

  32. 12:26 Here. By "showing" I meant "telling," but you get the idea: this information is better served as a response to me directly, which I will never see. Instead of this feedback, I'll get a form rejection or, as is the new vogue, no direct response at all.

  33. This is a bit of a late comment, but as an aspiring author AND literary agency intern, I would like to add my own two cents:

    While tweeting to entertain or educate is fun, on a professional level it is just unacceptable. You'll never catch me tweeting about queries.

  34. Thanks for the link, Laurel; that was very well said!

    (Having been anonymously by a teacher once, that example really resonated.)