Monday, March 9, 2009

Twitter's "Queryfail" - Pass or Fail?

I'm going to push my word of the week until tomorrow just because I feel like weighing in on an interesting debate in the publishing world. Last Thursday on Twitter some literary agents and editors participated in "Queryfail," the brain child of FinePrint Literary Agent Colleen Lindsey, where professionals read query letters and then tweeted in real time some of the reasons they rejected them.

Sometimes the agents/editors quoted actual lines from the queries, but were careful to maintain the anonymity of the authors. It was highly entertaining due to some real gems like, "My book is about a friendship based upon mutual vomiting practices in high school" and the claim that one manuscript is "easily the boldest novel so far written in this fresh century of ours." Some of the quoted lines/premises were either so bad or so outside of what is even acceptable in publishing (a 400,000 word book 1 in a series of nine books, for example) that some people accused Lindsey of saving up truly awful queries in order to parade them on one day for entertainment. However, she assured readers that she was going through the queries in her inbox as normal. It was a pretty eye-opening sample of what agents/editors must see on a daily basis.

I admit it was eye-opening. And darn good entertainment. Like, milk-spewing-out-my-nose entertainment. I didn't get a single thing done on my WIP or any of my own queries sent out because I was glued to the computer. I even called my mother and fellow author, to read the tweets to her. It was way better than some of the stuff on TV. *Way.*

The next day the backlash began. People called the queryfail participants unprofessional and expressed outrage that people's very real hopes and dreams were aired for public mockery and entertainment. While on one hand I can see their point, on the other I think perhaps those tender egos may want to reconsider a career where you rip out a part of your soul to put into a book that is then sold to the public for their entertainment, and--yes--sometimes mockery. Ever read a bad/scathing review?

I'm also curious about outrageously popular (and incredibly helpful) blogs like Miss Snark and Queryshark. Part of the reason they are so popular is because aspiring authors submit their queries to be ripped apart publicly. And the process is *very* instructive to those of us who are on an agent hunt. (Yes, I've sent my own in, just hoping it will get critiqued.)

I worry that the publishing community may fall prey to the "lowering the bar" disease that is permeating our society. The idea that just trying is as good as trying, failing, re-doing, and trying again until you get it right is ludicrous. Here's a blog by another queryfail reader and writer Katherine Owens that expresses it a little more strongly.

All that being said, perhaps I can feel this way because my own query to Colleen Lindsey didn't crop up. Note to self: do not write a coming-of-age book about bulemia. In fact, I'm feeling much better about my own slew of queries out there in the agenting world. Not only have I spell-checked, but I also used salutations and did not claim to be greater than Shakespeare. And right now I can use any sort of encouragement I can get while I wait.

So, I give Queryfail a rousing passing grade. With maybe even a "+".

I'll just end with this: "My heroine just mustard her courage." You can't tell me that's not funny. And even more so because it's not my query.


Deborah said...

Dito all that. *sigh* I guess I'll have to retire my 1064 page Ya novel about working for McDonalds. Rats.

Julie Wright said...

OKay I think it's funny! How do you twitter Jaime, tell me so I can be glued to my computer too.