This months tempest in a tea-cup is based on the thin skin of people who might be the topic of discussion. That’s right ladies, gentlemen, writers and readers of all ages, we’re talking Queryfail. A great summary of the event is posted by Jim MacDonald over at Making Light, and while there’s not much to be said about the point of the event that isn’t summed up by Colleen Lindsay’s early posts on it

Colleen_Lindsay: Remember, if you’re participating in #Queryfail Day to a.) use the #queryfail tag, and

b.) NO PERSONAL IDENTIFIERS from queries. #queryfail

Colleen_Lindsay: It’s about educating, not about being mean! =) #queryfail

This was repeated more than once. And yet, several people got upset about it. Why, who knows. From the admittedly light skimming I did, it looked the usual offal about "My original idea might be stolen!!!!EventyANGST!!!111!!" and the "How dare you mention that I’m not perfect!" crap.

News flash: There are no original stories left, haven’t been seen before the written word. There are original executions, but anyone who states that such an execution could be compromised not by a multi-page examination of the text of a book, but by a one hundred forty character (or less) riff on the query is arguing from a well emoted out position.

Were their direct quotes used? Of course there were, they make the best examples, and of course the only people who might be able to identify the writer of any particular query by a one sentence quote are: 1) The writer, 2) other professionals that have seen the query and 3) anyone the writer may have bounced their query off before dispatching it to the Stygian depths of an agent/editors inbox. So how is this public humiliation? It isn’t. The agents and editors who might have or might in the future see it will probably reject it or have for the same reason(s). Your friends or family members are either not using a large enough cluebat, or you’re just not asking the right questions to get the answers and or help you need.

What Queryfail did was take not just the people who are actively seeking improvement and hold them up as an example, but take some things from a bit further down the food chain. Most of the people who take part in activities like Ms Snark once ran, are close to being at the right level, and that makes it harder (at least for me) to see the difference between right and almost right. I’ve learned more about good writing from reading bad, bad writing than from reading the cream of the crop. Not because there isn’t stuff to learn in the great writing but because the bad stuff is usually disjointed enough to stick out where as good writing is nearly invisible.

I may or may not do something similar to queryfail in the future, but if i do it is educationally intended and if you think I’m being mean, really ask my (real) friends they can set you straight.

  • It's not that it's mean. It's that from a writer's point of view, it gets really incredibly old when you're looking for real, useful information on how to push that query over the line from "almost there" to "we'd like to see more," to keep running into nothing but "gee, look how awful this clueless idiot's query is" over and over and over and…
    I know better than to talk about my upbringing and pets in my query, thanks. What I need is the information on the subtle stuff that's apparently still standing in my way. And I know I'm not alone on this one. If agents and editors really want to receive the kind of queries that make them want more, the folks who are almost there are the ones who need to be addressed.
    Thanks for listening.

    • I understand what you're saying, and don't disagree. The issue is that the _almost there's_ are usually much harder to nail down as to why they aren't "there". It is highly subjective. I read _a lot_ of the writers who are represented by Jen Jackson & Lucienne Diver. Some of them having read the first book I wouldn't have picked them as clients. One of my clients didn't even get past the query stage with either of them, yet has sold his books.
      A lot of the people who are "almost there" will _never_ be "there" as they have plateaued or given up on learning more. When i catch up on client reading and slush a bit i might do some sort of e-workshop, but it'd have to be brief.

      • Harder to nail down, I agree with in spades. Subjective is an ugly word. However, you guys are setting yourselves up as the experts. Or at least as the gatekeepers. Therefore advice should theoretically be possible…
        I would be most grateful for any help given, in an e-workshop or any other format, because I need to get past the plateau I'm on, and I refuse to give up [g].

        • Ugly or not, subjective is an accurate one. It explains why Publisher X _almost_ bid on James Enge's Blood of Ambrose, and why Pyr has bought the third book ahead of the publication of the first.

          • I wasn't arguing the accuracy of your word choice. Just making a subjective judgement of my own.
            If there was a way to get around subjectivity in any endeavor, I'd patent it [g].

  • One thing that jumped out at me was the common "no response = rejection" thing for electronic queries. I understand why they do it having read this –… – but it seems to me that agents could really use some kind of computer automated thingy that rejected the really bad ones and maybe provided some sort of position in the queue thing so that you could estimate how long it would take before the agent got to your 'masterpiece'
    PS I decided to reread my ultimate bad query letter and it still rocks – – though yeah your worse real example was scary scary

    • While obviously I don't run anyone elses submission box, I respond to anything that I open.

      • FWIW, I appreciated the feedback. It's kept me from getting discouraged a few times.

  • I hadn't seen this yet. Thanks for posting.

    • I missed it until the Making Light post

  • My sense of it is that anyone who was majorly upset by Queryfail were those who were, alas, unlikely to learn from it.

    • Shh! No using the "L" word, it's a horrible thing to inflict on people.

      • Hey, I'll use the "L" word all I want; I'm a teacher.
        A special ed teacher (heh). I can write goals for the tender of skin and fragile of brain.
        Shall I write an IEP goal for those who fail to grasp the concept of QueryFail?
        Let's see.
        Long Term Goal
        When shown a list of anonymous, 140 character summaries of poorly written queries which resemble something she might have written/submitted, Janie Whiner will positively affirm her understanding, determine what mistakes she has made in past submissions, and correctly submit appropriately phrased queries to future agents which correctly follow agent guidelines in four of five opportunities.
        Short Term Objectives
        1.) When given a list of queries, Janie will not complain but will affirm her understanding that she has done wrong by either giving a positive physical body signal (nod or weak smile are appropriate, body slams, slaps or belly slugs are not) or by verbally agreeing that she has done wrong in four of five opportunities.
        2.) When Janie wants to send a query to an agent, she will recheck each guideline to ensure that she has appropriately enclosed everything the agent has asked for and nothing more (especially personal clothing items) in four of five opportunities.
        You get the gist of it….

  • I'm surprised you don't have that song going thru your head..of course that might have something to do with Eric B an Rakim coming from your speakers

  • *random*…I think it's pretty likely I will eternally be fail at query letters, and this is even with the Very Nice Pamphlets of DOOM I received from MZB's secretary when I sent something to Sword and Sorceress when I was a teenager…*/random*
    That is if I ever complete something besides fanfic