Saturday, March 7, 2009


Ohaithere! Where have I been for the last week? Oh, ya know, writing, and writing...did I mention writing? A little obsessively. Sometime soon, I'll tell you the wicked crazy dreams I've been having from the viewpoint of one of my own characters. You know why this blog is called Surviving Writing a Book? Besides the fact that's it a play on the title of my first novel, Surviving Matewan? It's because when I get into writing, when I really get into writing, it starts to get a little crazy.

But that's a mental detour for another day. At this moment, I want to weigh in on a controversy, because I cannot ignore the siren song of controversy, it is like the siren song of Coke Slurpees and eventually I must succumb. On Thursday, March the Fifth, a group of agents liveblogged via Twitter the queries they were reading, lavishing special attention on the egregiously bad ones, and sometimes describing what the query sender did wrong. Much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments ensued, as some in the writing world suggested that those involved in #Queryfail day were great big meanies.

First of all, it is very upsetting to see two of my favorite agents, who shall go nameless, fighting. I didn't know agents could do that. It's like finding out Mrs. Claus took out a restraining order on Santa. And yes, I know I'm being naive. OK, I'm still naive. Heh!

Second, yeah, sometimes #queryfail went from informative and funny to mean and sometimes that made me uncomfortable. But as far as I'm concerned, criticism happens and as you develop as a writer and show your work to others, whether it be via blog, query or actual published book, you're going to be able to control the criticism you receive less and less. Get used to it now. If agents were posting entire queries and ruthlessly snarking on them, maybe I'd feel differently, but that's not what they were doing.

Now, on to the content of #queryfail, because this is really why I don't feel badly for most of those who were snarked upon. A perusal of the #queryfails reveal several patterns:

  • 1. Queries where the sender hadn't written a book at all. These include people who had a great idea and wanted help writing it, wanted to secure an agent before they had ever committed a word to paper, or were asking agents questions about payment and money.
  • 2. Queries where the sender made unreasonable/unrealistic demands. For example, talking about going on Oprah or suggesting that they receive million dollar advances.
  • 3. Queries that failed to follow basic guidelines and rules of grammar and civility, such as addressing the query, "To Whom It May Concern" and sending it out to 30 agents all at once, or queries that clearly weren't spellchecked, or where agents were sent genres they clearly don't represent.
  • 4. Queries that skimped on the plot and talked about, instead of showed, how great the book was.

What really gets me is that the more egregious and atrociously written the query, the more it tended to suffer from more than one of the problems listed above. The person who's written the 250,000 word Middle Grade Erotic Vampire Thriller who's certain their book will be bigger than Harry Potter and Twighlight combined also doesn't believe in using commas or sending agents personalized e-mails because that'd crimp their creative genius.

All the query senders with problems #1-3 (I'm not talking about #4, because that's a common mistake that anybody can make), they don't respect the craft, because there' s just no excuse to be making those sorts of mistakes. It's not an issue of lack of talent or newbie rawness, we're talking about having a modicum of basic common sense and cursory research here.

Most of the folks sending those types of sloppy queries, they're looking to make a quick buck and they think writing's an easy way to do it, and you know why they think writing's an easy way to do it? Because they probably haven't written much, if anything, because if they did, they'd realize it's really hard and there's no quick money involved.

So no, I don't mind terribly if the agents snark on them, because they're wasting the agents' time, keeping them from getting to the queries of those people who've done their homework, and clearly don't take writing seriously, so why should anybody take them seriously?


  1. Melissa-

    None of the agents are fighting! Good Lord!

    Please don't think that. The comments thread on Nathan's blog has nothing to do with my relationship with Nathan as a professional. Nathan is a great agent and a good guy and he's entitled to his own opinion of our queryfail project.



  2. Eh, I'm a big dummy. But that makes me feel better. My world of puppies, rainbows and unicorns is safe once more.

  3. "250,000 word Middle Grade Erotic Vampire Thriller" Tee hee! That's funny. :p