I missed the whole QueryFail brouhaha while in Ireland. But after reading the actual twitter posts (I refuse to say “tweet,” what is that nonsense?) as well as some commentary on the subject, I’m inclined to think it wasn’t the massive lapse in professionalism the detractors are making it out to be. To begin with, if the detractors, mostly in blog comments, are actually the type of people who read industry blogs, and listen to what the industry blogs have to say, they aren’t about to appear on query fail. And the queries that were discussed (or minorly quoted) aren’t examples of your regular, garden variety rejectable queries. They are queries that for some reason or another are REALLY wrong: wrong-headed, ignorant, ridiculous. This isn’t a story that sounds a bit boring or overdone or unmarketable. This is someone who refused to take even five minutes to see what is the proper way to query that agent. 640,000 word manuscripts. Queries sent to email addresses that are not open to equeries. Queries that ask agents to “publish” the book. Queries that include lingerie. Lingerie! And it’s the agents who are acting unprofessionally? I think not.
Unfortunately (and perhaps fortunately) the entire exercise was preaching to the choir. Those who would bother reading the twitter posts of experienced agents to see what they are looking for in a query are unlikely to be the kind of writers who think putting a thong in a query letter is a rockin’ idea. And those drama queens who did not find “don’t send underwear” useful *or* hilarious and are recommending blackballing the agents who participated are probably the ones stocking up at Vicky’s Secret. It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned.
Queries are not rocket science. If you follow a few basic guidelines, you will already be so far ahead of the game. Most of the queries agents get are completely wack-a-doodle. Crayon scrawls. Notes from prison. Obvious rip-offs of published books (yes, even those “experimental” let’s-see-if-they-would-reject-Jane-Austen-now games that newspapers like to play from time to time — you aren’t getting rejected as Jane, you nincompoops, you’re getting rejected as a crazy person ripping off Jane!), dire warnings that if the agent rejects them, they will do themselves bodily harm. I’m not even joking.
Then there’s stuff like this:
I have been queried via email by a man writing as [redacted], whose email ID says [redacted]–so I’m not really sure who he actually is. He has queried me at least once a month since November for an adult historical novel–the same novel in every query.
In November and December I sent him form rejections, which state clearly that I only represent children’s books and outline my submission policy. After that, I just deleted his inquiries.
I just got another, and this time I sent him a firm reply asking him to remove me from his email list and stating how many times I’d heard from him already.
This is what I got back:
“I know you would like to be left alone. But you are a literary agent, and I have a job to do. And I do apologize for any future queries that you must receive.
“But until [my novel] is published, you will be queried.”
Wow. The depth to which this guy does not get it is rather astounding. His job is not, as he believes, to send repeat blanket queries to anyone who describes him or herself as “a literary agent.” It is to write a great book, write a great query, refashion that query for the needs and guidelines of a finite (if wide) group of carefully filtered and targeted literary agents who handle the type of work he writes. Once per book.
And then there are the desperate. People: don’t be desperate. It doesn’t work in romance, it doesn’t work in bookselling. I know I’ve talked about this before, but I was reminded again of how many people seem to think the path to gaining an agent’s attention involves grovelling and self-deprecation by this post at BookEnds Literary Agency blog:
What would you do if you found out this is the query your agent was sending out to editors?
I know how incredibly busy you are so thank you so much for taking the time to read this query. I’ll try to make it as short as possible because I know you get hundreds of submissions each day from agents who are more important than I am. I have an author that you might want to read. She doesn’t have much experience and she’s pretty young, only about 22, but she’s written a book that I think will probably appeal to your tastes, well it might anyway. Now the market is tough, I realize that, and publishing houses are cutting back on buying books but I still hope you’ll want to at least look at this and tell me what you think.
The post goes on to ask why it is they see queries like that all the time.
Heck, I see queries like that all the time, and I’m not even a literary agent. I see them put up for critique on writer’s forums. I see questions like that posed to literary agents who have chosen to come share their time and expertise on blogs and writing loops and at conferences. They’ve already made the commitment. Yes, thank you. But can all the rest of the “I’m but a lowly commoner standing in the light of the emperor” crapola. Sell yourself! Don’t be desperate!
Remember, you’re not the person sending in underwear. You’re already so far ahead of the game!
And read that whole BookEnds post. It’s enlightening stuff.