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So, I'm posting this knowing it could very likely blow up in my face. But I think its a worthwhile discussion. This blog does allow anonymous comments, and you're free to post that way. Anon is screened, (always has been) but I approve anything that isn't downright rude or disrespectful to me or other commenters.

Nathan Bransford and Jessica at Book Ends LLC both recently posted about websites devoted to "poking fun" at Queries. Jessica linked, specifically, to a site known as SLUSH PILE HELL.  (Edited to add: Jill points out that Jennifer Laughran ALSO posted about this topic....)

Reading the comments, particularly on Nathan's blog, has been enlightening for me. And a little horrifying, too.

Because I tweet queries. I don't often quote the queries directly, and when i do, its often to praise something. For instance, I typically hate rhetorical questions, but there was one yesterday that nailed a tween/teen conundrum and I thought, "Whoa-- what WOULD I do if that happened?" And I quoted said Q/query. Was that wrong? A breach of confidentiality?

What about if someone's title is MEANT to be satirical and funny, and I share that, and we all laugh? Are we laughing with them-- becuase it was meant to be funny-- or at them?

Inside my  head, I am being helpful, a little silly, maybe a little entertaining. I intend to help querying writers out, not offend them, hurt them, or belittle them. And to be clear, yes, there are some agents out there who tweet queries and seem to be just plain mean-spirited. Sometimes I question the motivation of openly mocking queries. But then I wonder... am I openly mocking them? I certainly do not intend to. But then-- don't bullies usually say they are just "having a little fun"-- yet it is at someone else's expense? Becuase I don't intend that either.

But you know what they say about intentions. Anyone who has ever had to take a workplace harasssment 101 class knows that it doesn't matter what you intend. It is the perception of the "victim." 

My twitter, blog, and website are things I put out into the world and which will affect the way people perceive me. It's my public face.

It's particularly interesting for me, being both an agent and an author. The way I handled my path to publication influences the way I perceive how writers must feel. Brutal honesty and constructive criticism, and yes, even rejection, are what made me the author I am. I was never really a 'sensitive' person as a writer, but rather view(ed) my path more pragmatically.

But on the other hand, I have seen writers who were even agented who struggled so much with rejection that they quit pursuing publication all together. Could me, tweeting about queries, be that final straw?

I will say this much-- realizing how sensitive it is, if I do choose to continue tweeting queries, I'll be re-evaluating the way I tweet queries. It's fun to be "entertaining," but reading the comments in Nathan's post made me realize just how thin the line is between entertainment and mocking/cruelty.

So, what say you, writers/agents/authors? How do you feel about agents tweeting queries? Have you ever been hurt by a #queries tweet? Do you think its unprofessional-- or helpful?


EDITED TO ADD:

This discussion has been enlightening, in more ways than one, and I'm heretofore changing my #queries policy. I will continue to use the hashtag, but I will change the way I use it. I will not be quoting any queries or citing specifics of a query. It's hard to say where "the line" is with these things, and clearly there is a variety of feelings and thoughts on the subject. The only way i can be sure NOT to cross that line is to keep things more general. I nthe future, my #queries tweets will pertain to general trends, tips, tricks, advice, etc.

And finally, as I stated on twitter-- my sincerest apologies if you ever felt demeaned or belittled by anything I may have said about your query or any #queries tweet. That was NEVER my intention but in retrospect, it is clear that some of the tweets were more mocking than helpful and that's just not fair/right.

Please do continue the discussion, though, as I think its worthwhile to hear everyone's thoughts on the topic.

Comments

( 62 comments — Leave a comment )
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savannahjfoley
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
You bring up some good points, Mandy. Perhaps agents could put a disclaimer on their submissions page: WARNING, this agent may tweet excerpts of queries.

Except I don't think that would be very professional. Therefore, isn't it unprofessional to tweet about queries at all? On the other hand, I enjoy hearing about queries, good and bad. I wouldn't want agents to stop doing it.

An interesting conundrum.
lynseynewton
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC)
I have to say that I enjoy reading about queries because I view it as a learning experience. It dumbfounds me when people don't follow the guidelines or fail to complete their research about genres agents prefer. I think you're right with the whole "it's the way you say it". Overall, I wouldn't want this information to be withheld just because it might hurt someone's feelings. It's for the greater good and also the writer might recognise their own mistakes and learn from them too.
sbennettwealer
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
I think it's unprofessional to quote queries without permission of the letter writer. Queries are a business communication, and the writer should be able to assume they'll be treated that way. If I tweeted and posted some of the correspondences I get from clients and partners and potential partners, etc., I'd get fired. I think it's great when agents post excerpts to show the *right* way to write a query, but even then I assume they got permission from the query writer. I also don't think there's anything wrong with posting the "types" of things authors do wrong in queries, with made-up examples to illustrate. But just tossing out pieces of queries for a laugh rubs me the wrong way. We who are experienced in this industry might understand the tone and spirit in which those things are intended, but the query writer likely won't - and even if they do, it's got to be off-putting to see yourself put out there like that when all you were trying to do was forge a career in a confusing and very tough-to-break-into industry.

Just my two cents!
stephanieburgis
Aug. 31st, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly what I was thinking. I would be horrified if someone quoted publicly from my private business correspondence with them without asking my permission first - especially if they were quoting from a letter as scary and raw and personal as a query letter for a novel. As long as the author keeps their correspondence with you professional and private, their correspondence deserves to be kept private too, IMHO.
(no subject) - sbennettwealer - Aug. 31st, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
seeheatherwrite.blogspot.com
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
It's so interesting that this all came up last week, because I've had a post in my blog drafts for some time but I was too anxious or nervous to post it. But I did, last week, after Nathan Bransford posted his. (It's here: http://bit.ly/dAw536)

I say my main points in that post, but most of what concerns me about the hashtag is that many of the writers are having their queries posted in a public forum when it's not what they wanted. I think it's great when the tweets offer general advice (and I think yours are more frequently of the general kind than they are specific to a query), but when the tweets give direct quotes from the query, giving away the whole premise, title, etc., it's a little wrong, I think. Plus, if you're a writer and you find out that you're being rejected via Twitter? Ouch. Also, I think the people who need the advice most aren't even following the hashtag - because if they were, they probably wouldn't have made those mistakes in the first place.

So even if the hashtag is meant to help, I think it can be improved in some ways. If you have a few minutes to spare and would like to read my full, reasoned thoughts on the topic (and a few of my readers' thoughts), please feel free to visit the post!

I do agree with a lot of what you said, though. I think the tweets can just be improved, but the hashtag can stay around and be more productive but still extremely useful.
anywherebeyond
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
It wasn't my query at all, but I was really offended by a query tweet from an intern lately, who declared that the query's author obviously needed some post-secondary education.

She thought she was being funny; being one of many authors who have struggled to get to publication when I couldn't afford college, or conferences, or workshops, or guild memberships, I was really, really offended.

It's hard to know what's going to hurt someone's feelings. I can hand a manuscript to a crit partner and be perfectly happy if they mark out whole paragraphs and tell me to quit being so @W#() precious, for example.

But I guess the difference for me is that I volunteer to be criticized by my writing partners. Writers who query are only volunteering to be considered for representation.

It's very easy for authors to recognize themselves in twitter streams. I knew who had my query when I was still at that stage-- and I knew what my book was about.

For example, I knew exactly when a particular editor on Twitter rejected The Vespertine-- I'm sure she thought she was being quite oblique.) That happened to another Deb as well, though I'm not naming names.

So I'm inclined to fall on the side of generalizations are okay, specifics are not, compliments (This title is awesome and funny...) are great, but mocking is not (I can't believe this stupid title...)

I mean, writers are neurotic enough. Helping them indulge in that is bad for everybody. That's my eleven cents on it. And then some. :)
mandyhubbard
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
"But I guess the difference for me is that I volunteer to be criticized by my writing partners. Writers who query are only volunteering to be considered for representation."

Well said.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
First Intern Amie, now you! I think this is a great development. I think there's something potentially helpful to watching the #queries tag, but I do get concerned about the agent's professionalism when it becomes mocking. I don't want to join in something hurting an aspiring author.

The fact that your intentions are to help and in light of this feedback you're willing to reevaluate says a lot about you. I hope you and the other agents involved find that balance.
-Wendy Delfosse
captainstupendous.wordpress.com
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
It's a fine line
My feelings about this have gone through an interesting metamorphosis. I still do think there's some value in posting query stuff, just because it was one of the things that really helped me internalize things when I was in the querying stage. And I have to confess that I often found entertainment value in it, even when the snark level was high. Maybe even ESPECIALLY when the snark level was high. And I can't be sure how much my feelings have changed about it now that I'm not querying agents any more, but these days I feel slightly queasy about the more sharp-tongued examples of it, because the really snarky examples DO make me wonder if they're backed by the intent to inflict some pain. I think it's a fine line, one which I think you're pretty careful not to cross, and I also think it's complicated because everyone has different thresholds for this stuff. And I do also think posting queries can be useful in providing some prep for how brutal the industry can be even after you've got a foot in the door - folks with high sensitivity to rejection and negative responses won't find it any easier after securing representation. Querying writers do need their skin to thicken. But I'm also a believer in the "be nice to people" school of professionalism! So I guess I do still think it can be helpful, as long as the agent in question is displaying some sensitivity and self-awareness about it.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
I love following the #queries hashtag. In fact I look forward to it everyday. Not only is it entertaining, but it's the most valuable query resource I've found on the web thus far. Thanks to #queries, I have a solid grip on what works and doesn't work in a query letter. Sure I laugh at some one them, but I pay extra attention to what made you accept or reject them.

I don't think people should be offended. They should take it as a learning experience. Besides, none of you have ever really bashed a query or called out the writer by name or any other identifiable information. So I don't feel as if you're really hurting anyone. I don't think you guys should feel guilty about it at all.

That's my two cents.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
Tweeting Queries
To survive in the publishing world we writers HAVE to develop a thick skin. Rejection and difficulties with querying are just the tip of the iceberg. If we can't handle a bit of ribbing and rejection in the beginning then we'll never make it. The querying process is like basic training. It toughens us up. To go easy on us would only make us weaker. I love the query hashtag and I hope you don't quit!

~Heather McCorkle
sbennettwealer
Aug. 31st, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Tweeting Queries
I just want to chime in because I've seen the thick skin topic mentioned a lot in reference to this. I am a HUGE proponent of developing a thick skin - believe me, I hate it when writers are precious about their work, and I believe egos only get in the way of writing really great books. But there's a difference between being able to take tough critique and seeing something you never intended to share with anyone other than one person mocked online. You could argue that authors are going to take much worse when reviews for their books come in, so best to get used to it now, but again, the author has put themselves out there at that point. The query stage is, and should be, more private. If an aspiring author whines to me that an agent gave him/her tough feedback on his/her query or sample pages in a private email, I will be the first to tell that author to toughen up. But it's different when what should have been a private business correspondence goes public without one's consent.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
I am your friend on facebook because I was curious and wanted some insight on the publishing industry. I've been writing for a long time but never anything substantial and I have never reached the query stage. Lately, from reading posts (specifically the query ones, and not on just your facebook but others), I have the feeling of "well, whats the point. if I send something in everyone is going to just laugh it at it and post it on facebook or pass it around amongst their author friends." I haven't even sent something in and I feel hurt and degraded. It's almost as if i'll never be as all-knowing and awesome as you published authors. (I know, I know...you guys have earned it. But geeze think of us lesser people every once and awhile.)

I think it's unprofessional, rude, mean-spirited(even when you don't intend it to be), and yes I would completely relate it to bullying. I know that if I saw my query being bashed online, I would probably be heartbroken. (I'm speaking for myself personally, i'm sure some people wouldn't care...but that's the thing you never know who is going to go home and cry themselves to sleep.) You worked hard to get where you are, do you have to stomp on everyone below you?

At the same time, it's kind of like turning your head on the freeway to try and see a car accident. It's something people are interested in and I don't see it stopping anytime soon.

Sorry i've been rambling.

~JM
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
It's hard for me to say for sure if hearing my query mentioned on a site or in a tweet would offend me, since I've never been so fortunate, but I honestly don't think it would. As writers struggling to become authors, it's a rare opportunity to get any feedback other than the usual rejections or requests. And with the rejections, I for one would welcome an answer to the question of why it didn't grab the agent. But of course, agents get so many that personalized rejections can't exist. So if I ever did get any feedback, even if it was mocking something in my query, I would jump at it. Sure, I might feel a little hurt or discouraged for a few minutes, but then I'd get over it and change whatever it was that allowed the agent to mock it. Writers have to be a little thick-skinned. Queries are only the first step in the rejection process. Even if you make it big, there are always going to be people who reject your vision. Look at Twilight. How many things do you see made in mockery of it now?
ex_fashioni
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
I hate the idea of it. Always have, from the Miss Snark days. The reason is simple: When authors send in queries, we do so with the understanding that they're going to be looked at, considered, however, briefly, and evaluated. Privately.

No where, unless an agent has posted a disclosure statement on their site saying that queries may be held up as public examples for the entertainment of the masses, is that author giving permission for their query/work to be made public.

I'll admit, I have extremely strong feelings about this because I saw the early genesis of this in the "American Idol" style contests held at varying conferences-- people submitted their queries or synopses or first pages and agent and editors would read them. They were supposed to give honest opinions about whether or not they would pursue the work in question and what their reasons were. The first couple I saw of these worked, because the editors and agents took it seriously. Then, a couple of them decided it would be more fun to play it more like American Idol, with a snarky, Simon Cowell sort of attitude and all of a sudden, the crowds grew for the event. Because the snark very quickly became mean-spirited and I saw people rushing out of the room and standing out in the hallways in tears because their work had just been shredded. And there were too many people who would shrug it off with, "Well, publishing's tough-- you need to grow a thick skin."

Yeah, of course, you do, and yeah, maybe that's exactly what editors and agents say/think in the privacy of their offices, however, it's not something a writer is generally privy to. When an author receives a rejection, it's generally either polite or a form and we've long since disdained the "mean" written rejections as unprofessional. So why is it all of a sudden okay to take that sort of meanness public?

One could argue that in the case of the American Idol style panels, the authors were giving permission for their work to be made public and you'd be right, of course. However, I don't imagine they were willingly giving permission for their work to be mocked before an audience of hundreds. Now, you take away the concept of giving permission and you have these Query Fails and Slush Pile Hells. And even if someone thinks that what they're doing is nice or giving helpful advice-- it's still the internet. So easy for things to get misinterpreted. One person's funny is another person's insult.

And ultimately, even the nicest rejection is difficult to deal with.

To be made a public mockery, even if it's anonymous? How difficult is that? No one else may know who it belongs to, but that author probably does and that can't possibly feel good.

Just my .02
mandyhubbard
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Barb. I've always admired your willingness to tell it like it is. :-)

And actually, what you're talking about here is rather interesting. If all my queriers were standing in the room while I tweeted #queries, would it change what I tweet? Sometimes it would-- and maybe that's the test. If its not something I'd say if the person is standing in front of me, it's not something I should tweet.

Thanks for your input.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - sbennettwealer - Aug. 31st, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ext_201516 - Sep. 1st, 2010 03:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mandyhubbard - Sep. 1st, 2010 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
glossingoverit
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
Weighing in on queries... and a question
I find the #queries discussion more helpful than hurtful. Rejection is part of the writing and submission process, and it's nice to get an idea of why rejections happen.

I have a question for you on the topic of #queries and submissions... if an agent requests a full manuscript, but other agents have already requested and are reading the full, should this be mentioned when submitting? I'm just trying to figure out the etiquette on this. Obviously, none of the reads are exclusive.
mandyhubbard
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Weighing in on queries... and a question
No, agents will just assume they do not have it exclusively. Those who require exclusivity will say it in their request. And even then, if you say, "I am unable to give it to you exclusively because X number of agents already have it" they will almost always request it anyway.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
#queries
I find it the most helpful/least offensive when the agent addresses "the world of writers" as their audience for each tweet. It's a safe way to keep from crossing the line.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
Snark
I appreciate where you're coming from. The stand you're taking is commendable.

I agree with #queryfest and #queries. The more budding authors get to view the mistakes of their fellow writers the better.

I disagree with bullying. In my opinion, SPH is an act of unprofessionalism.

With the publishing climate the way it is, book stores closing, major chains for sale, the battle between e-book and traditional publishing and the Seth Godins of the world, should literary agents be feeding an agent-hatred that has grown a life of its own like spores in a petri dish?

We need more agents like you and Nathan and Rachelle and...

Daryl Sedore
www.darylsedore.com

P.S. Sorry, didn't want anonymous. For some reason LiveJournal wouldn't take my Open ID.
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