Change of Heart
Last week, you may have noticed some interesting happenings over on Twitter. Several agents participated in “queryfail” day. They posted “turnoff” lines from query letters, in hopes of helping to educate writers about what we don’t want to see in a query.
At first, I wasn’t going to participate, concerned that people might think we’re making fun of writers. But I thought about the fact that my intent was not to mock, but to show writers what it’s really like for agents. I imagined you would benefit from seeing some of the things that make agents shake their heads. Perhaps by reading a few inappropriate queries you’d realize that your own queries are pretty good by comparison. And quite honestly, agents receive so many unbelievable queries that I think we sometimes just need to lighten up and laugh to avoid crying and/or giving up on our jobs altogether.
I examined my motives and I knew I was not approaching this from a mean-spirited place. Mid-afternoon I decided to join in “queryfail.” I posted several tweets, being careful not to include any identifying information or anything about the content of someone’s story. Most of my tweets were paraphrases and composites of lines from queries, rather than direct quotes. And I tried to include things writers would actually learn from (i.e. common mistakes). Still, I worried people would think I was being cruel, so after a little while I bowed out.
I thought back to the blogs I’d posted about “What Not to Say in a Query Letter” where I used lines from people’s queries, and I questioned whether that was right. I always try to be helpful with my blog posts. I realize sometimes truth in this business is hard to take, but I still try to speak the truth in love, even when I get a little ranty.
The bottom line is, I want you to feel safe in querying me. I don’t want you to think I’m mocking the queries I get, because I’m not. I don’t want you to worry that you might be used for blog fodder or Twitter fodder.
So I thought maybe I should stop posting bad examples from queries on the blog or Twitter, or any public forum.
Yet, I know many people like it when I do, and I know they also learn. Many writers cringe at the thought of their work being used as a “bad example,” but at the same time, aren’t you always clamoring for more feedback from agents? Since so many people say things in their queries like, “It’s a fictional novel,” or “A spiritual memoir in the style of Anne Lamott, Don Miller, and Lauren Winner,” isn’t it helpful to know that these lines are usually query-killers? I’m thinking perhaps you’d want to know.
So I thought of a way it might work. Here’s my new policy: I will never use actual quotes from any correspondence I receive, EXCEPT if I get permission from the author first.
I reserve the right to paraphrase or compile “composites” of bad-example queries. I will also try to post more often about GOOD things people write in queries. Although I admit, I usually don’t do that because it’s so straightforward, and I’ve already given advice in many posts, like this one and this one.
I hope my new policy can accomplish both goals of continuing to educate and entertain writers while avoiding mocking them. I appreciate those of you who express support of what I try to do here, and offer me grace when I don’t always do everything right. Thanks for reading.
P.P.S. If you liked queryfail and want to read some well-written defenses of it, try these: Katherine, Christine, Criss, Nemil, and Michelle.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.