OK, so I've had this post in my "drafts" for a month and a half now, but when I saw Nathan Bransford post a similar question on his blog the other day, I decided it was time to let my thoughts on the topic out. Of course, since he beat me to it it looks like I'm copying him. Or maybe it's more timely now? Whatever.
Imagine this: You've started querying agents, and, like the diligent social networking guru you are, you start paying attention to the agents you're querying on Twitter like a hawk (which you were probably doing before you queried, but now that you've queried you really upped your game), and then you notice something that makes you stop in your tracks.
DreamAgent007: Next up: Great query! It's a mermaid-unicorn retelling of Hamlet! Just what I'm looking for. #queries
You get excited. You know that's YOUR query. How many other mermaid-unicorn Hamlet retellings can there be out there, and the timing is just about right. Your palms get sweaty. This could be it. Your BIG BREAK. Until you read the agent's next tweet:
DreamAgent007: Ugh. Remember that Hamlet mermaid-unicorn query I was excited about? The pages sucked. Pass. #queries
Can you imagine finding out your dream agent rejected you...over Twitter?
OK, I'll admit that example was WAY more specific than #queries (usually) gets. But I think the question is worth asking (and this is a different question than Nathan Bransford asked, which was really about 100% snarky websites, so I'm cool with it): is it fair to post any specific information about a query when the author doesn't know it could happen?
Writers are sensitive people. We are delicate flowers who often go a little bit crazy. We maybe think that word counts over 250,000 are justifiable, or that our not-so-original idea is actually WAY original.
OK, yes. The publishing industry is tough. And we need to get thicker skins. It's true. I'm not denying it. But is the best way to make that happen for us to be blind-sided on Twitter? (Particularly when some of the people doing #queries are interns who don't say where they intern, so there's not even a way to avoid showing up on that feed at all costs?) Yeah, it's true that no one else will know that the tweet was about you. But YOU will know.
And here's the worst thing of all: the people who actually need to see the things that are being posted in the #queries tag probably aren't following the tag. Because if they were, they wouldn't have made those mistakes in the first place. If they were following the hashtag, they would how to properly format a query, or that addressing a letter to "Dear Agent" isn't OK, or that they probably should have had a few beta readers look over their work to make sure it was halfway decent before they started querying. So even though the idea behind #queries is good, and the people doing it really honestly do want to help (and I know they do, trust me - every person I've ever seen tweet a #queries tweet has the best intentions, I cannot stress that enough), I don't think they're reaching the people who would benefit most from the specific information they're giving out.
So, how can we improve the #queries tag? Let's not talk about personal queries anymore. I don't care if it's as simple as a word count or as complicated as a story premise. (Though it's really the story premise ones that kill me - many writers I know guard their premises with their lives.) Instead, let's open a dialogue. Invite writers to ask questions, like in #askagent, but only about queries. (QueryChat is great for this, but it's only been every other Wednesday night or so so far, so if you can't make that time period you're sort of out of luck.) Or instead amass a list of tips that will help writers, but don't attribute them to a specific query.
Yes, it's true that a bad example helps the point stick. But good advice sticks, too. Here are some tweets from the #queries hashtag that I think serve the purpose well, give a great piece of advice, but don't point out a specific query or writer.
@LauraKreitzer FYI: Don't resubmit a query letter or manuscript within a WEEK. That's insane. Give it at least 6 months with major editing. #queries
(Was this probably in response to something that really happened? Yes. But I feel OK about it because it isn't presented that way.)
@WeronikaJanczuk I've been reading #queries for a while and two partial requests so far! That's a lot for one day.
@CA_Marshall @jenduffey @authorjdbrown Format it as plain text, most query reading programs strip formatting. #queries (This was in response to a question about how to format the materials when asked to C&P everything into the body of the email. Great, helpful advice and a perfect example of what I think #queries should be about.)
OK, but here's what I want. I really do want to know what you think. I will admit I follow the #queries hashtag (and recently #queryslam), and do like reading what people have to say, and even seeing what gets rejected and what makes it through. So I'm totally a hypocrite. And I respect the agents and interns who work on the queries because man...that's a lot of work. BUT the thought that I could be querying and see something that makes it obvious that the query they're talking about is mine, then see PASS, and know that all of Twitter is thinking, "Yeah. That stupid writer should have known better and her book sounds LAME." kills me inside, and makes me wonder if it's really the right thing to do, since I didn't sign up to have hundreds, possibly thousands of writers on Twitter reading about my business. And that's what I think about.