Friday, August 27, 2010

Is the #Queries Tag Really Good?

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.

Furthermore, writers are encouraged not to post anything about their rejection stats on their blogs or Twitter accounts. It's tacky, we're told (and I 100% agree. I'm sure I'll be ranting about this later.) And yet it's totally OK for someone in the industry to say, "I'm rejecting this query!" and give a little tidbit of what the book is about? It's totally possible - even likely - that no one else is paying attention, and that the tweet won't affect anything. But it's also possible - though much less likely - that someone else will see that and think, "OK, have to remember that DreamAgent007 hated that Hamlet mermaid thing. Don't even bother with the pages even if I like the query." Is that terribly likely? No. Is it possible? Yes. And that's what troubles me.

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.

Thoughts, readers?


  1. I feel both ways as well. Every time I see a query "don't", I smile inside when I know I didn't make the same mistake. And once in a while, I actually do see helpful criticism, something I may not have done, but make a point of reminding myself not to do in the future.

    But. What IF one of those queries were mine, and it was shot down like that, right there on twitter? I'd freak out. Then I'd pitch a fit (to myself), and I'd give up. For a while, at least. Then I'd probably dust myself off, and keep moving. That's what we writers do, isn't it?

    Bottom line? The tag can be extremely helpful, even without stating specifics about someone's "baby". I'd hate to see it go away completely.

    Also, I missed the whole "don't post the status of your queries on blogs" thing... Can you point me in the right direction?

  2. The tag can definitely be helpful and fun, but I think that agents should treat the details of the queries they receive as confidential. I remember two instances where agents posted entire queries and related letters on their blogs and then bashed the authors. That made me decide to never query those agents.

  3. Really thoughtful post, Heather. I haven't really started obsessively checking those hashtags yet....although, I'm sure when I'm further in on my WIP and getting ready to query, I will be. Because of that, I wasn't even aware this was happening!

    I do think it's cool to get an "inside look" at what agents are up to. That's why I enjoy reading their blogs so much! But I do agree that it may cross the line to be SO specific about a book. I definitely do appreciate agents who give general advice, even if it's based on something not so good another aspiring author did, as long as its kept general.

  4. Wow, this was a really good post, Heather. I found myself bouncing both ways while reading it. I only follow a few agents/interns, and now I'm debating whether to follow more when I come to query. I think I like the advice side of things better than have my dreams dashed on Twitter. But then again, that might be the closest thing you'll get to a personalized rejection from some agents. I'm betting what was tweeted wouldn't be in the form rejection. ;)

  5. coffee - I know I've seen it said on Twitter, and I think I've read blog posts about it too, but I'm still hunting down the info. I'm sure that statement is true though because I asked my writing group to help me out and they remembered reading it too (and one of them had recently been to hear an agent speak and she mentioned this). But I will get some links or quotes and create a new post on this topic soon!

    Elizabeth - I agree. It's author-bashing that Nathan Bransford was talking about in his post. Mostly the queries tag doesn't really do that. But it does talk about the details in the query, so it can be a thin line.

    Jessica - Thanks! I tend to follow the hashtags just to get a good feel for the industry. And I totally agree that the "inside look" aspect is fascinating. But it's the specific information that I worry might be questionable.

    Stina - Thank you! And you make a great point, too - if you know who you queried and that agent participates in the queries tag, you might get more information about the reasons for rejection than you would from a form letter. Unfortunately some of the people who do #queries are interns and don't say which agency they work for, so I guess until you see the post and then get the rejection immediately you won't know how to attach it to that specific agency.

  6. Thanks Heather. I'll keep my eyes open for the links:)

    Jessica (aka coffeelvnmom)

  7. I'm glad you find my #queries tweets helpful. I do try!


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