Query/Agent Fail (long)


So many people have spent the last two weeks talking about queryfail and agentfail that I can’t bear to ignore it any longer.

If you want a little background , Making Light has a fine linkfarm on queryfail right here. As for agentfail, it took place right here.

Prefer a short summary? Several agents spent one day on Twitter posting all the queries they received that were full of fail, in one way or another. Snark was involved.

Many writers got pissed off and promised various kinds of retaliation, such as not querying those agents ever again. In response, we had agentfail, a post on the Bookends blog where writers could gripe about everything they hate about agents.

And man, it goes on and on. Over 300 posts right now.

Now, I don’t have much to say about queryfail. Is it a good idea for professionals to gripe publicly and sarcastically about the awful business solicitations they receive? Maybe not. But they did, and for everyone out there trying to create a solid query letter, it was an opportunity to learn something. Maybe a painful something, but still.

The agentfail comment section, though, is a disaster. I simply do not understand why writers gripe about the way agents reject them. So many people seem to think (at this point I’m basically rewriting a comment I made on Justine Larbalestier’s blog) they are the customers in this relationship.

“Too impersonal!” “I didn’t hear back quickly enough!” “I heard back too quickly–she didn’t spend enough time on me!” “I wanted more help!” “I never heard back!”

Sometimes I just want to blow an air horn and, in the ensuing quiet, explain that writers are not the customers. They’re artists/craftspeople with something to sell.

It’s really not complicated. A query letter is a sales document–an attempt to interest a book lover in your book. If the answer is “No,” then that’s the answer. Venting about it online certainly isn;t going to get you closer to a “Yes.”

But I understand that it hurts. Rejection sucks. I’ve been furious, despondent and… actually, furious and despondent pretty much covers it. Here’s the thing, though: I can control everything that happens right up to the point I drop a story or query letter into a mail box. I can’t control what an agent is going to say or do. I can’t force them to like my work. All I can do is work like crazy to write something they can’t resist.

And that’s what I wish more people would focus on. Put your energy and attention into the things you can control–your writing and your behavior. Brush off, as best you can, the things you can’t control. In fact, it’s damn useful to pretend those things you can’t control don’t even exist.

Inborn talent? Doesn’t exist. Agent’s sour stomach when she reads your query? Doesn’t exist. Market failures or saturation? Doesn’t exist. Luck? Doesn’t exist. All that exists is what you can do and what you can learn.

And there’s a lot to learn, because it turns out that almost everything those people were complaining about have perfectly reasonable justifications.

For instance: Ginger Clark explains why she only responds to queries she’s interested in. I mean… Cripes, reading that makes me a little sick inside. Seriously. One thing I’ve spent a lot of energy on was the idea that my personal emotional responses to the world are the “correct” ones–in other words, that people should be upset by the things that upset me, or they should shrug off the things I shrug off.

That’s taken me some time, but calling an agent an asshole because she rejected your query is inexcusable. Worse, it’s poison–for you, for the agent, and for everyone else trying to break in.

And the wannabe who struck an agent off her query list because she blogs about her dog (and other personal topics)? Get some perspective. Just because a person is an agent doesn’t mean they don’t have lives of their own. Remember when you were a kid and you ran into one of your teachers at a movie theater or summer fair? Remember how weird it was to see them outside the context you were accustomed to? Yeah. Take a hint from that memory.

So, don’t act like a customer. Don’t freak out about things you can’t control. Learn everything you can about the business. Treat every rejection as a goad to improve your work. Nurse your wounds in private (meaning: with your loved ones).

Jeez, that’s kinda long. I probably should cut it down or something, but my lunch break is over.