Monday, March 9, 2009

QueryFail? AgentFail

Last week, a group of agents participated in the now infamous 'QueryFail' on Twitter (search for #queryfail), generating an enormous amount of debate about the rights and wrongs of doing so. I intended to just go on my merry way and not wade into this debate, but I can't stop myself.

I realise the intent was to educate, not to mock. And I understand many of the snarky comments came not from agents themselves, but from others 'watching' the stream. My issue isn't with agents trying to educate potential clients on what or what not to do - that's actually a good thing, and there are lots of great blogs out there that do just that. My issue is with agents publicly trading samples of people's (ignorant or not) hard work - without their consent - and opening up a forum for them to be ridiculed.

In my previous life, I recruited teachers from Canada, the US, Australia and NZ to come teach in the UK. Every year, we visited job fairs all over those countries and fielded thousands of phone calls and questions. I answered at least 50 emails per day from potential teachers and made dozens of phone calls. I know what it's like to see your inbox go up with fruitless questions from ignorant people who could answer the questions themselves if they actually bothered to do a little research.

But at the forefront of my mind was this: as annoying as some of these people were, this was our potential client base. It was my job to respond to these questions, no matter how ill-informed I thought they might be, or how much I doubted their ability to teach 30 kids. Sure, my colleagues and I traded jokes and made snarky remarks sometimes. But all in the privacy of our office. We would never take examples of 'bad questions' and post them in a public forum. That would be like shooting ourselves in the foot. And very unprofessional.

QueryFail was well intended. But was it well thought out? I'd have to say no.


Criss said...

I'm on the other side of the fence. I liked #queryfail, and don't see a problem with it (I ranted on my own blog).

The way I see it, the people who are sending in queries are A) posing themselves as writers, so they'd better write well, and B) they're hoping to have their words out in the world for all to see.

Trying to get published is a completely voluntary thing. A job is a need, a publishing contract is a want. While teaching abroad is a "want-like" need, it is still a job (I'll wager I make quite a bit more teaching than I will publishing my books -- unless I change my name to King or Rowling); which is why I see a difference between your example and #queryfail.

Nancy J. Parra said...

I agree with you, Marsha.

Criss- writing is a job interview if you plan on making a career of it. Snarky comments should not be part of a public forum.
People tend to ask "stupid" questions as beginners. Sometimes they don't even know they are being "lazy." It seems that way to people with more experience...
Snarky posts are demeaning and the questioner learns nothing.
When you query an agent- you are not posting your words for all the world to see- you are hoping to have a private conversation with an agent about the words you want to post for all the world to see- IMO-not the same.

The book biz is hard enough as it is- let's be professional and keep the snark behind closed doors.

Marsha said...

Criss, I see your point. But just because it's voluntary doesn't mean any business communication should be put out there for public consumption - anonymous or not. Maybe I'm being too sensitive here, but the whole left a bad taste in mouth! You are a stronger gal than I! :)

Nancy - agreed. Publishing is so hard, especially now. No need for the snark!

Anonymous said...

I am an oft-published writer who has worked with a variety of agents and publishers over the years. I read about this queryfail in the trades. I know that agents have always gathered at the water cooler and compared scars - so do we writers - usually in the form of the worst rejection letters received. But I think it shows a huge lack of professionalism to put these 'honest mistakes' on the internet for all to see. It's also mean-spirited. I would bet half of the 'failed queries' were made up - I would bet more than half of the people following such blogs do so in the hopes of getting an agent's attention - and the next time you hear an agent say they took six months to get back to you regarding your project because of LIMITED TIME, well, maybe they were too busy blogging? Okay now, everybody get back to work!

Criss said...

Anonymous: Did you read #queryfail, or are you just going on what you heard from others?

Most of the backlash against #queryfail comes from people who don't Twitter, first of all (this is not "blogging," it's micro-blogging, which results in pretty much a completely different medium -- the way you communicate, and how much you can say, is different in Twitter than anywhere else), and who did not follow #queryfail. I can't put much stake in the opinion of someone who did not participate and therefore does not know what happened or what he's talking about.

If somebody who followed the whole thing (like Marsha did) disagrees with it, then I have to respect that opinion. But someone who is basing his opinion on hearsay, I cannot respect. I don't want to start nastiness on someone else's blog, but this is something that really gets to me.

Agents who blog are providing a great service to those of us who care enough to take the time to study the craft and the industry. (Again, I feel the need to point out Twitter = NOT blogging. Amount of time involved = VERY DIFFERENT.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Criss - I stand corrected. I should have said 'Twittered' (Tweeted?) instead of 'blogged.' And yes, I did follow many of the Tweets, which is how I found this blog. But to emphasis one of my points, these things end up on blogs wherein people can expound at length. I don't care how long a form one uses, good manners are good manners. I would like to think there is still a place for business etiquette, even in publishing and especially in such a public forum.

Still anonymous