Dear Author: Not Only Did Your Query Suck, We’re Going to Tell Everyone About It

I want to start off this post to say that I can feel for editors, agents, and publishers. Some of my day jobs have involved editing, and back in the days when an IBM Selectric typewriter (here’s a link for you young folk who read this blog) was state-of-the-art technology, I was the editor of my high school literary magazine. (I was chosen not so much for my leadership skills as for the fact that only three people regularly attended meetings, and the other two graduated the year before me.) There I encountered our own modest version of the slush pile. A lot of the things sent to us were pretty bad, and the better ones were often plagiarized. So I can feel for people who spend much of their working life sorting through dreck to find publishable material, though I can think of a few worse jobs, such as working in an inner-city convenience store or slaughtering chickens.

Anyway, in surfing the lit blogs these days, I’ve noticed something that I find off-putting, and I’m curious if you do too. I’m speaking of editors, agents, and publishers who entertain their blog readers by jeering at the query letters that come their way.

Mind you, I’m not talking about bloggers who specifically offer to critique queries. Writers who submit to them do so with the knowledge that their queries may be the subject of a post. I’m also not talking about bloggers who poke fun at published books, which once let out into the world are fair game. I’m speaking of situations where a writer, having sent his or her query to a publisher or an agent with the expectation that it will be seen only by the publisher or agent or their staff, comes across the publisher’s or agent’s blog and finds his query the subject of a public laff-fest.

In most cases I’ve seen, the publishing “professionals” who do this have taken some pains to disguise the identity of the writer doing the querying. Still, I suspect that writers have recognized their own queries as the ones being skewered, since the humor in this sort of situation is lost if the query itself is disguised too heavily. (I should add here that I personally haven’t experienced this, not having any queries in the works these days.)

When I’ve seen this practice defended, it’s on the basis that it is for writers’ own good, that by being ridiculed in this manner, they can learn to improve their queries. That may be, but the writer who sends a query does so with the expectation that he’ll receive a yes or no answer (ideally, a yes), not with the expectation that he’ll not only receive a no, but become the subject of a how-not-to-do-it-seminar conducted in cyberspace for the amusement of a blogger’s readers. For the writer who’s just worked up the courage to start shopping an MS around, the experience could be devastating. Sure, writers need to develop thick skins–but it’s surely kinder (and, I might add, more ethical) to let them develop them naturally through the rejection process instead of through being post fodder.

They say publishing isn’t the gentleman’s business it used to be. I think they’re right.

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One Response to Dear Author: Not Only Did Your Query Suck, We’re Going to Tell Everyone About It

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow. I think the internet in general makes people think the world is anoynomous and makes people very cruel. As a younger writer(I’m in my twenties) it is especially bad in my generation.