Saturday, August 28, 2010


The question has come up on Nathan's blog, and elsewhere... How do you feel about things like SlushPile Hell and #queryfail and all the other myriad spots on the web where agents snarkily take a piece out of authors?

I admit, I've got a big problem with this stuff. Not because I am not a fan of quick wit... goodness knows I am!  And it isn't because I'm too noble to have a laugh at truly nutso queries. My issue is, I cannot even fathom having the time or energy or desire to keep a bad query in my line of sight for long enough to formulate a tweet or a tumblr about it.  I mean really.  Bad queries are the LAST thing I want to dwell on.

Personally, I don't get the real-time blogging or tweeting of rejections, either. Fans say it is "educational", and I guess it could be, but  a) How can the author NOT know it is them, when the tweet comes directly after the rejection? and b) How do the agents even do it? I tried to just write down for myself why I rejected 30 queries in a row - and for the vast majority, it was because I DIDN'T LIKE THEM ENOUGH. Not too helpful, and why should I spend more time thinking about them?  It's a puzzler.  (I do get this kind of thing if it is something the author has signed up for, like Query Shark, for example - that is a different story, the authors know what they are signing up for, the feedback is sharp but useful, and the shark should get hazard pay.)

So rest assured that, though I may privately (quietly) chuckle, I'm not going to laugh to your face, and I'm not going to post your queries on my blog (unless there is some oddball situation in which I must, and then I'll have gotten your permission). *

Now that THAT'S clear...

* I do reserve the right to tweet in very general terms if I am seeing a multitude of the same mistakes happening a lot in one day, however... but not direct quotes!


  1. I have always had a problem with this. It makes me scared to even finish my manuscript and turn it in. Afraid I will be on someone's #queryfail list. I am not easily offended or have any amount of low self esteem.

    I was also afraid of blogging about this, I mean if you do you are 'hard to deal with' right?

    The slush pile sucks, lots of crap comes in, I get that I do. However, when did it become the thing to do to make fun of others in a public forum?

  2. Anonymous10:49 PM

    Thank you!

    There are so many authors trying so hard to do the right thing. I understand there are people who will create bad (atrocious) queries. But should we dwell on them?

    How you do it is perfect: a reminder here and there regarding common mistakes.

    At the end of the day, the people performing query tasks poorly will remain unpublished.

    People researching, writing, doing more homework, then writing, and amassing beta readers, (more writing), are the ones who will have a better query. (We hope).

    The rest will dominate the slush pile, and not a comedy club.

    Unless, of course, the ethics and conduct of the AAR has been breached...well that's another comment on another day.

  3. Anonymous11:00 PM

    I kinda love slushpile hell. Same with #queryfail. Most of the posts on slushpile hell are so bad or insulting, I really doubt a serious writer would say it.

    It bugs me that writers would send in queries to agents without even doing a little research.

    #queryfail offers good tips on what not to do that aren't so obvious. You know, if I made a bonehead mistake on a query and it showed up there- I'd be happy. I would know never to do it again- and maybe would save another writer from making the same mistake. Beats getting a form rejection and then making that same mistake over and over to other agents.

    I do wonder about copyright issues. Without the writer's permission, couldn't the agent get in trouble for quoting from the query letter?

  4. I agree, Jennifer. For me a bad query = delete since I don't send rejections. I don't read past that part that would be considered #queryfail because I don't have the time or inclination to nor the time or inclination to tweet every query mistake I come across. I am in the business of finding great writing not snarking the weak.

  5. Rissa - the problem is, though, really, what are the chances that the people who are subbing the truly bizarro queries are even capable of taking the leap to improve based on this kind of feedback?

    It is like the delusional people who think they can sing on American Idol. THEY THINK THEY ARE AWESOME. Even when everyone tells them they aren't, they do. Even when people straight up laugh at them, they do. So whatever, what's the point of even pointing it out?


    Jill... amen.

  6. Also, Rissa, I don't think that most people post enough for it to matter, nor do they generally post the actual book excerpts. Personal correspondence isn't under copyright.

    So, an ethical issue, sure. A legal issue, no.

    (Keep in mind, I also would be totally skeeved out by posting ANY private emails or letters on the web. Lots of people don't feel that way.)


  8. Well for me I always hesitate at throwing negative energy at someone else - it always tends to bite you in the butt. Maybe not immediately but it'll be there at some point. Remember when you point a finger at someone three are pointing back at you.

  9. I'm quite happy to snark among other editors reading slush on the same private mailing list but what we say about MSes STAYS there. At some point I may be moved to blog about what I don't like reading but then I will write in broad, general terms

    That being said, I DO enjoy reading some of the #queryfail posts but mainly out of a sense of commiseration.

    As an author, I've found agents' blogs to be very educational about the art of "how to" query.

  10. Slush Pile Hell is not there to lend helpful insight at all. It's there for people to laugh a crazies, not writers, but crazies...Any who, that being said, Query Shark is the place to go if you really want to see constructive feedback. I also posted my first (most awful) query on my blog because I wanted to help people who were just starting to query out..and admittedly, give people a good laugh too.

  11. You are a class act, Jennifer.

  12. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I'm still waiting for an agent to blog or tweet about something an editor did that annoyed them.

    I guess either editors are perfect or all those snarky agents who dare to tell it like it is find it a little harder to tell it like it is when the power balance is shifted.

  13. It seems to me a person should be judged by the way they treat the least of those they deal with.

    If an agent can't at least afford dignity to the worst of those who query, then it's a red flag as far as I'm concerned.

    I've stopped following the blogs and twitter of several agents who've displayed their failed queries for this reason. If the person behind this slushpile hell thing thought there was nothing wrong with it, why are they anonymous?

    Thank you for this post, Jennifer. For what it's worth, my respect for you just sky rocketed :)

  14. Once in a great while I'll mention something in a tweet, because it HAS struck me as SO very bizarre that it deserves mention. It stands out in my head, when you and I both know that so many queries are generic and unmemorable that yes, they go by in a total blur.

    (I am the slush manager for a really small press. I never even mention the press, and talk in generic terms so people won't know who I am talking about).

    OR, like you, I see fifteen queries where the writer is not asking the right question - 'hope you will represent my novel', to a publisher- where you just want to scream "DO YOUR HOMEWORK YOU KNUCKLEHEAD!"

    I can sometimes feel the frustration that gives birth to such things as Slush Pile Hell. I understand it, don't know how I feel about it.

    I don't like the wholesale posting of rejection letters, mentioning names, on blogs though. I think that's tacky.

  15. And thank you, Jill, also!

  16. Oh, Brendan, if that is what you want, I'll try to formulate a post for you. Let's see if I'm up to the task! :)

  17. HollyAnn, it is definitely true. And the query snippets and responses ARE often funny.

    But then I can't help but think, these people might be really crazy, or delusional... I guess I am pretty weirded out by laughing at sick people.

  18. Yes, but people laugh/make fun of delusional people all the's called reality TV...not that I watch it...

  19. What I did on my blog is, instead of making fun of other writers' bad queries, I had writers make fun of their own. I had a "Worst Query Every Contest" a couple of weeks ago, and the winner got two free movie tickets. I thought it would be a cool way to have new writers look at what not to do and to have the people who join the contest jump out of that "I have to be perfect" comfort zone and show others that there's something far more important than making fun of others: making fun of ourselves.

  20. you've just given me another reason to send you my query letter! gesh - what have i been waiting for?

  21. Anonymous9:27 AM

    It's worth spending some time to Google-source the posts on Slush Pile Hell.

  22. Thanks, Jennifer, for a great post.

    You write: "Personal correspondence isn't under copyright."

    The US Copyright Office states: "Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

    So, since material in E-mails is created and fixed in a tangible form and perceptible on a computer, the content of the E-mails does receive automatic copyright status. And The Copyright Office goes on to state that registration of created and fixed material is voluntary.

    You know... E-mail query submissions to literary agents may be protected under the ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS PRIVACY ACT of 1986.

    Literary agencies with websites in place that allow electronic query submissions through E-mails might need to have a privacy policy link at the website which clearly defines their policy regarding any content of the E-mail submission shared with a third party... (the "third party" perhaps being an internet audience for whatever the agenda.)

  23. To me, there's a line. On one side is the general commentary on queries, like "seeing a trend in rhetorical question queries," that can be educational. And on the other side are the agents who will get specific, even going so far as to quote directly. This bothers me.

    It's bullying. People who have the power--agents who writers are desperate to impress--use it to make fun of those who don't. And maybe it's true that the "victims" of it will never even know, because they're not educated enough about it to be following the agent's blog or twitter feed, but that's not the point. It's about the agent having that kind of meanness, or at least simple thoughtlessness, inside them at all.

    It just makes me uneasy. To me, it ends up being just one in a large number of factors I look at when it comes to researching agents. It's a mark against them for me, but I wholly understand that it wouldn't be for other writers, and might even be a mark in their favor, because there are tons of writers who love reading the #queryfail posts and find them helpful. It's all about opinion and personal preference.

    If someone mocks the occasional query it isn't going to be the deciding factor in whether I send them my own query letter or not. But it will weigh in. Just as it becomes a factor when I see an agent who doesn't mock incoming queries. It's all a part of the decision.

    Thanks so much for posting this. It was finally enough to get me to crawl out of lurkerdom and comment on something--and gave me enough courage to actually say what I think on the issue, with less fear of being labeled precious or a problem author. :)

  24. Anonymous3:59 PM

    I think a little goes a long way. Back in the days when it was the occasional late-night unofficial slush reading panel at an SF con, it seemed pretty harmless, especially without names attached, and even somewhat useful.

    Now, there are enough agents blogging such things online that I find myself growing uneasy. A little bit is educational, but how does one draw the line?

    Especially when, with google, it's much easier for a clever or obsessed (that'd be most of us) author to find themselves, even if no names are attached.

  25. I'm 100% against query-mocking. Which means I have a bit of a Lorax complex about the issue...I know a lot of unpublished writers are afraid to question an agent's behavior, so I'm pretty vehement about speaking out for them.

  26. Okeydoke, Marjorie. I stand corrected. Though I still think that if somebody posted a bunch of love letters online and made fun of them (for example) - they'd get called out for being a schmuck, not for copyright infringement. :)


    Meagan, thanks for coming out of hiding! No fear, I don't bite.

    Well, ok, I sometimes bite, but gently.

  27. Hannah speaks for the trreeeeeees! <3

  28. Glad to hear. Rejections are upsetting enough.

  29. Anonymous12:12 AM

    Another person out of lurkdom and braving the prospect of gentle bites. I've been noticing more of this trend lately, and it's been bothering me. It seems... mean. If I were convinced that the aim is always to educate writers then I might see it as misguided-mean, but it feels a little as though it sometimes slips over a line into an easy laugh at somebody else's expense. Whether that person finds out or not, I can think of other ways to make each other laugh (and educate each other) that don't involve direct references to work people care about. I'm just not okay with laughing at other people who are trying hard at what they do (or are possibly mentally ill, a la SlushPile Hell July 12 - the book that angels dictated). Some of them haven't bothered to educate themselves and some of them have entitlement issues, sure, but it just seems unkind.

    (Unrelated PS - I read Laurel Snyder on your recommendation and she's fantastic, thanks!)

  30. Anonymous9:18 AM

    I'm leaving this post anonymous for obvious reason.

    I got a shot across the bow in a blog post that addressed a partial I had submitted to an agent once. It was too specific and too timely NOT to be my work (right down to page numbers)

    It was actually somewhat flattering; they liked the work enough that they felt the need to explain what they didn't like.

    Part of the advantage of querying agents who blog is that sometimes they single you out and give you the feedback you'll never get in an email rejection. As long as you keep the right attitude about it, and remember that it's just the opinion of someone who already passed and no longer "matters," then it can be very helpful going forward.

  31. I used to correct regional exams as a teacher. And we'd all be sitting around big tables in the same room. When one of us got "a good one" we'd read it out loud for a laugh. But it never left the room.

    What did leave the room, and what we took to our students were generic issues. Please don't do this and you'll do better if you do this.

    I think there's a benefit to query critique on sites where ppl submit critiques specifically for that reason.

  32. Anonymous8:15 PM

    The person behind Slushpile Hell should be exposed for the bitter jerk he or she is.

    If they hate the business that much and waste their time on negatives, they should quit. Karma is a bitch.


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