Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How Do You Feel About Websites Poking Fun At Queries?

As surely as the changing of the moon and the appearance of new seasons of Survivor, there always seems to be a website out there devoted to poking fun at bad queries. These come and go, with varying levels of humor and angst.

The most recent iteration has been the subject of some debate on various blogs in the past week, and I'm curious what people think. Do you find these sites rude, funny, educational, malicious, informative, privacy-invading, entertaining, possibly a combination?

And, just FYI, my personal policy that I will never ever make fun of a query that is sent to me, nor will I quote from one without your permission. Query freely.






349 comments:

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ryan field said...

Indifferent.

Sometimes it's really funny, and sometimes it's just blah, blah, blah you're trying too hard to get a laugh.

hannah said...

A hundred percent against.

Patty Blount said...

They're very entertaining, yes. But I'm also terrified of ending up on one of these sites as the poster child of what not to do. (Oh, the shame.)

I want to learn, I want feedback and critical evaluations, yes. But no need to Simon Cowell me.

ed miracle said...

No time, Nathan, for query bashers. I'm fully involved on the Left-handed, Gay, Atheist, Republican, Oompah Band Website.

Deni Krueger said...

Against. But critiquing is valuable. And most people know the difference between the two.

Cory Jackson said...

I'm not a huge fan of these. I know some agent mean them to be helpful, but if I discovered my query used in this way I would be bummed out. Humiliation is not the best teacher.

abc said...

I must say, the idea makes me feel icky. I haven't actually visited any of these sites (I swear), but I probably wouldn't look away. I bet there are some amazingly funny bad ones. Still, people have feelings and I hate hurting them.

I answer with no answer. Yet again.

Sierra McConnell said...

I think poking fun at is mean, but if its done in an informative way then it's okay. And if they got the person's permission it's okay.

Say...an author looks back and says, "Lord, did I eat grass back then. I want the world to learn from my mistake. Make fun of me to let the little ones know better." And then someone takes that and hacks it to bits for them, then it's okay. I wouldn't mind. Because I sure as heckfire pick my mistakes apart when I see them.

Then promptly hide them under a rug and never own up that it was me. :D

Anonymous said...

With permission or tweaked to protect the innocent is fine.

Otherwise, it's unprofessional. I think there's a reason why so many of those types of blogs are anonymous.*


*Ironically posted as anonymous.

Josh said...

I've seen a number of writers talk about being a little more timid regarding queries, for fear of being "that guy" on "that site".

Occasionally humorous, query-bashing serves to enhance the stigma of agents and editors as gatekeepers who revel in making life miserable.

Courtney said...

Good topic...I've seen this come up twice recently, on two blogs I follow. These blogs are written by caring, considerate agents. Since everybody is different, there are many ways to present the same information, but at the end of the day, I truly believe all agent/editor blogs are trying to help us writers do a better job. Some just go about it differently. Some hold us by the hand, some smack us over the head, and some point and laugh. They all work for me. I'm learning...and when everybody inherently understands it's not a good idea to offer to stop by an agent's office to drop off your query, then we all win, right?

Taylor Mathews Taylor said...

I think there is a difference between websites where one submits one's work (think Queryshark or EvilEditor) and where one's query is posted without permission. I particularly enjoy Evil Editor's brand of humor and have found it to be helpful (having had one of my own early queries torn to shreds there) and humbling. But, were I to find a serious query submission as the object of ridicule without my permission, I'd be pissed.

Ruth Horowitz said...

All of the above. I consider them mean spirited and a violation of an assumed trust. On the other hand, they're my guilty pleasure. That said, I'm really glad I didn't know they existed *before* I landed an agent. If I were still in the querying stage, I would live in fear of finding myself in one.

vrgriffith said...

I think they can be funny when not too mean. They can also be instructive.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Well... it depends. I don't like sites that are mean-spirited, but some sites that just post a line or two from the query anonymously and add a snarky/mildly sarcastic comment are okay. Sometimes it helps because it points out what definitely NOT to do in a query - not in a nice way, but it gets the point across.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I love a good critique site, like query shark or the former Monday critiques here on the blog, but I'm definitely against making fun of someone intentionally. I would hate to be the recipient of such behavior, so I won't dish it out or support it when someone else does the dishing.

A.L. said...

If someone wants to post their own query for ridicule, that's fine. If they give permission, sure. But it is unprofessional to post someone else's query to your sight for purposes of flat out mockery.

In general, I don't like any website based solely off mocking others, unless the subject up for mockery was put up their voluntarily by the mockee.

Richard said...

What bugs me the most is when an agent posts a terrible query and says, 'This is a terrible query! Didn't read my guidelines! Form rejection!' -- clearly, 'form rejection' = 'f*** you, author!'

Then I look at my query, which followed all that agent's guidelines, and note with I got a form rejection too...

marilynn said...

There's a lot of cruelty out there. Sometimes you just feel like curling up in a fetal position. Being rejected is bad enough; you don't need to be ridiculed as well.

Marilynn

Anonymous said...

I'm just terrified of the timing of this blog since I just sent you a query two days ago without a response yet.

I have visions of you and your colleagues laughing, doubled over with glee, tears streaming in the break room while passing around my query.

I'm going to go throw up now...:-)

Tori [Book Faery] said...

Depends for me. If it's an approach like http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/ then I think it's more funny than mean. Some people simply have no common sense when it comes to being professional, etc.

If it's an actual agent poking fun at people then... well, that too depends. Sometimes it's informative. Sometimes it's just plain mean. It really all depends on the approach to posting about the mistakes.

Sheila Cull said...

Can you name one of these Websites? A site is devoted to bashing queries? Where?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Well, first off, I don't do that, second of all, I've replied to all queries that were sent as of yesterday around 6pm, so you might try sending it again. I've been having some e-mail glitches lately.

signed...bkm said...

I do not think it necessary to poke fun at anything written...query or otherwise..what I find is if it is good it will stand on its own..if it is great..soon the world will know about it...if it is bad..it will fade away no matter how much attention it is given....bkm

Nathan Bransford said...

sheila-

I don't really want to link to one directly, but you can click through the link in the post to find it.

Cory Jackson said...

FYI. Back in February this was a hot debate on Twitter. Author Bob Mayer spoke out against this exact thing. Interesting blog post.

http://www.bobmayer.org/blog/?p=201

Michelle Kollar said...

I think if you are pompous and say things that make you sound like a lunatic in a query, then maybe it is a good lesson for you to learn.

Natalie Whipple said...

There's a difference between good crits and outright rudeness. It might be funny to some, but at whose expense?

Jesse said...

I love that site. You know, sometimes, you just have to poke holes in the pretentious. Besides, humor tends to be a better teacher.

Sheila Cull said...

I saw what Tori wrote and went to slushpile... Very funny.

Malia Sutton said...

They really piss me off.

AngelB35 said...

I think it's rude to make fun of people's shortcomings... I bet someone out there would make fun of that particular 'agent' if they queried a book, too! 'Let he who is without sin' and 'Those who live in glass houses' and all that jazz!

Leah Raeder said...

I love them. You can get across so much in a pithy bit of (admittedly, sometimes cruel) humor. What would take hundreds of words to explain is communicated instantly by making light of a mistake. Sometimes the best way to make a point is by showing someone failing woefully and hilariously.

In the end, I think most of us sympathize with the querier anyway, because we know how difficult it is to do it well. And some of the queriers are just obnoxious or arrogant and deserve their lampooning--which makes for guilt-free fun.

I don't think it's disrespectful or an invasion of privacy as long as no identifying information about the querier is included.

Daisy said...

I admit, I find most of the things posted on those sites hilarious, though I'm glad they didn't exist when I was sending my first query letters. As long as they leave off any identifying information, the odds that the querier will ever even know it was posted seem slim. And if we can't laugh at people like this, well then, frankly, I don't know why the internet even exists.

Kerry Gans said...

I am indifferent to these types of sites, AS LONG AS THE WRITER OF THE QUERY IS KEPT ANONYMOUS. I don't look at those sites (except QueryShark, which is different), so do not live in fear of finding my query there.

My opinion, if you don't like those sites, don't visit them. There's nothing you can do about them, anyway - the agents will do whatever they want.

Gabriela Lessa said...

I think that, as long as the author's name is kept confidential - which is what they do in every site I've seen - there is no problem at all. They are funny and, at times, they can be educational. Something that sounds so obviously absurd to agents might come as a tip to an author who was thinking of doing just that. I don't think it's offensive at all. Especially in SlushPileHell's case, since the agent keeps her identity a secret.

bobmueller said...

If it's mocking just to mock, then it's a bad idea. If you're using it to illustrate a point, I'd make sure the author is OK with you using it in that way.

Gryvon said...

I love SlushPileHell and the #queryquotes (or is it #queryfail) hashtag on twitter. I think it depends on the tone. It's funny if it's just short WTF lines from queries that are anonymous and near-impossible to trace back to the source. Not so funny if you can identify who queried or it's a larger chunk of query without constructive criticism to make up for the targeted snark.

Fran Ontanaya said...

I do wonder why any seasoned member of the industry would devote time to it.

Forget even about the public feelings. They would look a bit inexperienced among their equals if they see poor queries as something surprising or noteworthy.

Nobody said publishing was an aseptic job where people doesn't have to deal with much diversity.

kelcrocker said...

First of all, I LOVE Slush Pile Hell. The agent picks just a small slice of the query--so it's anonymous, and it's always highlighting the kind of mistakes that writers who did even 10 minutes of research could easily avoid. I think the agent's responses are funny, and I enjoy them.

I've seen other blogs, such as this one, where the agent will critique queries, and I find that very helpful. You have a nice sense of humor, Nathan, and have gently chided people for things such as starting with a rhetorical question. That's fine and funny.

I was shocked today to discover this post: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/

In part, it's about all of the negative responses to a funny Q & A that agent Rachelle Gardner posted a week ago. I tweeted in response to this something along the lines that: Writers who get offended by such things need to get a life, a sense of humor and perspective.

Just because a writer sends a "serious" question to an agent doesn't mean that she can't answer it with a bit of humor. If you don't like the answer, too bad! Seems like everyone is getting a bit touchy these days. Writers need to act as professionally as they want agents to act.

We all love books. We all want good stories to continue. Agents aren't some ivory-tower Gods looking down on the rest of us. They need writers just like we need them. (Unless you want to go another route, which is fine...) I'm just saying...Let's take our craft seriously, but not ourselves.

:: Rant over ::

Thanks for listening.

Rena said...

I don't care for them. Most of the emphasis seems to be on putting someone down with rude comments, basically telling people they're wasting their time. If they were constructive or helpful, it would be different. Maybe I've just read some of the more rude ones.

j. m. lee said...

I think query-bashing or query-"poking fun of" or #queryfail are just downright unprofessional. Everyone has annoying things that happen to them at work -- people not following submission guidelines, people not knowing what they want to drink at Starbucks, client asking for impossible deadlines, etc - doesn't matter where you work. Everyone has something to complain about at work. But I feel that if it's your job to publicly represent your agency, your authors, and to an extent the publishers which have picked up your projects, you have a certain responsibility to be professional.

Meaning, as a barista, it's not exactly professional for me to complain about the annoying lady who just ordered a really gruesome latte in front of the rest of the cafe (or internet). "Hey everybody! Check out this dumb b**ch who just ordered a mocha-latte! Everyone ridicule her!"

What's the point? It doesn't help anyone, and laughing at someone else's actions gets old really fast.

Really, I think it enforces agent pedestalism, clique-ism, and elitism. This is a business venture, guys... not Glee club.

Anonymous said...

only fair if writers can poke fun at some of the more interesting rejections.

Stu Pitt said...

It's kinda funny. Most of those queries read like joke set-ups.

There was newspaper in the UK a few years ago that sent out queries to agents with sample chapters. The chapters were from a famous book, and all the agents rejected it.

That was funnier.

Rowenna said...

Seems like a victimless crime. I assume most of the poor souls sending these kooky queries aren't reading agent or industry websites or blogs as they clearly have no clue what's appropriate in a query--so little to no chance they'll discover they've been made a laughingstock.

Danielle La Paglia said...

As long as it's all anonymous, I'm okay with it. Sometimes I'm shocked by what people actually write in their queries & sometimes I feel bad for the writer. Mostly, I just feel bad for the agent who has to read through hundreds of really bad ones to find the golden ones. If you pay attention to some of them you can learn from it. Granted, not all are educational.

Stephanie Faris said...

I find it hilarious, and I learn quite a bit from it. Even before this became all the rage, I attended conferences where everyone had a chuckle about the woman who passed her manuscript to an editor under a bathroom stall. In fact, writers have been laughing at other writers for years...and we all, deep down, have that thought of, "Oh God, please tell me I've never done anything that stupid."

Anonymous said...

It's only fair if writers get equal time. Some of the rejections we get are interesting, to say the least. Though if you ask for query feedback, that's a different matter all together.

Cory Jackson said...

One last note from me.... Even if a writer's name is removed from a query, it may not be anonymous. Many writers post their queries in forums to be critiqued. People have had their queries recognized.

We are professionals. Think about it this way. Say you wrote a report for work, and that report was sent anonymously to all your coworkers as an example of what not to do - without your permission. And then you watch as others join in the discussion to mock your genuine effort. How is anything about that professional?

Julie said...

There's something a bit catty about it. Like we're all snickering and gossiping behind our hands about 'those losers'...

On the other hand, you see this in other forms of comedy. We laugh at other people's expense all the time. Like the guy getting nailed in the privates by the baseball on America's Funniest Videos...

I guess it's funny until its us.

Julie Johnson
www.busywriting.net

Remus Shepherd said...

It wouldn't bother me if agents posted pieces of my query. Hell, I might learn where I went wrong -- although I hope I've avoided doing anything creepy enough to warrant a blog post.

But I have a thick skin, and I know that other authors might not. So on the whole I think it's mean-spirited, but it's not important enough to speak out against. Let the agents blow off some steam at an author's expense now and then.

Perry said...

I don't mind the really obvious ones that poke at the arrogance of some people, but when it's clearly a mistake I think it's more cruel than anything else. It doesn't do the agent/editor any justice to be seen as yet another humorless brick in the wall between writer and reader.

Kristy said...

I think it should always remain anonymous or reprinted with permission.

Anonymous said...

I am an outsider (not a writer) who studies the history of publishing and I view it as utterly unprofessional.

I work in education and constantly have to deal with adults not following directions but I have enough respect for them not to make a mockery of them just to flex my own muscles and to attempt to show that I am important--that and I also want to keep my job. ;) To me it looks to be a power trip and ego boost for the agent. In other fields you would be fired for such behaviour.

I have no problem if the author of the query gave his or her permission to be the object of ridicule. Such activities not only violate trust but are immature.

~Darla

adamo said...

I think they're great. Anyone with a little common sense is probably safe from ridicule. Those whose sanity or command of the language is shaky, however...

Ramsey Hootman said...

When I read them I think they're pretty funny, but when I ask myself whether I'd want that agent to represent me... the answer is No.

SWK said...

Seems to me that most query mistakes fall into a few standard categories so the poking-fun, malicious or well-intended, gets old either way. Would be nice if more folks pointed out the essential importance of the manuscript. The key to a great query is having a great piece of writing READY TO SELL. Then, I think, a decent query pretty much writes itself.

Zee Lemke said...

Wow. Everyone's on the other side. I actually treat them the same way I treat textsfromlastnight or overheardinnewyork. People say things that, taken out of context, are HILARIOUS. If I goofed up enough to be that funny, I'd expect to end up on the internet somewhere.

...also it gives me hope. There are a lot of people out there who are worse at writing queries than I am.

Cameron said...

Ahhh... Query fun... Oft amusing, rarely worth the read, unless I'm in query-writing mode. I won't read a blog with a post title of "This Week In Query Bashing." Instead, I wait until I'm ready to query and search my fav blogs for "best queries" or "worst queries."

kelcrocker said...

Wow, the responses are really coming in fast! I love hearing the different views. I think the people who are saying that such sites can be cruel, and that it creates a "look at the losers!" kind of mentality have a point.

The kinds of sites I'm talking about, though, that I enjoy, quote such a small part of the query, I think it would be really hard for most people who are reading it to identify the writer. And I don't think the agents are poking fun at the writing or the story concept as much as they are the fact that people simply are not acting professionally when they query. (This would be the difference between the agent-querier relationship and a barista making fun of a customer at a cafe, I would think.) Frankly, the nonprofessional people irritate me. They make it much more difficult for serious writers to get through because they're clogging agent in-boxes with unprofessional work.

Jeni Decker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

I don't read the ones that JUST make fun. It's entertaining, but not as useful, and I don't really have time. Or I don't make the time, either way. The Snarkster and the Shark were/are hilarious. There's a fair amount of teasing going on there. AND, they're main agenda is to help. I get a good laugh and valuable advice all at the same time. I think that's the difference.

Jenny said...

I don't think that posting queries--a business letter for all intents and purposes--should be open for discussion in public forums unless the writer has specifically asked for a query critique (a service that is provided on several agents' blogs/websites).

I understand that agents may be vastly entertained--probably the way many HR people are entertained by some resumes and cover letters--but these aren't intended for public consumption and shouldn't be made fun of, critiqued, or picked at in public.

Or, you know, until that one Post Secret guy heads your way.

Daryl Sedore said...

I'm 100% against poking fun at people who have submitted something inferior.

This is a form of bullying. We teach our children not to do this. Then adults, scratch that, professional, adults do it.

The kid who stands out in the school yard gets picked on. The slower kid in math class gets laughed at.

Same thing here. These people do make mistakes with their queries. I understand that thousands of queries hit agencies all the time and every once in a while an agent sees something and asks themselves, what the hell is going on? How could this person submit such junk? Next step: send form rejection and move on. Writers who get 50 form rejections will revise their query, or read more on how to do one properly, or stop submitting and stay in their current job. But to heckle them in public is wrong.

I just don't like it. It's never happened to me. I received partials and a full request from my query. I just feel bad for writers who make a mistake and then get beat up for it.

Heidi said...

I find them hilarious, but I would imagine that anyone who sees their queries in these blogs doesn't. I do think there is a lot to be learned from sites like that, though—I find myself making mental what-not-to-do lists.

MJR said...

I think Slush Pile Hell is funny--those bad queries are so over the top and she (he?) doesn't mention names. I agree with Jesse above--humor is a good teacher. It's doubtful many of us would write such awful queries, but I also think we can all learn something by reading the worst of the worst...

Stoich91 said...

If it's harmless, hilarious banter done tastefully and anonymously, what's not to love (and even learn?). People against sites like these have a grand total of 0% of humor. And mind you, I'm only referring to top-of-line query sites, like Slush Pile Hell and Query Shark, that actually *help* people (or post helpful tips every now and then), not completely ridicule them.

If it's cheesy, unprofessional ranting aimed at hurting others, why waste your time?

Giles Hash said...

I think it's important to have a thick skin, and while I would never want my query to be made fun of, I think that if I say something really stupid, as long as I'm kept anonymous by the website, they can make as much fun of my query as they like.

My friends already make fun of the fact that I spend a good deal of time sending out "QUEER-ies". Don't attach my name or blog to the post mocking me, and I don't care.

Anonymous said...

I just wish I knew who the agent responsible was, so I could make sure not to query or - heaven forbid - sign with someone who could be so unprofessional when nobody's looking.

And unless these queries are totally fictitious, it's incredibly unprofessional. All our doctors probably poke fun at us and our falling-apart bodies to their nurses, but they don't post about it online.

It's not even in the same category as TFLN or OH in NY. Not at all.

jscolley said...

I agree with J.M Lee. I think it shows not only a lack of professionalism but a bit of mean-spritedness to boot. It's one thing to "show examples" of "queries that fail" as an educational tool. It is a very different thing to throw them out into the tweetverse or webosphere for public ridicule. It indicates a certain amount of hubris on the part of the agents. ...That being said, some of them ARE funny. And I have been guilty of partaking in the guilty pleasure of reading them. ;P ;P

Jeni Decker said...

Oh I think they're great. I mean, we can't get too precious about ourselves, can we?

And clearly there are plenty of agents out there in the blog/twittersphere that aren't too precious about themselves.

Otherwise we wouldn't know how many cupcakes so and so has eaten in one day, or how so and so's fifty gerbils are faring after their hemorrhoidectomy, or what they were doing while waiting in line for MOCKINGJAY to drop...

--all as a daily resounding echo fills the twitter-halls:

"Man, I wish I could get my QUERY BOX emptied!"

I always giggle and think to myself, 'Well, perhaps lay off Twitter for fifteen seconds?"

There's plenty of room to find humor on both sides.

;)

Steven Brandt said...

I will take any criticism / feedback from an agent I can get. I'm for it.

Wendy Delfosse said...

It really does feel mean spirited. I don't visit them, cause it just feels like joining in with the other kids on the playground picking on that one poor kid (or hundreds of kids.) There's a line between providing helpful feedback to lots of people and just ridiculing the one.

Morgan said...

Reading over that site made me laugh out loud. My neighbors now think I'm crazy. But while bashing absurd queries is a great way to get a laugh, it's definitely unethical in my book. I know I would be mortified if one of my queries was posted on a website!

Nicole said...

Some are funny; some are nit-picky. Either way, I think there's value in seeing an agent's actual thoughts about these queries.

Even if it's just a fleeting thought--that most agents would never put into words--as they shake their heads in fond amusement at all of us naive writers. :)

You KNOW they've gotta be thinking similar thoughts at least a few times while wading through slush. I think it's helpful to gauge the type of reaction certain queries (or parts of queries) get.

Allison Morris said...

I'm all for it. I can't say I find it educational since there are other blogs I go to for that (like this one!) and the mistakes are so over the top that they aren't particularly enlightening.

The funny query bashing site I read keeps me sane. It makes me laugh and reminds me to maintain my sense of humor.

Lindsay B said...

Against.

I love sites like Evil Editor's blog where writers, knowing fully well what's likely to happen, volunteer to have their query letters critiqued in hopes of improving them.

It's unprofessional to publicly mock someone's work without permission.

rjkeller said...

With so many Grumpy Literary Agent blogs on the market, I feel the genre's appeal has diminished and I will therefore have to pass. However, these things are subjective and I wish them good luck with all of their blogging endeavors.

flibgibbet said...

I find them educational. Gives me an awareness of what horrors exist in the slushpile and why some agents might become irritated/jaded in a very short period of time. (And why most of them don't bother with anything other than a form rejection).

Anyway, since the folks quoted (in the link) are anonymous, I say no harm no foul. Maybe now they'll do some research regarding protocol and refine their people skills; and maybe their bad examples will encourage the rest of us to do the same.

Emily Anderson said...

Critiquing a query with the author's permission is instructive. Mocking is just cruel. There's a fine line. I watched a live chat with an agent going through the submitted queries for the chat explaining why she would ask for more or reject. Some of the information was valuable, when it was straightforward and blunt, but the making fun left a bad taste in my mouth. Everyone was laughing about it, but if one of those queries had been mine, I would have been mortified. I can understand how agents get frustrated about cocky or snarky queries, but in general, an author is trusting an agent with their heart and soul. Agents should respect that trust.

RBSHoo said...

I'm fine with it. I've made my peace with the fact that I may never get published, but I know how to approach this business professionally. It's really not hard to write a query that gets taken seriously (even if all it ever draws is a form rejetion).

Yet if you still manage to make an a$$ of yourself using the very skills you're hoping to sell, then I have no sympathy.

If I attended an open NFL tryout, shouldn't I expect to be made fun of? Why is this any different?

It's like the line I heard on my first day of law school more than a decade ago -- if, after a month, you don't know who the class jacka$$ is, it's you.

Mira said...

I believe sites like this are dangerous to the current state of the industry.

You don't need EVERY writer turned off by these sites, just a sizable number of them.

Given Nathan's post yesterday, and the fact that authors will more and more be able to bypass both agents and publishers anything that alienates writers from the industry is risky, to say the least.

The fact that these sites are anonymous potentially damages the entire industry, because writers don't know who is responsible, and therefore their distaste is spread to EVERY agent, EVERY editor.

Personally, I find these sites to be utterly dispicable. I can't say it strongly enough. For agents, supposedly a writer's strongest advocate and supporter, to be publically mocking any writer without their permission is beyond unprofessional and into the range of reflecting poor personal character.

But that's me as a writer. If I were in the industry - and I would guess that those in the industry know who this person is - I would do everything I possibly could to get that person's site shut down.

Publishing can not afford to alienate any writer.

They risk losing that writer to e-publishing. Amazon has not, and I doubt they ever will, publically mocked any author. The concept, frankly, is unthinkable, and so it should be for the publishing industry.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally for them.

Some people need to lighten up.

Anonymous said...

If the querier remains anonymous and the comments are constructive (or at least enlightening on what went wrong) I think it's fine. Sometimes the comments need to be a bit 'Snark-like' in order to get it into people's heads.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, it doesn't bother me in the least. Most of the stuff that ends up on that site is a little ridiculous. I'm of the camp that if people did a minutia of research that wouldn't end up there. I've always wondered when agents say only a handful of their queries are readable how that could be, but it makes sense now.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I thought it was funny at first, but I agree with ryan field, who said the anonymous agent was trying too hard to get a laugh.

Also, when he/she started making fun of religions, I was out. Unfollowed. Unfollowed.

Unpublished writers HAVE to have a sense of humor about the rejection process. But shouldn't there be some mutual respect in there somewhere?

Nathan, you are much funnier, and without alienating potential clients. Kudos to you.

Ariana Richards said...

I don't agree with public ridicule of anyone. Constructive critique, even when blunt - fine. Anonymous snippets where no one is specifically called out - fine. Downright mean? Never fine.

I don't work in publishing (though obviously have an interest in being a part of it), but I've done hiring for many years in many industries (software, healthcare, marketing).

There's one constant - you don't send your resume in unless you've spent time polishing it and proving you're qualified for the job. If someone does otherwise, the hiring managers will pick it apart, and joke and laugh amongst themselves about the flaws. It's not specific to agents and editors, it's a fact of life if you don't do your research.

And personally, if I wasn't able to laugh at myself, life would be pretty miserable.

Erin said...

Are some of these bad queries super funny? Absolutely. And I'm sure literary agents who are immersed in this stuff every day need to make fun just to stay sane. But having been an editor myself, I personally think it's mean to share the laughs with the world at large. Behind every letter is a person, and no matter their level of talent or skill (or lack thereof), they deserve if not respect at least the preservation of dignity (as far as it goes).

The Invisible Writer said...

If the query was submitted for the purpose of critique (with humorous commentary if that's the critic's thang) - I'm all for it. It's a good natured laugh and can be very valuable insights for the rest of us.

If an agent is posting (and commenting/making-fun-of) bad queries they received and doing it without permission from the author for the sole purpose of getting a laugh - I oppose. That agent is now trying to destroy an author's reputation by polluting the author's name and/or book title and/or book premise.

gsfields said...

I'm new to writing, but everything I've read on blogs, books, and magazines say that writers should develop a thick skin.

So as long as they don't name names, aren't personally offensive, and aren't mean spirited, I have no problem. I

I read the "What I'd Love to Say" blog and it was so funny I almost spit out a mouthful of coffee onto my computers screen.

heather said...

No. I don't like it. Queries are stressful - possibly more stressful than writing a book. A lot of people work hard on them, and to be made fun of is simply not cool. "Roasting" seems to be popular nowadays, but in my opinion, it only shows mean spiritedness.

Anonymous said...

Against.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Editorial Anonymous and The Rejectionist have both poked fun of what they considered to be particularly bad/outlandish/frightening queries on their blogs, with the difference that they never quoted directly from the queries. As long as there is no way to know who actually sent said query, I think it's educational, actually. It's a great lesson in what-not-to-do when querying, and for those of us who have made those mistakes in the past and then realized the error of our ways, it's healthy to be able to laugh about it.

I'm not fond of the ones that don't protect the querier's identity, though. I think that's unprofessional.

Matthew Rush said...

I would just like to say Nathan, that while I don't really think these kind of things are meant to be malicious, I have the utmost respect for your policies about this kind of thing. I mean even the worst, most ridiculous queries out there have to be considered a writers real and true heartfelt attempt at finding an agent, which is a key step to becoming published. It's not something that I think many people take lightly.

Believe me I've written my share of terrible queries in my time (see my blog for examples), and I've even made fun of them from time to time, but I have that right, as the author of such drivel. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with agents or editors who share particularly horrible examples for laughs, lord knows I've read slushpilehell and queryshark and evil editor and had a smile, and that's natural. There doing it anonymously so it's not "really" hurting anyone, but at the same time I personally think it's quite admirable to be above all that.

I mean you've already got the dream job, you make a good living making other writer's dreams come true, you obviously love writing, reading, writers and readers so why go for a few cheap laughs at their expense? What would you really gain?

There is plenty of cheap, petty entertainment in the world and as human beings we marginalize each other every day. I'm happy to know that my favorite agent doesn't feel the need to lift himself up by lowering others down (no offense to those who do).

Reena Jacobs said...

I admit, some of them I do find amusing, but it's a guilty kind of pleasure. It's poking fun at the misfortune of another. If that person knew what was being said about him/her, I'm sure his/her feelings would be hurt. So in the context of "do unto others," it's wrong.

If the queries are made up, generic stuff of what not to do, I'm fine with that. However, it irritates me when I see agents do things like tweet #queryfail as they go through their queries with live examples, cause I know those are people trying their best and just trying to get a break. It's a virtual slap in the face.

I can't imagine agents would take too kindly to editors doing the same to them. #agentfail Tee hee. No I don't think that'd go over too well.

Anonymous said...

I love one of the blogs in question - SlushPile Hell - and often quote exerpts when critiquing submissions before they're sent to Agents, to illustrate pitfalls of using rhetorical questions, fauning, oversell, etc.
It is proving to be an essential resource.

- NaomiM

robinC said...

Not a fan. Behind every (earnest) query is a struggling writer who just wants his/her voice to be heard. Even if the "picking apart" is done in the guise of being helpful it can come across as mean spirited.

Querying is such a vulnerable action - all that hope that someone commects with you and your writing enough to want to request a partial or a full - I think any writer wants to believe that no matter how deluged an editor or agent is, their letter (and work) will be treated with respect. This sort of blasts that thought out of the water. No wonder we're all so freaked out about query letters, lol.

Thanks for making this place a haven, and for including the occasional video with cute animals!

Elizabeth said...

I don't like those sites. Query critique sites where the authors submit, yes. Anonymous (or not) agents posting them without permission to make fun? No, even when the authors are anonymous.

I find it unprofessional. People don't send queries so they can become teaching moments for other unagented writers.

There are at least two agents on my do-not-submit list because they comment on queries publicly. (Not that they care that I won't query them, I'm sure.)

Anonymous said...

I wish the author of the Slushpilehell site would stop posting here anonymously (name at the bottom of the post or not) trying to influence the thread.

Liz Fichera said...

Making fun of people to get a laugh is beyond tacky, not to mention unprofessional.

G said...

I don't mind poking fun at myself when it comes to querying or synopsis writing, but I would find it problematic having someone else poking fun at me.

Ann M said...

I like the way you go about things, Nathan. Comment on the generic without using an author's exact words.

Unless it is stated somewhere in the query submission guidelines that the author's words might be used on a blog, etc., I'm not sure it's a good idea to do so without the author's consent. And I'm not sure that I'd feel entirely comfortable submitting to an agent knowing that it might be me up there next...

Thanks for always being so careful about an author's privacy and writing! I know I appreciate it!

J. T. Shea said...

Dear Undifferentiated Agent-Type Person Dude,

This is my query for a query for my fictional novel book. It has approximately 268.6386 words. The query, I mean. In it, the query's protagonist (moi) writes about the query for his (my) fictional novel, using words and letters and paragraphs and punctuation. Characters do things in the novel, and some don't do anything, which I won't tell you about here, because this is only the query for the query and not the actual query itself, which I just said before above in the first place already.

I believe this query for a query will appeal to agents between the ages of five and ten who read other queries. If you like this query for a query do NOT tell me. I will then post it on the most obscure display website I can find, where you will have a snowball's chance in hell of finding it, assuming you even find the obscure website in the first place, and you still give a damn by then.

I look forward to not hearing from you, or anybody else, ever.

Your truly,
J. T. Shea
(Which currently brings up 4,540 Google hits, 99% of whom are not me. In particular, I do not play the ukelele.)

Joanne Sheppard said...

I think they're hilarious. And largely harmless.

Tiana Smith said...

At first I thought these sites were entertaining and harmless, but then I realized that these are real people that the agent is making fun of - not helping (as these individuals most likely do not follow agent blogs). The agent also does not have their permission like in QueryShark or others.

This would not be acceptable in any other profession (like HR publishing bad resumes), and I would not want this agent to represent me, especially when he/she started making jokes outside the publishing field and about religion.

So no, I do not feel these websites are ok. At first I was on the fence, but reading your post and the comments has helped me figure out what I really think, so thank you Nathan.

Suzan Harden said...

I find such websites/twitter feeds educational, both in terms of what not to do on a query and which agents I'd prefer to work with.

Personally, I find SPH hysterical because most of the examples so outrageous I believe the bloggist makes them up. So unless one of y'all claims their work was actually used (and please give the specific example), then sorry, I can't jump on the hate wagon.

Betty said...

If that happened to me, I would be mortified.

SSB said...

A gentleman never kisses and tells.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

The first sign of an impending nervous breakdown is losing the ability to laugh at yourself!

Haste yee back ;-)

Daisy Harris said...

I've only ever followed this type of thing on Twitter, but I tend to really enjoy agents' comments and *gentle* teasing about query letters. I find it super educational. Also, I think writers should try to learn as quick as they can not to sound crazy/delusional/unprofessional.

BUT- Your query letter mad lib is Fantastic!!! See- you show people what they SHOULD do, rather than just mocking folks who do it wrong. Most agents, in my opp, don't give anywhere near enough guidance about what they want- so they shouldn't be too surprised when they don't get it.

Reading this thread, though, does make me see that a lot of people are going to be discouraged and head to self-pub- maybe not because of the mocking per se, but y'know, because the process is long, tedious, and has a low success rate. A lot of people could write and self pub 2 or 3 additional books in the time it takes to hear back from the average agent. If it's a choice between waiting for a "yes" and just heading out and looking for readers, some folks will choose the latter.

But that's not really an issue for agents. They can just deal with those authors later- if they want to go the query to agent to publisher route once they develop a platform.

Awesome topic, as always! Thanks!

Jill Elizabeth said...

I think they're hilarious. Usually only extreme cases are used, and I don't think anyone who reads this site would make the kind of egregious errors highlighted.

Amy said...

I admit I read the website I think you're referring to. I enjoy it and think it's funny. But it also makes me feel uncomfortable. What if it were my query being subjected to public ridicule? It's private correspondence; it shouldn't be mocked in public. It's like an ex-boyfriend publishing my love letters for his friends to make fun of. So even though I enjoy that site, I think it probably isn't a good idea.

Amorena said...

Honestly, I'm not sure. I find them wonderfully entertaining, but I also don't want to be disrespectful.I wouldn't say they're particularly educational, as most people who are reading those blogs already know better.

I know there is some way to do it and not be disrespectful, but I have no idea what that would be.

Anonymous said...

I look at it this way - some of us were told 'if you don;t have anything nice to say...'

My grandfather - may he rest in peace - told me 20 years ago never to say anything about anyone unless you would say it to his/her face.

So... would I call Mike Tyson a scumbag?? I think not.

Likewise, if some agent was riding the subway with me would he/she say 'Excuse me Mr. X, I read your query last night and you might be the stupidest person on earth. Epic Fail.'?

Maybe.

Would I proceed to shove 245lbs of pissed off lunatic down their throat?

Maybe.

But in all likelihood, said agent would approach me with an attitude right after I spit in Mike Tyson's face.

Seems to be there is a reason for that and a less to be learned. No, it isn't that Mike Tyson beating me up makes him right. It means that if I am afraid of Mike Tyson;s reaction to me spitting in his face, it probably means I know doing it is wrong. It also means that if doing it to Mike Tyson is wrong, doing it to some 120lb weakling is probably wrong too.

If I attack people who can't do anything about it but avoid the Mike Tyson's in the world, it doesn't make me discriminating or smart.

It just makes me an asshole.

Unrepentant Escapist said...

I love reading them, but I feel squeamish because the authors haven't volunteered. However, since the authors on the site mentioned have obviously never read an agent blog about proper queries, this probably won't hurt them either.

That's why I love reading Evil Editor. No guilt, because people VOLUNTEER to be mocked.

Phoenix said...

I think it's unfortunate the writers whose queries are being made fun of are likely to NOT see the posts.

Since every other agent is bound to take a pass with a form reject, those writers will NEVER understand what egregious errors they've committed.

What's more humiliating: to discover after the fact that you've sent out a query that's gotten laughed at by 50 or more agents; to be rejected by so many agents for committing mistakes you don't realize you're committing that you give up writing altogether; or to find out exactly what you're doing wrong, even if it means a lot of someones are laughing at your (anonymous) expense, and being given an opportunity to correct your mistakes before it's too late?

How much less cruel is it, really, for an agent to read these things in private and not speak up about them?

And I suspect if an agent were to post these mistakes with more reserve, no matter how gently they may couch their criticism, you as reader are going to laugh at the writer's words just as hard
as the agent did.

So long as it's the words the post is directed at and not the person, and all is anonymous, I don't have a problem with it.

Too bad perfectly serviceable queries aren't fodder for laughter -- I'd love a site that pointed out just why well-written queries get passed over! :o)

Also Anon said...

"If I attack people who can't do anything about it but avoid the Mike Tyson's in the world, it doesn't make me discriminating or smart.

It just makes me an asshole."

Bravo, Anon!

K.L. Brady said...

Slush Pile Hell is hysterical to me, which I think is one of the newest and cruelest of the sites. If you do one or two solid hourr of research on queries, you can find out all the pitfalls to avoid so your query doesn't up as a cautionary tale. A writing career is worth it, dontcha think? While I'm not for humiliation, I do think some people set themselves up for it by putting in stuff that maybe really important to them on a personal level but that don't mean a rats butt to an agent. It's like the people who audition for American Idol. Sometimes we think more of ourselves than is warranted. lol

With that said, I had my fair share of humiliation with queries before I got an agent. I used the rejections to make my query better. We're grown-ups and should be able to do that without falling to pieces...at least that's my humble opinion.

Marilyn Peake said...

I don’t like those kinds of sites, and I completely avoid them. I belong to an online writers' group that is extremely supportive, never snarky, and – holy camoly! – the success rate within that group is phenomenal. Every few days, another writer signs with an agent. This week, someone with quite a few agents reading their manuscript signed with one. Recently, one of the New York Times best-selling novelists in the group landed a movie deal. Everyone supports each other. Even the New York Times best-selling authors come back to chat and critique other’s work. Several writers in the group decided, with great difficulty, to part ways with their agent, and managed to sign with a new agent very soon afterwards. It’s a truly amazing group, and I feel both humbled and honored to be a member. It’s both the most supportive and most successful group I’ve ever seen, and I think the tone of the environment helps members to willingly raise the bar for their own work. For me, my best writing comes from a quiet, contemplative place, not a place of noise or snarkiness.

Terri said...

Nothing funny about snarkiness.

Most of us reading and posting on your site already know what to do in our queries. Most people reading those other websites know, also. Anyone who needs to learn, and who's serious about writing, can take a Writer's Digest Webinar with Chuck.

The only point to these websites is for certain people to show just how rude they can be (and it's soooo easy to be rude on the Web).

I guess some people get their jollies that way.

Dottie (Tink's Place) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dottie (Tink's Place) said...

Poking fun at queries, not funny, not informative, not helpful. If someone (agent, editor) wants to let others know what works, what doesn't, the does and don'ts, that fine. Posting a misguided query, unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

Sounds terribly unkind. BTW what is the 'sandwich method ' you speak of ? Buttering up both sides and baloney in the middle ? Hmm..

Escribladora said...

On the one hand, they ARE sometimes funny. And possibly educational to those who don't know better already.

On the other hand, though, what would I think if I'd sent one of those queries and then, browsing the Internet or something, found it being ridiculed? If that didn't stop me from writing, I don't know what would.

As several people have mentioned, it's also unprofessional. I mean, I don't want to work with an agent who would make fun of either my (early) queries or other people's.

So I definitely come down on the con side. It's not worth the pain it causes, and it's not good business.

Mira said...

You know, I participated in that thread at Bookends. I started out appalled the SlushPileHell and being concerned about the effect that site will have on the industry.

However, over the weeks since the post at Bookends, my anger about the site has grown, so that now I'm more than appalled, I'm furious that any agent would potentially humiliate any writer.

I mention that, Nathan, because I'm so pissed off, I forgot to thank you. Thank you for opening this up for discussion.

And the fact that you would never participate in something like this, well, that goes without saying. Of course you wouldn't. It's unthinkable.

I've said it before: you are a Prince among agents, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

Every time I see an agent do this, I think their personal lives probably suck. After a while, I think of them as whiners rather than teachers. I've seen some interns do this, and started thinking to myself, "Who the heck do you think you are?" The same interns mentioned writing books themselves but not having enough money to pay their bills ... and yet their tone of superiority was there, as if they were hugely successful or something. Also, they seemed to assume that writers would be interested in buying their books if they ever get them published - huge sense of entitlement, thinking they can make fun of writers and then expect writers to buy their books. Ummm, no thank you.

Writer Chick said...

Oh how I agree with Patty Blount. I want to learn and I want feedback, but not from someone who is going to make fun of me. It's hard enough to write these things. Constructive criticism---yes. Meanness and cruelty at my expense--no thank you.
Isn't it bad enough that I have to live with my thighs.

Anonymous said...

rude, malicious, and privacy-invading

Thad said...

Most people have no business trying to write. If they persist, they deserve to be mocked.

I'd prefer to see a lot more sites like that one rather than watch people who have no talent encouraged and strung along by things like the Monday page critique.

John Jack said...

I interpret "poking fun" in any guise as self-servingly building self-esteem, making hay, and getting laughs at the expense of others. There's a time and place for it, but not with private or business correspondence. Decorum is the mainstay of courteous, considerate, professional, and personal discretion.

Do not upbrade or castigate or discipline or chastise anyone in front of others. It's no one else's concern. Morale suffers. Anyone who does so loses all my respect.

Counseling can be positive, public, and beneficial. It doesn't have to be negative, private, or counterproductive.

Irony doesn't hurt as much when everyone laughs together.
Larry stepped off a ladder into a bucket of wet plaster. The boss said, "Good job, keep it up and we'll all get bonuses."
The crew laughed, moaned, and said, "Way to go." Larry laughed along.

John Jack said...

Oh, and more often than not, "poking fun" is thinly disquised jealousy reflecting miscreants' own inadequacies.

Ann Elise said...

I love these kinds of sites, even if it's just for a laugh. Then again, it's not hard to make me laugh. Still, I think these sites can be informative just in case our queries resemble the ones mentioned on these sites. If I found one of my queries on one, while I might originally be annoyed, hopefully I'd have the good grace to have a bit of a laugh and learn from my mistakes.

I think it all depends on the delivery of the criticism. There's no need to get uptight about this. Names are not mentioned so the only people who would recognize the queries are the authors themselves, and possibly those who have read it before.

T. Anne said...

Thank you for being so kind. Us writers tend to be sensitive types. I don't approve of the vitriol.

John Jack said...

Oh, twice, the process is grueling enough without adding peevish excretory a-holery to it.

Polenth said...

It's tricky, because everyone has different limits. If I wrote a very silly line in my query, I'd laugh along with it when someone pointed it out. However, being dyslexic means I'm somewhat sensitive to people mocking my spelling, due to it being used in the past to imply I was stupid. Someone else might be fine with all of it, or be hurt by all of it.

Sites where people offer their queries are fair game though. People know what they're getting into. Query Shark has removed a few queries, which I assume were because the author didn't like the feedback and requested it. It's entirely opt-in.

M Clement Hall said...

Perhaps it shows what agents really receive, perhaps it's juvenile humour. Either way, it's not particularly instructive and one would have to have a lot of time on one's hands to be bothered with it. Is that sour?

Marilyn Peake said...

Daryl Sedore –

I agree! Kids bullying and picking on other kids think it’s funny, but it’s not. Agents don’t know anything about the person who sent the query. For all they know, the query could be from someone struggling with nearly insurmountable personal problems. Maybe the person sending the query doesn’t know how to write well, but that doesn’t excuse the professionals for mocking them. When a kid goes to school dressed poorly, is it OK to excuse bullying them as helping the child to learn better fashion choices? If the kid doesn’t speak clearly, is it OK to excuse mocking them as a way to help them learn better language skills? I think not.

Like you, I’m not having problems with my own query letters. I’ve had requests for my manuscript and some wonderful feedback. But it breaks my heart to see the mocking that takes place online. I recently decided to just stop reading it and to unfollow people on Twitter who do that on a regular basis. There are so many positive, supportive people to read and follow!

Anonymous said...

If I'm correct (and I could be very wrong), didn't one of the people who started #queryfail just leave agenting to work in another area of publishing? And I don't think this person was an agent for longer than about three years.

I think that speaks for itself.

The good ones don't mock queries. I've never seen Nathan do it. I've seen some blogs joke around about queries, all in good fun, but they don't mock them and they don't put serious writers down.

Sam Hranac said...

I hang my head in shame for all the times I have chuckled at slushpilehell. I should stop getting kicks from such things. But then, I would have to stop laughing at half the stuff I see on the Simpsons, too. I continue to work on becoming more sophisticated about my sense of humor, but only because I don't actually mean to cause pain. In these contentious us/them times, working to improve in this way actually is important.

So, intellectually and emotionally I believe they are wrong. Do I laugh? Yeah.

Kat said...

I'm torn.

On one hand, the idea that agents could be laughing at my query is stomach-twisting and fear inducing.

But then again, that fear helps me. Because of it, I strive to make my query the one that stands out. I spell the agent's name right, I do a bit of research, I don't say things like "This is a fictional novel..." or "This is going to be the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games!"

I kind of think the sites are pointless, though. The people making the mistakes are obviously not spending enough time researching how to write a query properly and probably will never even see these websites. The people reading the sites are the ones who care enough to do the research, but they're being turned off by the way these agents are reacting to the queries.

It just makes the slush pile that much more intimidating.

Amy Ashley said...

Humor is subjective. Everyone laughs about their work though. How public they make it varies depending upon their audience. Today with facebook, twitter, and blogging, things tend to get pretty public.

Most of us here are making statements in regard to the tender egos of writers who desire fame and fortune anyway. Personally, I think fame takes a bit of pain to grow, and life in general happens to be riddled with lots of nasty people who will screw you over and make fun of you whether you like it or not. It doesn't matter if it is a good or bad thing, it is still going to happen, and we all really need to get used to it. I always thought that was sort of the point of adolescence.

Frankly I feel for all the agents out there who have to slog through piles and piles of often shoddily written and not at all humorous queries on a daily basis. What happened to their right to give a positive spin to a grueling job? Who among us writers wants to read terribly written books all day long? Would that be fair?

Laugh when you can. Toughen up IF you can. Lighten up whenever you can. For the rest drink more coffee. :)

L.C. Gant said...

To be honest, I think of these sites as the literary equivalent of William Hung on American Idol. Take that to mean what you will.

I personally don't feel guilty about getting a good laugh out of the really outrageous ones. C'mon, you have to wonder what some of those folks were thinking. Maybe I'll be more sensitive when it's time to send my "baby" out into the world, but for now... Meh.

I say, do your homework and you won't have anything to worry about.

Suzi McGowen said...

I enjoy the ones where the identifying features are stripped off, and the wording rephrased. (In other words, the agent makes them, "based on" actual query letters.) It makes me feel that I have a chance, because surely I won't do that in a query letter.

However, I removed an agent from my list of "possibles" because s/he posted an email exchange with a rejected/disgruntled person on the agency blog.

Yes, the person was a jerk, but I thought the agent was unprofessional for letting it get personal and then posting in on the blog.

Bethany said...

Haven't read comments so sorry if I repeat anyone: I can completely understand people being hurt/offended by it, but personally I find it very useful. Sometimes its the most feedback you're going to get so I have no problem querying people who take part in that (on twitter, specifically).

Anonymous said...

Amy Ashley, you're assuming that the agents poking fun are the ones representing great literature. Many of the best books are represented by kind, respectful agents. Some of the agents and interns who spend the most time making fun of queries also spend a great deal of time complaining about being flat broke, living in poverty. Many have chosen to represent pop culture books that haven't made a lot of money. So how valuable, really, is their advice and mockery?

Kristin Laughtin said...

I find websites posting bad (and good) queries to be educational and useful. When they mock...sometimes the criticisms are dumb, and yes, sometimes they are entertaining (which reflects poorly on me for being entertained by them). I have less of a problem if it's just a snippet posted and the original author is anonymous, but it still is rather mean. We aspiring authors need tough skin, it's true, but this does just add to the struggle. I much prefer criticism, since it's actually useful.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I'll just tack onto my previous comment (way up there) that I enjoy participating in bad query contests.

It should be opt-in, though. I reserve the right to make fun of myself! :-)

lora96 said...

I don't feel I am emotionally WELL ENOUGH to read query ridicule. We writers are a hypersensitive lot and often our conceits make us easy targets--a volatile combination. If my query were skewered, I would cry. A lot.

Cathi said...

Ok, I must admit I had no idea sites like this existed. What a downer. Using bad queries to instruct on what not to do is one thing, using them to humiliate the writer is another. I can imagine that only non-writers would find this funny, not someone who has agonized hours of their life away over trying to write one.

Shelley Watters said...

I feel the need to stand up for the interns that run #queries and #queryslam. Their intent is not to poke fun or be mean. Their goal is to help those of us in the query trenches learn what to do/what not to do. They do not call any authors out, only provide a basic summary of what worked or didn't work for the query. They do a great job of keeping it vague enough that there is no way you could tell who wrote the query. Their critiques are straight to the point, so you know what they did wrong, all while protecting the author.

I personally have queried an agent that posts her queries live as she's reading them, waiting to see if she reviews mine (and she did). It was educational and I appreciate the time she takes to go over her queries live.

I find these insightful and educational and have taken each and every comment they have made (on mine and other queries) into consideration when I revise my query. I think they do a great job at making the experience educational while avoiding 'making fun' of any author. They are authors too and are in the query trenches themselves.

As far as the sites that making fun for the sake of being mean, that is never ok and I don't condone that, and thus I don't follow/read those blogs.

Lynda Young said...

I don't have a problem if the author gives permission for their query to be used in this manner. Otherwise it's a breach of trust.

W.I.P. It: A Writer's Journey

Janet Reid said...

QueryShark has been mentioned a few times in this thread. I want to make sure everyone knows QueryShark is entirely voluntary. No query is drawn from my own agency queries. If an author does not like what the QueryShark says, they can tell me to take the letter down at any time, no reason required.

Yes, sometimes the critiques are sharp. Yes, sometimes (ok, a lot) I get exasperated with mistakes I see too many times.

But, QueryShark WORKS. It helps writers improve. I have letters telling me so, and signed clients that prove it.

I don't want QueryShark to be lumped in with "websites that poke fun at queries." QueryShark doesn't want to poke fun at you. QueryShark wants to point out places to improve.

It's not a painless process, but I can't figure out a better way to help writers than this.


And I think SlushpileHell is hilarious, but just like underwear, I don't want to see it displayed in public.

Anonymous said...

When we try to become a published writer, whatever we go through, refined sensibilities go out the window.

Like you want to poke fun at queries - ok. I'm too thick skinned by now. Besides, the worst you may say is nothing as compared to what I have to say about my own " the world's most stupidest" queries I sent initially.

Kristi Helvig said...

I'm assuming you mean real queries, and not someone making up a bad one for the sake of education. Bottom line: I think it's unprofessional. Really unprofessional. It's one thing to critique queries in a helpful (and sometimes hilarious manner) a la Janet Reid, but those writers know they are signing up for the world to see their critique. I'm much more a fan of the strength-based approach and think you learn more from being told what works, rather than what doesn't.

If a 'bad query' was posted and mocked for its badness, I think that's bad form. Yes, there might be an educational component there but it's at the expense of someone else. There's a fine line between helpful and plain ole' mean.

Adam Heine said...

I have no problem with them (they're fun to read actually), so long as the people running them are up front with it.

What's not cool is when an agent or somebody says out of the blue: "I think I'll do some query critiques on the blog here," and then totally berates the folks who submitted. Fortunately that hardly ever happens.

D.G. Hudson said...

Humour at someone else's expense always seems like a cheap shot. I avoid those specific websites, as they seem to be basing their posts on the amount of buzz they can generate.

Samples of what makes a good query could teach the same lesson as using 'group analysis' and a lot of 'chatty cathies'.

I don't see the need for such query whipping, is that how these gals & guys get their kicks?

christwriter said...

Great fun, as long as it isn't my query. If it is, I would probably go cry, but I would at least know that I got rejected because my query sucks eggs.

Having worked behind the counter for years and years, let's just say that I wish to god we had hidden microphones and the ability to post recordings without risking lawsuits and being fired. People are idiots (myself included sometimes) and anybody who has to deal with large amounts of the public deserves to vent. Loudly. And often.

Personally I don't see a difference between me bitching about the Cake Order From Hell (...Full sheet cake? Disney Princesses? Black spraypaint? PURPLE LEAVES ON THE ROSES??? "Oh yeah, sure. We'll get it Thursday" I think that particular taste abortion is still in the freezer)and an agent bitching about query stupid. I might not like it if you point it in my direction, but ... *shrugs* you earned it.

Anonymous said...

I really hate when agents do that. I think it's rude.

Cyndy Aleo said...

My take on it: It's one more site to learn from. Odds are, the people whose queries are being quoted on it aren't people who do a lot of research anyway. Am I afraid my query would end up on it? Absolutely. It's like the "What Not to Wear" of querying. But if you don't have a thick skin, you shouldn't be querying in the first place, because it comes with a LOT of rejection. If my query did end up on there, I'm sure I'd hide my head under a blanket screaming for a day, then spend another kicking myself for making such a stupid mistake. Then I'd dust myself off and try again.

To be honest, I'm waiting for an acquaintance from an online writing community I'm in to end up there. This person does everything wrong, but won't listen to a bit of advice from other writers. What else can you do?

Jayme A. said...

I love these websites! Not only are they hilarious to read, but if you have the balls to submit your query, it may actually help you in the long run.

My favorite is Evil Editor. I submitted my query (Face Lift 791-The Zookeeper's Machine) to Evil and waited for the humiliation. His comments helped a ton!

katdish said...

I'm against anonymous snark. Period. For me, it's the written equivalent of leaving a burning bag of dog poop on someone's front porch, ringing the doorbell and running away. If you have to hide your identity to say something rude, you probably shouldn't say it in the first place. I think most of us are not angelic enough that we've never shared a private chuckle at the expense of someone else, but to do so publicly is cruel and unprofessional.

Maya said...

I love Slushpile Hell. It's pretty harmless because the agent only takes one or two lines and they don't have anything to do with the plot of the book. It would be awful if the agent was putting up someone else's ideas without their permission.

Jess said...

Something like #queries or #queryslam is okay because they aren't snarky. literally, the intern says, "too wordy, pass" or "didn't grab me, pass." no harm there. that's interesting to me as someone who wants to see a book from all angles of making it.

as soon as there's snark involved, NO. Not funny, not educational.

Cameron said...

Adding to my comment from earlier this afternoon...

I'm all for freedom of speech as long as individual privacy is protected. If the quirky-query writer is identified (or easily identifiable), then posting letters on websites may be considered slanderous.

Go ahead, enjoy these websites for entertainment value. But, honestly, who has the time to become intimately familiar with these sites?

Unless I'm actively involved in query-letter writing (my goal for this November, with plan of sending them in Jan), it's just not worth the distraction.

In fact, I've been so busy with novel writing, rewriting, critique-gathering and revisions these days that I haven't posted anything on NB's blog for months, I think!

Back to WIP. No more distractions. You won't hear from me here until after I send out my queries in January. I promise.

Cheers -

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Janet!

And everyone, here's the link to Query Shark, it's an invaluable resource.

Kate Lacy said...

Best Query peek for me came from Elana Roth. She showed us a set of a dozen or more queries and we discussed which ones we would have found enticing or vague, dull or missing the essence of a story we couldn't really predict, and so forth. I didn't predict all the same ones she requested for more pages from, but I hit 2/3 the same.
And she was more forgiving on a couple that I would have politely trashed. This meant something to me....and it didn't need sarcastic humor to pull me in. Elana Roth rocks and she hasn't even read my WIP.

wry wryter said...

You can slap in private and you can slap in public either way you're an ass----.
When you do it publicly everybody knows you're an ass----.
Thank you Nathan for keeping your hands to yourself.

Laurie Wood said...

There's a couple of agents who poke fun at queries and it seems rude. Maybe their job gets frustrating at times, but it seems to me they could just email these "hilarious" queries to each other to vent, not blog about them. Everyone's trying to learn, and if it's a query that's so obviously stupid or wearing, just hit delete!

Anonymous said...

There is a malicious undertone to this site and it just seems wrong.
Agents hold the keys to the publishing gate and therefore have much power. To use it in such a way is not constructive, it’s harmful. Just think of all the energy wasted and negativity generated from just a few agents ranting on poor queries.
Next time, they should try something more productive like giving the company a better public image.

Holly said...

Fine, if you give permission.

If you don't, then it might be funny, but it's also malicious and unprofessional.

Meanness turns me off. I looked at that site once and never went back.

Bryan Thomas said...

I understand that some of these queries can be amusing when you look at so many but I think taking them outside the office is unprofessional. People are just trying to live their dream, and we all started in the same place. Writing is hard. Writing prose is harder. Writing queries is even harder. Why mock people who have genuinely subjected themselves to the likelihood of rejection for something they are very passionate about and have likely worked very hard on? It's like kicking a dog until it's wounded then laughing as it limps away. How is there any honor or professionalism in that?

Joseph L. Selby said...

I thought Slush Pile Hell was funny the first time I read it. There are two things that weren't really taken into account as agents began posting it as their blog entries and on their twitter feeds: 1) those of us that follow them all; 2) how the mechanics of those sites work for those that follow them all.

I saw Slush Pile Hell posted, went, laughed, and was over it. A few days later again, and so on for a few weeks. Now when it's posted I just roll my eyes. When I grew to dislike Slush Pile Hell was a day when it spread quickly around Twitter and agents began trading it back and forth and then making jokes of their own. This was where it stopped being funny. I follow them both so I get to see their comments to each other. It was incredibly disrespectful to authors in general, not just those that were posted on SPH. I expect more from professionals that claim to represent writers.

I took it as the blowing off of steam that it was, but I'm hoping SPH fades soon so it will stop popping up in blog rolls.

Miss Aspirant said...

On the one hand, I understand how it might be fun to let off steam and mock some of the slush an agent receives. It can also be very enlightening to read agent mocking because you can then go back and re-evaluate your writing so it can be a public service.

On the other, an agent is a professional business person and has a public personna. One who ridicules writers in public might scare away a truly good writer.

Writer Chick said...

Let me just say, I LOVE QUERY SHARK. Those folks are doing it voluntary, and The Shark is helping them. She pokes fun a bit, but everyone who sends in a query knows what to expect. And she always, always, always gives good advice.

Bite on, Query Shark!

Now the other vile folks who use queries just for entertainment, ack!

Rachelle said...

I've visited the Slush Pile site exactly once and I can say this: the queries being used as examples on that site are most definitely real, not made-up as some suggest, because I've received almost all the same ones in my own slush pile.

That said, I wish the site were not anonymous because I do believe it makes writers fearful when submitting. Is this the agent behind SlushPile? I don't want people to wonder if it's me, or any of my above-board colleagues in the industry.

I wonder, though, if the site is actually written by an agent? I could be wrong but for some reason I thought it was written by an intern - which is very, very different from a literary agent.

cato said...

@ Shelly and Jess, #queryslam does provide some objective explanation of why the intern passed, but it also includes some ugly commentary.

As just one example, the #queryslam intern regularly calls people "liars" and "fibbers" if a writer thinks self publishing counts as "real" publishing credits. It makes my skin crawl every time every time I see those tweets.

Instead of assuming that the writer didn't know how self publishing would be perceived and needed to learn more about the industry (which is what what intern claims is her purpose), she attributes motivation and literally calls them LIARS on Twitter. How is that helpful? How is that supportive? How is that friendly?

Being called a liar for misunderstanding a part of the industry that intentionally misrepresents itself is NOT something aspiring authors should have to tolerate. As others have stated here, writers should be able to vote with their business not query agents who allow (or encourage?) their interns to do things like #queryslam. If the agent wants to have his or her name associated with the intern's commentary, fair enough, but writers have a right to know.

Anonymous said...

I have a good novel for sale. One more is ready for it's first revision.

I've been writing for a few years,
published some small pieces, and I send out a query for the novel about every six weeks. I expect no response and cooperate fully when I get one.

No, I don't resent people who make fun of that or me. I'm happy chasing my dream.

But there's nothing in it for me to read a site like that twice. It doesn't teach me a thing. I'd rather write and study up on alternative publishing.

Nathan, I like your blog. It's been helpful to me and I appreciate the effort you put into it.

Carry on.

Lillian Grant said...

I find the agent's comments very amusing. If they wanted to post my query I would be more than willing. If your query isn't good enough to win you an agent then why not be bad enough to be memorabe. Not that when I write queries I do it with the intention to fail miserably.

Becca said...

I'm probably being a hypocrite here because I'd hate to end up on a site like that, and yet I enjoy reading it. Mostly I read it for knowing what not to do. I'm pretty okay with it because it's anonymous, and it doesn't show anyone's name. Plus it seems to have a level of sarcasm that seems to reach on exaggeration.

I don't know. Like I said, I'm being a hypocrite.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Mr. Agent Man: I'm not a great fan of them, though when you posted how badly queries were addressed, presumably to you, it was hillarious.

At my first newspaper, we invented a pretend newspaper, where everything we hated about certain stories (quotes from high school football coaches, quotes from plane crash witnesses and tornado survivors) were combined into one pretty funny (for us) news story.

At an earlier phase in my career at my current employer, I and a writer who shall remain nameless because of his current notoriety came up with a fictional newspaper and slogan: The Daily Bludgeon, a left-leaning paper that would give you the news others were too afraid to. We still, between us, occasionally propose stories to each other for the good ol' Bludgeon.

But both instances were private, inhouse, in-circle jokes and not really intended for public consumption.

To post named queries essentially purely for ridicule and a kind of encouraged public stoning, seems to me anethema to encouraging well-intended, earnest, people seriously attempting to put something of themself out for public consumption.

Writers, in my opinion, as artists, expose too much of what most people prefer to keep private, because they have to for the sake of investing themselves and making their "art" a symbol, something believable if even only for the duration of a short story.

I was fortunate enough in my youth to have an agent, and interest from publishers, based on a careful and thorough reading of my manuscripts--not a perhaps cursory reading of a few lines intended to sum up my idea.

I realize it's the norm. I realize I have to get over not liking it. But just as when people would ask us in the early days what was in the news or what we were working on and we replied "you can pay a quarter like everybody else," it seems to me a bit of modern idiocy that we ask writers, who spend years sometimes coming up with hopefully a well crafted several hundred or greater paged manuscript, to boil their idea down to a "pitch," a sound-bite.

Mr. Hemingway, tell me what "The Sun Also Rises," as you've proposed, is about? (Think of it like you've got 30 seconds with me in an elevator...).

Mr. Fitzgerald: Who is "The Great Gatsby," and why should I care?

Mr. Melville: why would you think in your wildest dreams we would have any interest in publishing/representing a novel about whaling, especially one loaded down in the middle with the anatomic and commercial minutae of whaling?

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Mira: I just re-read others' responses and read yours.

Thank you for saying what I was thinking, and far better and more succinctly than I did.

Best,
T

Anonymous said...

I read the Slushpile from Hell and could see why the grumpy agent was inspired to take action. The query letters he quotes are the literary equivalent of the most heinous American Idol auditions. They're so incredibly clueless that it's hard to drum up too much sympathy for the people who wrote them. And the grumpy agent doesn't name names, so no one is being publically shamed.

On the other hand, the grumpy agent isn't bringing much good karma into the world either. If he wants to vent and release his frustration, he might do better with a quick run around the block.

henya said...

After all, there are real people behind the queries. Many want to become writers. Some shouldn't even try. But trying to elicit chuckles on someone elses expense is just unfeeling.

Robyn Campbell said...

Totally against. I'd rather have constructive crits like yours. :)

Julie Hedlund said...

I will admit to loving Slushpile Hell because the examples are so over the top that anyone making a serious effort at publishing would find them ludicrous too. They make me laugh, plain and simple.

However, there have been Twitter threads and blog posts that have come up recently that seem more mean-spirited because they focus on what's wrong without providing constructive feedback. I followed one for a while and then un-followed, because as a pre-published writer I found it extremely discouraging. When I provide a critique to anyone, I always start with the positive and go from there. Not so easy to do in 140 chars.

This is not to say that a real critique from a well-intentioned place - even on a blog or Twitter - is not extremely valuable. It's just a delicate balance, and I think anyone in the business of engaging in that type of activity should be sure they know well how to hold the line before doing so (like yourself, Nathan).

JDuncan said...

Depends, I'd say, on why and how it's done. I honestly don't mind poking fun at the obviously pretentious clueless queries. It's another thing to do it to writers who are clearly trying and just can't do them very well. It also matters if it's being done to inform. We should all be able to laugh at ourselves for being clueless sometimes. So, done in the right spirit, I have no issue with them.

CFD Trade said...

If there's nothing sensible to say or write about...then don't...

Anonymous said...

Writers are already standing in public with their pants down, so to speak, when we send our manuscript to an agent or our new book is sent out into the world to be judged by the hungry horde, known as the readers.
This is just one more dragon to overcome and slay. So don your armor and forge the moat fellow writers.There are more worthy battles to fight
Lady Pam Owldreamer,also known as Sir Hopeful Published Author.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I guess it depends on who is doing the bashing. I've seen sites where you can submit one of your own queries that you did at the start of learning the business. In this way, its educational and with the author's approval. Sites that poke fun of queries submitted to them seems just hurtful.

Edge of Your Seat Romance

Jenny said...

Marilyn--

I loved this:

"When a kid goes to school dressed poorly, is it OK to excuse bullying them as helping the child to learn better fashion choices? If the kid doesn’t speak clearly, is it OK to excuse mocking them as a way to help them learn better language skills? I think not."

I thought that was very well said. =)

marilynpeake said...

Thanks, Jenny!

wendy said...

I actually found my way to slush pile hell yesterday through links on a posters blog. I thought the comments really funny, and I enjoy other sites like this just as much. But I guess...taking into account what's been written today, slushpile hell is a little on the cruel side. But it is funny, and perhaps it would help the writers to not only learn but laugh at themselves? especially if they're not being identified. No one knows it's their query, but they, themselves. So could, then, these sites be considered more entertaining while also being instructional. I think we should all be prepared to laugh at our foibles, especially if we can remain anonymous.

Hmm...I wonder if Nathan is having a giggle at a query I sent him recently?

Lisa B said...

While I feel badly for the writers who are serious and trying to find representation, they have obviously done no research on what to include (and not include) in a query letter. I don't seek out these types of websites but It IS helpful to learn from other writer's mistakes.

Megan Grimit said...

I think that sometimes a well seasoned literary agent can get so grumpy after years of bad query's they forget that when they post jokes about them its insulting. There's a person behind every query letter, badly written or not, and its got to be terrible to know that you're not only rejected but publicly laughed at.

I like you're approach much better Nathan. It's professional.

Clove said...

Someone earlier up said something along the lines:

"When a kid goes to school dressed poorly, is it OK to excuse bullying them as helping the child to learn better fashion choices? If the kid doesn’t speak clearly, is it OK to excuse mocking them as a way to help them learn better language skills? I think not."

I don't think these query sites are like that. It's not like the agents are seeking out writers on their blogs and trashing them, these writers are submitting to the agents.

I would liken it more to the auditions in American Idol. The people who think they're brilliant but sound like cats being run over? Then they rant and swear and cuss out Simon when they don't get through. Some things on query slushpile are so extreme you have to wonder if it's a joke. It doesn't seem like something coming from a serious writer. Like:

"I want an agent who’s confident to get me a 7 figure book deal or high 6 figure deal, not some bull crap deal."

Or

"My 318,000 word novel may seem like it starts a little slow, but after the first 100 pages or so it really picks up steam, so I hope you will be patient and not be distracted."

I'm also pretty sure there are several sites where writers post and comment on the rejection letters that agents have sent them. How is that different?

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Except that seeking an agent is not like American Idol. Seeking a literary agent is more like trying to land a record deal the old fashioned way, by playing at bars and high schools until somebody recognizes your talent and discipline, and gives you a chance.

American Idol contestants want to be on TV--not all musicians want that.

Writers don't deserve scorn just by virtue of being aspiring authors. That's bunk.

Anonymous said...

Slush Pile Hell is hilarious for those of us who actually work with queries. I think 80% of your responders have never seen the site and think it sounds mean. It's humor, people. If you don't like it, don't read it. The people sending those queries are rude and/or out of line, not to mention truly delusional. After the first 500 queries like these you HAVE to laugh!

Meagan Spooner said...

I have mixed opinions about this one. On the one hand, I have no problem with, for example, Slushpile Hell--the query snippets it posts are SO outrageous that you just know the authors are so clueless they've never read a publishing blog in their life and probably will never see it.

On the other hand, though, I do feel uncomfortable when I see agents quoting from queries that may not be fantastic, but also aren't completely atrocious. There's a chance those writers might see it. And even though I don't think a query of mine would be ridiculed (who sends one out believing it would be?) it does make me feel less inclined to query those agents. It's not going to be the deciding factor, but it's a tick against them, the way, say... a very slow response time, would be.

I love to learn from queries posted. But I believe that they should either be posted with the author's permission, a la Query Shark, or they should not be direct quotes or specific elements identifying that book/author.

Beethovenfan said...

I think we all have things in our jobs that irritate us. When I picture the "slush piles from hell" I can only imaging the frustration. As a teacher, I come across some little kids that are just plain annoying. But I would NEVER criticize to others about what a particular child is doing because it's not a professional way of dealing with frustration. Maybe speaking privately with a collegue would be acceptable, but not publicly.

Anonymous said...

Katrina L. Lantz, nicely said.

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