LitMatch: Research Literary Agents and Track Submissions

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

User Talkback: QueryFail

In the March Newsletter, we asked for your feedback about the recent QueryFail event that took place on Twitter. We've posted some of our favorites below.

Thanks to everyone who submitted comments. If you don't see yours listed, or you didn't receive our email, please feel free to add your own feedback below.

In case you missed the first QueryFail day, another is planned for April 17th. You can follow the discussion at And while you're there, be sure to follow our own twitters at

Christopher Hawkins

"I'm sure that agents receive some awful queries, but I think they're using the bad ones as an excuse for their extremely high rejections rates. No matter what excuses the agents give, any system that rejects ninety-eight percent of the material submitted must be throwing out a great many good books that will never see print. And if so many queries are that bad, why don't agents give us a little more information as to why they rejected a query, rather than sending out form letters saying "the market is tight"? We know that already. We also know the generic advice they give out, such as "tell a good story" or "write a good hook". Agents say they're busy, and I'm sure they are, but this practice of telling us absolutely nothing is actually wasting both their time and ours. If all aspiring authors would band together and stop sending anything to agents, perhaps they'd quit being so arrogant."

"I’d call it ‘querysuccess’. That kind of open feedback can only help pain, no gain... J and a chuckle is worth a thousand words..."

"There is only one answer to those writers miffed by agents do not wanting unprofessional queries. ‘If the kitchen is too hot get out’. What more can we say?"

"I personally find the comments sometimes painful but also helpful. As long as they don't use actual names, I think it's a good idea. Gives the rest of us a clue as to what rubs them the wrong way. Might be nice if they said what rubbed them the right way, but oh well."

"About how not to query an agent - the examples they gave were both sad and funny at the same time. I guess it would be possible for the people who wrote them to come across them and be hurt, but I don't feel sorry for them. One of the elements that a lot of the quotes had in common was plain arrogance. It isn't that I'm suggesting writers should be humble, but they certainly should be as professional as they can be when approaching agents, and being professional is not such a difficult thing to learn.
I suspect that if an agent comes across a query in which no attempt to follow the format has been made, they must instantly wonder what it would be like having to work with that person. Perhaps I'm a bit sorry for the plain ignorant ones, but the 'Hey look at me, I'm a genius' style of approach made my toes curl. Egocentricity is the enemy of good writing."

"I have been sending a fair share of queries to literary agents. Over the course of several months, my query letter has improved based on revision and commentary such as QueryFail. If you are going to enter this lonely industry of writing, you need to be realistic and expect rejection after rejection after rejection. As long as the agents maintain the anonymity of these queries—I really see no problem. The truth often hurts, but it will all go away once that first acceptance comes your way. I actually found some of the posting very funny. We need to laugh more and stop being so serious."

"I read some of the comments by agents on Queryfail and did find some of the comments to be derogatory and mocking. It's one thing if you submit your query to somewhere like Janet Reid's QueryShark where you know it will be posted publicly and you expect direct (and sometimes harsh) feedback. It did not seem as if these writers knew their letters would be tabloid fodder. I think for entertainment purposes it was a hit, sort of like watching reality television and laughing at another's misery. However, if the intent was truly to help new authors improve their query technique, I believe you learn much more from positive examples rather than negative ones. I realize many others found it hilarious so this is just one dissenting opinion."

"I believe it is highly unprofessional and a betrayal of trust."

"As someone who has failed at querying for years and years and years, I took no offense, because the failed queries all had egregious errors and the cloak of anonymity had been tossed down. It is possible to write a masterful query letter and still not entice an agent. These were failed queries so much as query blunders."

"I'd just like to say that the comments on the above forum/blog/twitter are a very bad sign. It proves, beyond doubt, that many agents are totally contemptuous of writers, despite the fact that they would be landlocked ships without them.

Agents should be earning their high fees by ensuring a continual flow of good material gets through, regardless of initial query letters. A query letter, though probably indicative of a poor formal education, does not, necessarily, imply that creative ability is lacking. Because of lazy publishers using agents as clearing houses, it seems many agents have become smug; and smugness is ugliness.

Well, smug agents one and all, please sit in front of a blank page and write a story that will entertain millions for many decades. What, you can't do it! Strange that, given we inferior writers have been doing that for centuries, despite lacking the mere admin skills that you're so proficient in!"

"The #queryfail twitter discussion is awesome, powerful, and an amazing example of this new hyper-communicative virtual community created."

"Is there a site for lame agents who make you wait Months for a response to a request and then only give cutNpaste unhelpful responses or "obviously didn't read my ms carefully/closely" responses? One as snarky and hurtful as the items Colleen Lindsay thinks appropriate?"


Anonymous said...

Dear Christopher,
Your comments much appreciated, but, you know, I believe the problem is truly finding the appropriate agent who is in the right mood at the right time with the right product. Oftentimes it is just a blind shot in the dark. The key is surely to fight for what you believe in and not let yourself get put down by snarky agents - they were'nt right for you anyway. Just keep looking until you find the right one. It may take some cases it may never happen at all. Lose faith in what you are doing and you have lost anyway. My motto is fight, fight and fight again - real Spartan style.

Anonymous said...

As I continue down the path so many unknown, as yet unpublished writers have I have realized a few things. 1.) What's "good" is highly subjective.
2. What's "not publishable" simply means someone thinks it won't make them money
3.) The only things we get to read is work that a handful of agents think is worthy of our attention.

I resent all of the above.

Toni said...

Story is a funny thing. For me it speaks to the soul of things eternal. Some of us are just not ready to hear. As an unpublished writer I have to keep writing stories that speak to my soul and hopefully, one day I will find an agent who I can call kindred. This is the query process to me.