On QueryFail, Or, The Lilybed of Grief

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
There’s a fairy story Speshul Snowflakes like to tell themselves. It goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, Arte was Pure and Preshus. Suffering Artistes had no thought of Filthy Lucre; they slaved away over their Precious Werks. They Wrote with Snow-White Quills dipped in their own Preshus Blood, and they starved Gracefully to Death on their Lilybeds of Grief, Watered with pure Preshus Tears. Now They are in the Afterworld and their Werks are Classics, and they are Much Gratified.

But we have Fallen from this Golden Age. Now the True Artistes suffer because Hacks and Agents keep them from the Editors, and the Readers have not seen the Deathless Werks of Genius and Prefer to read Crappe. Filthy Lucre rules because the Readers have Fallen Too, and read Chick Lit and Genre. The Artistes who refuse to Compromise, who Slave Away over Works of Staggering Delicate Genius, don’t Succeed. There is Nothing for a True Artiste to do but Scribble Furious Screeds on the Internet about woe, woe, woe, the Terrible state of the Artes Today.

Despite being complete and utter horseshit, this fairy story has deep roots. We have this cultural vision (and once again, I’m paraphrasing from Julia Cameron’s excellent The Artist’s Way) of The Artist as a substance-abusing, ill-adjusted fragile flower who starves to death rather than change one word of their Deathless Geeeeenyus. The well-adjusted hack who pays the rent with stuff people actually want to read is somehow less “pure” than the Speshul Snowflake who buys into the fairytale.

Which brings me, believe it or not, to Queryfail.

Queryfail was an Internet phenomena where a few agents live-twittered their responses to queries. They told us in excruciating detail what made them throw queries in the “no” pile. They spent their time giving us a window into the minds of working agents, and showed us EXACTLY what didn’t work.

And some precious, fragile little flowers took offense.

Yes, your writing is personal. It can’t help but be personal. It’s your baby. But you have to be a good parent. You’ve got to make it as pretty and well-prepared as you can before it goes out into the cold harsh world. If you do not prepare yourself and your work for rejection, it’s going to be needlessly painful.

I was amazed when I heard about Queryfail. Here is a gold mine of valuable information for new writers. Here are the things that will get your manuscript set aside on a real live agent’s desk. This information–which you used to have to get by trial and error, by whispered conversations with other authors, or by just plain dumb luck–was completely free. You could avoid years of trial and error and learning just by clicking your mouse and reading some Twitter. FOR FREE. I was utterly bowled over. This was awesome for new writers. Hell, it was awesome for hacks like me, too!

Then the Speshul Snowflakes got involved and started moaning about how it hurt their feeeeeeelings and how, if an agent ever dared tweet some of their precious work, there were going to be COPYRIGHT LAWSUITS, by Gawd!

I shouldn’t have been surprised. “Never actually work on your writing if you can moan (preferably on the Internet) about how you’ve been abused,” that’s a Snowflake motto. Some of them tried to put together an AgentFail day, and have since been getting their knickers in a twist. (The most egregious example of this is The Militant Writer, who I refuse to link to. Go Google her and see her current post on “The Talent Killers”, and be amazed.)

And once again, I was amazed. Here are these people getting priceless advice for free, advice I’d’ve given my left arm for back when I was submitting, and they have the gall to get angry and moan about it.

Look, if you write for publication you are going to get rejected. Agents and editors and publishers are in the service of the Almighty Reader, looking for things that are going to give the Almighty Reader value for their cash. The Almighty Reader wants to be entertained, moved, affected, and seduced. They don’t want to be bullshitted (bullshat? I should look that up, but where?) or talked down to. (Which is, incidentally, where a lot of Speshul Snowflakes go wrong, since they have no other mode but “declaim from on high”.) Of course agents and editors want sellable fiction by reasonable people who will not be complete and utter boneheads to work with.

A lot of queryfails are as a result of people thinking the rules don’t apply to them. Submissions guidelines are the first test–can you follow simple rules like doublespace, twelve-point, Courier, send it to this address with this subject line? Can you send just the three chapters/paragraphs/one-page letter the agent has asked you for?

If you cannot follow even those simple rules, how will you deal with a complicated revision letter?

If you cannot follow even the simplest of submission guidelines, you will quite probably be more trouble than it’s worth to train[1]. You are not appearing like a good investment. And since a publisher shells out the cash for advances and for actual publishing (which is not free, you know), they are looking for good investments.

A lot of Speshul Snowflakes are under the mistaken impression that The World Owes Them Something. This impression bleeds over into their work, and they do not see rejection as a chance to get better and try again. They are baffled because they think they are missing out on what they’re owed–a chance in the limelight, plaudits and fame for Just Being Their Speshul Snowflake Selves. They are also under the mistaken impression that making a living by art is easy, hence the world owes them a living at it. And not just any living, a red-carpet celebrity living.

You can just guess what I think of that.

There’s another QueryFail going on today, as QueryDay. Once again, editors and agents are telling you in great detail, for free, what sends a manuscript or query straight into the slush pile. If you’re interested in hard work and free advice, go on over.

If you’re not, well, this isn’t the blog post for you. But you probably knew that in the first few moments.

[1] I was going to say “housebreak”.