Some animals are more equal than others (George Orwell)

Guess what powerhouse agent Janet Reid said on Nathan Bransford’s blog comment thread about the queryfail party?

“[T]hank you for mentioning Query Shark and the policy for posting query letters. [She does not use examples from letters she gets UNLESS those letters are sent along with a request to use them in QueryShark, implying permission is given to use them in any way.]

My problem with queryfail, in addition to everyone else’s mentioned here, is that these truly egregious examples of people who don’t know what they’re doing are a MINISCULE percentage of the overall queries received.

Saying queryfail educates people is like telling someone they will improve their piano playing by watching a toddler bang on the keys.”

Heh. I’ve gone to a few painful recitals myself. (I simply cannot play well in public. If I know someone’s listening from a few rooms away, it doesn’t bother me. But it becomes major sonatafail if they’re watching. Pathetic!) I can learn HEAPS from just watching/listening to Paul Sheftel (of Juilliard) or Jon Nakamichi play. They are the masters. That’s so much better than just seeing “Piano Blunders Of Students” and being told not to imitate them, IMHO.

But (back to the topic at hand) I see this attitude as hugely praiseworthy. I think both these agents have ratcheted up a couple of notches in my esteem just because they believe this way. You didn’t see powerhouses like Jane Dystel tweeting-it, either, or Donald Maass, or . . . a bunch of others who apparently are of like minds with me about this. One agent who participated for a time had a change of heart and posted on her blog about it at (http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/03/change-of-heart.html).

I think what Rachelle did here is even MORE commendable. She listened to her heart and gave her actions some thought, resulting in a change of heart, even though it wasn’t as a result of reading MY post . . . which is better anyhow, as it was a result of sincere soul-searching and/or the moving of conscience (Jiminy Cricket, if you will), in other words of the Holy Spirit (all readers please pardon the Christian perspective and insert your favorite term for the Prime Mover of the Universe’s indwelling spirit here), and was a true change. It gives a body hope.

I have heard the arguments on the other side repeated over and over. I understand what they’re saying, but what I am hearing is a combination of “it’s fine to be mean and snarky to clueless types, as they have to toughen up to be in this business,” and “so what if they get hurt–that’s life, and they probably won’t even read this anyway.” To the first I say, well, perhaps life will toughen them up, but that doesn’t mean *I* need to be one of those people who roughs them up–that’s like the rationale I always hear for teasing (which I also feel is often hostility cloaked in whatever), “it’s good for her if we say she’s fat and ignorant, because maybe she’ll lose weight/study more,” and that rationale doesn’t hold up for me, either. A positive approach (like Nathan Bransford’s) works better–more flies to honey than vinegar. To the second, I say that it’s very close to what any group says that wants to justify its actions and keep doing what it’s doing, even if it hurts others: either those Others are “not worthy” and “lacking” or “need to be taken down a notch,” or they “need to toughen up.” It is kind of sad that adults are still using these justifications, but I suppose they’re right in a sense–that’s life. I simply wanted to open the eyes of anyone who had not had (and presumably dismissed) this ephiphany that I described, so I posted.

(Note that if you send your query to a query workshop or blog with the full expectation that it is to be used as an example, that is completely different. These people had no idea that their words would be shared. Some have argued that “when the book comes out, they’ll be criticized, so they need to learn to take it now,” but I must point out that a published book that is KNOWN to be going out into the world is quite another thing from a letter I write to one individual with no expectation that it might be shared or posted. If you don’t perceive this distinction, we may as well stop talking about it with one another, as we don’t have similar worldviews. My message was meant for those who DO share my worldview but hadn’t thought it through, as happened with Rachelle.)

I am told they’re going to do queryfail again, that it’s very educational. I can agree that it is VERY educational . . . but I don’t think we’re talking about teaching the same things.

Mainly I still have an objection to the use of someone’s private communication (which was sent with the expectation that it wouldn’t be used to teach or put on the ‘net, I am sure) as a teaching tool without his or her consent, but I see that others don’t agree. There is of course a shifting paradigm about what should and should be private/public knowledge, and this is simply another example of being aware that anything you say to anyone could be used in public. I suppose that’s something everyone should get reminded of fairly often, anyway.

I also think that writers/businesspeople who start out as clueless as the ones they are using as examples are never going to learn it from this: there will always be people who don’t understand why it’s dumb to say A or B, just as the poor are always with us, and the clueless ones are not likely to be watching the twitter feed for this (which is one of their justifications for using the writers’ work, mind–that “they’re not gonna know we’re using them, so it doesn’t matter”), so part of their argument is circular. It will be mostly the clued-in people who cling to this as an activity, IMHO, people who already KNOW better than to do any of the really egregious stuff. But oh well.

I have considered this further and have concluded that I approach this as an artist and they approach it as businesspeople and marketing specialists, so we are apt to have different views. Artists are notoriously sensitive, even when we’re clods ourselves.

It’s fine, whatever they decide to do. They’re aware of my argument, and have dismissed it. That’s life–as the song goes. (Love Bobby Darin’s version of that song.)

Oh, and . . . for those who didn’t realize this, here at LiveJournal it’s standard for us to respond to comments in our comment threads. Don’t think of it as “being gone after,” especially considering the mild tone of my commentary in general. If I don’t respond, it could mean that I missed the comment or that it was something that added to the discussion without any need for a reply; in general, I (and many others) do respond to comments hither and thither. I even go back and find comments that I missed a while back and reply to them eventually. So if that’s not standard in other venues, now you know.

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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