While I did not participate in #queryfail, a few weeks ago I did follow some of the feedback/fallout in the aftermath. Much of which can be read here in Nathan Bransford’s comment section. I am not going to get in the middle of the discussion of whether or not those who participated in #queryfail were wrong or what their intentions were. What I do want to address is something that’s stuck in my head since first reading the many discussions on the topic, and that’s that writers are people too.
What seemed to resonate most with me from those who objected to #queryfail was the feeling that agents were not considering the feelings of writers. Now let’s take this fully out of the context of #queryfail, please, because again, I refuse to discuss that. So when looking at the idea that agents don’t think of writers as people, you are, to some degree, entirely correct. When reading queries, proposals, or submissions of any kind I cannot think of the face behind the page. That’s not my job and can’t be my job. It’s my job to think of the words on the page and what they do for me and to me and whether or not I think they translate into sales.
When I first started out as a young editor and later as an agent I remember being touched and confused about how to handle the vast number of queries I received (and still receive) from authors looking to write a memoir based on their own experiences of sexual abuse, cancer, or death of a loved one. For me the toughest ones are always those writing about the death of a spouse or child. But the truth is that I can’t treat those people any differently than I treat the author who has written a romance novel, SF, or business book simply because I know their past.
I don’t think any agent will deny that writers are people and each writer deserves respect and serious consideration, but submissions aren’t people. When considering submissions we don’t think of the people and, to some degree, don’t care about the people behind the page. All we care about, all editors care about, and all your readers are ever going to care about is whether or not you’ve written a good book. And yes, sometimes that blinds us a bit, but I suspect it also protects us from the depressing job of rejecting hundreds upon hundreds of people each week. Because we aren’t rejecting people, we’re rejecting the words on the page.