The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz

I snatched the opportunity to do this month’s SnarkZone not knowing what I would write about. Would it be my experience participating in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition? Would it be about the aftermath of #QueryFail? Would it be about the fact that my five-year-old is asking me to take dictation while she “writes stories” aloud? Or how about the fact that Castle was renewed and how many portrayals of writers do we get on TV these days, much less ones as smokin’ hot as Nathan Fillion?

After a few moments—and some research of images of Nathan Fillion—I thought, “There must be some way to tie these things together.” So while listening to my daughter tell the story of horses escaping the bloodthirsty, hippocidal skeleton that has followed them to Candyland, I came up with a solution: Success.

For some of us, success is getting 500 fresh words down in a day. It might be finally working out that metaphor in the second stanza. It might be getting a request for a full from our dream agent or hearing our latest piece read in a podcast. I know that writers have goals, even if the goal is nothing more than “write.” There are people out there who prey upon those goals but more often there are people who want to help us achieve those goals, like agents, editors and publishers.

Editors, agents and publishers want writers to succeed.

Without a product to sell, these folks are out of business. That’s why agents and editors have set up blogs and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages: to get you the information you need to succeed. #Queryfail was another attempt by agents to get us to do our jobs right—a day agents and editors devoted to using Twitter as a platform to share real life examples of “don’ts” we’ve sent them over the years.

#QueryFail was not about mocking writers. Agents who participated did approach the subject of queries from “here’s what NOT to do” but that’s why it wasn’t called #QueryWin. Was #QueryFail some kind of catharsis by way of snarkery? Sure. I have a feeling that one of the reasons for #QueryFail was for the agents to get together and say “I’m not the only one who gets queries like this, am I?” It’s silly to think the sole purpose of the experiment was the equivalent of watching sideshow geeks bite the heads off chickens.

This whole “Us Versus Them” mentality that was, likely, sparked by #QueryFail makes no sense to me. I admit, I wasn’t on board for #QueryFail. I was concerned that it would be what many writers perceived it to be after the fact: a public mockery of our hard work. I went later and read the #QueryFail tweets and found it to be not much more than a reiteration of the advice given to writers since the days before Miss Snark: write well and don’t be an idiot.

When your work doesn’t succeed, use the energy of your righteous indignation to make it succeed instead of blaming agents, editors and publishers for quashing your dreams. We get tons of really good submissions to Toasted Cheese every reading period. Unfortunately we have to reject many good submissions in favor of great submissions and even those great submissions get the axe when they’re compared against spectacular submissions. Once in a while someone whose work we rejected responds by blaming us for the rejection instead of the work or the writer’s failure to follow our submission guidelines. This is all about the writer, not the editor, and the only person who can fix this is the writer himself.

Agents aren’t thrilled by the bad queries they tweet about on #QueryFail or mention in their blogs. What thrills an agent—or an editor—is someone who’s bothered to follow some simple rules and then backs that up with excellent writing. I suspect that the “hoops” we jump through in querying are a kind of litmus test to see if we’re flexible enough to work with and can follow directions.

After a few months off, I’ve returned to querying and submitting and, apart from writing the synopsis of a 100k word novel, the hardest part of the process is clicking that “send” button. The “send” button leads to waiting. I’ve been waiting to hear the status of one submission since December (and when I wrote to the journal weeks ago, I was told that notifications were on their way). I know how it feels to offer up your hard work for judgment and for likely rejection. I’ve done stupid things in my own queries (I recently sent out a batch forgetting to mention my creative writing degree). I can’t even bring myself to follow the form so many agents say they want. In my moments of righteous indignation, I say to my writing buddies, “If an agent passes on my query because I opened it with my novel title and word count instead of the hook, he can just pucker up, buttercup.” But I crave my definition of success as much as any writer.

I’ve published stories. I’ve sold stories. I’ve worked some excellent editors (as a writer and as an editor). I made the Top 100 in ABNA and received a (favorable) Publishers Weekly review as my prize, which was the goal I’d set for my manuscript; I wanted that review so bad, I could smell the ink (or pixels, as the case may be). I set new goals all the time (today’s: finish Snark Zone) and I keep reading blogs by agents, editors, publishers and writers. I might not agree with all the advice out there or with the way it’s presented but I respect its purpose: to help me succeed.

E-mail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com

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