Yesterday, I spent most of the day polishing a new wood floor we installed over the weekend. In between coats, I participated in Agent for a Day on Nathan Bransford's blog. He invited writers to send in real or fictitious queries and then selected 46 of them to post on his blog. Interspersed in the mix were four query letters that worked, sent in by authors that the book is already published or will be soon.
Our job as the "Agent for a Day" was to go through the list, read them and respond with either a rejection or a request. We were only allowed 5 requests.
Let me tell you, it was so interesting. I started out with personalized rejections commenting on things that could be fixed, but it wasn't long before I was just tired of trying to point that out to people--or I got to one with so many things wrong that I didn't even know where to start.
I know understand why many/most agents send form rejections. It isn't their job to tell us what's wrong, it is our job to help each other figure that out.
Another thing that struck me as I was doing this was how many authors ignored some or most of the rules. And, as NB said, these queries are sent in by people who follow his blog and volunteered for this, these will be better than his regular slush pile. It stunned me how many people simply didn't follow any directions whatsoever.
In spite of this, I think most of those participating found themselves having a hard time deciding which requests to make. There were simply more great ideas than 5 and it was tough to narrow it down. One even put it in his form rejection "I am sorry to say I cannot request anything further at this time. I am only allowed 5 requests a day and I have used them all."
... Boy, I tell you what, if I got that on a form rejection I would be quite angry. I am sure we all get rejected by agents because it's just a bad day or whatever at some point... but to say that in the rejection would be foolish. I know he was just doing it for sake of the contest, but I just laughed when I read it.
Last note, but not least. I was sad to see that Nathan had to patrol the comments to keep people from being downright rude about queries. I'm so disappointed to see that. There are ways to help people know what is wrong without being hurtful and if you aren't skilled enough to use words in that way then you shouldn't be a writer. These people put #queryfail to shame.
On that note - say something nice to your writer friends today. Encourage them. We'll all be better off if we're in this together. :)
Oh, and look! My new floor!!