In the last couple of weeks, agents and writers have been buzzing about the practice of a few agents and interns who critique queries via Twitter and the web. Some sites – like Query Shark – require writers to volunteer their work for review. I think these sites can be extremely helpful, especially for those who learn by example. Others are not voluntary. Any writer who submits to the – sometimes anonymous – agent or interns running these sites or hashtags could see their query pop up for critique and ridicule. While the agent/intern may intend to be helpful to writers, too often the tone of these query critiques can turn to ridicule. Regardless, I’ve seen many writers defending this practice, and the main defense has been that querying writers need to “toughen up.”
This “toughen up” philosophy makes me cringe every time I read it, especially coming from other writers. This business of writing is so difficult. Forget the actual work that goes into writing a book, and the heartache that goes into editing it. Forget how painful it can be to get your first and fifteenth beta critiques. Completely disregard how mysterious and difficult it is to hammer out that first query letter.
What about sending that query letter out and getting umpteen rejections from agents? Say you actually get an agent and you go on sub. Now you are in for a series of rejections from editors. Okay, you finally get an editor who loves it, and your book is published. Now, you get a bunch of book reviewers shredding your work.
Of course writers have to toughen up, but that happens naturally – trial by fire, if you will. My own skin has toughened – how can it not? BUT I don’t understand why we are so quick to throw other writers and their work under the bus – whether for our desire to learn or for pure entertainment – and justify it by saying writers need to toughen up or not be so precious about their work. The inference is that we’re helping this writer by tearing down their work in a public forum. Seriously? It sounds more like natural selection – only the thick-skinned writers will survive to the next round of horror. WTH?
Isn’t this business hard enough to navigate without criticizing people who dare to TRY? Why is it okay to learn at the expense of others? And how arrogant is it for us to decide when others should “toughen up” on their individual journey’s?
*steps away from soapbox*