The ethical approach: Or not?

literary failsThis is one of those things that makes me worry about humanity as we know it. Bear in mind that this is a blog post based purely on the opinion of someone on the outside looking in. This is not a review, but merely my professional opinion on the subject. I have never actually read this book, and I don’t plan to in the future.

I found this book on Amazon by accident. It’s called Literary Fails: Totally (sic)!: 101 Crazy Query Letters Sent by Writers in Their Quest for Publishing Fame. I clicked the “look inside” button on Amazon and read a few of the first entries. Here’s a bit about the book from the website:

LITERARY FAILS: Totally (sic!) has been a work in progress for several years. These handpicked 101 excerpts, selected from tens of thousands of actual query letters received by Martin Literary Management were sent by severely “misguided individuals” in their desire to become commercially published authors. Each section of the book and many individual letters are accompanied by fabulous original artwork in pen and ink. Every quoted letter in this book is verbatim, right down to the misspellings, the word spacing, and the typos.

As far as I can tell, this book has no actual literary merit. It appears to be some agents having fun at the expense of inexperienced writers. I am reminded of my first job in acquisitions, and the first few times I was faced with particularly horrid query letters or messy submissions that failed to follow guidelines.

I remember someone much older and wiser than I calmly reminding everyone in the room: “No matter how it looks to us, these people care about their writing. They made mistakes, but confidentiality is important. This should not stray beyond these doors.” That wasn’t the exact words, but it was fairly close.

This brings me back to the aforementioned book. Basically, the question that comes to mind is, what were they thinking? 

Even if they fail to mention names, this seems to me like a completely unethical project, put forth by those who ought to know better. No, I am not a literary agent. I am an editor. But there is a certain responsibility that comes with any position.

First and foremost, a professional should respect the dignity of any client who comes to them looking for help, no matter how inexperienced the client is. To me, this book seems to laugh in the face of that special professional relationship between agent and client or editor and client.

Readers, what do you think? How do you feel about an agent publishing a book like this? Does it go against the grain, or is it just another step in the ever-changing world of publishing?

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9 thoughts on “The ethical approach: Or not?

  1. Unfortunately this is just another example of the continual erosion of ethical principals that has been going on for the past several decades. I myself would not ever read that “book” ,if you could even call it that ,because by doing so I would be contributing to our moral decline. I live my life today by a new credo,” doing the right thing even when no-one is watching”.

  2. Unfortunately these types of books are common. There are some similar to that one that show example of the worst resumes. Now since part of my job for my company is recruiting I see a lot of resumes. As part of that I see a lot of bad resumes, but I wouldn’t pass them along to be published in a book even if the personal information is redacted. It’s a breach of ethics.

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