Thursday, February 23, 2017

Query Questions with John Bowers

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.

Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a series called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers for the real expert--agents!

If you have your own specific query question, please leave it in the comments and it might show up in future editions of Query Questions as I plan to rotate the questions.

No, I haven't forgotten about interviews with agents, and finally, here is a new one. Thanks to John Bowers of the Bent Agency for getting back to me and sharing his thoughts about being an agent. 

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

I always look at the pages someone shares with me. Even on those occasions when I can't make heads or tails of the concept presented in the query letter, I feel that it's important to see what the writing is really like. Some writers have a hard time putting together a strong, compelling pitch, but that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't a great writer.

How open are you to writers who have never been published?

I'm totally open to unpublished writers. I have a lot of respect for someone who has toiled away on their own writing and then finally feels they have something to share that they really believe in.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?

While not necessarily essential, I appreciate a writer sharing comp titles in a query. They can be really helpful for a few reasons. A writer offering their own comp titles immediately alerts me to the sort of fiction they read and admire as well as the titles they think their work most belongs next to on a shelf. That sort of sign post is really helpful for providing context for when I dig into the pages shared.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

Personalized chit-chat can be nice, but the most important thing is really the meat of the pitch. Is the concept strong? Do the comp titles given resonate with me? Is the voice in the pages shared compelling?

When a writer nudges with an offer, what length of time is helpful to give you enough time to consider? A week? Two weeks?

I appreciate when a writer checks in with me about an offer. I don't expect any more than one week's time to then get back to them with a decision.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?

This is not necessarily something that I look for from fiction writers. It is good for a nonfiction writer to have some sort of platform though.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? Does it make a difference if the changes are from an R&R with another agent?

If a writer has revised their work, I appreciate the chance to have a second look. It doesn't make a difference for me if their revision notes came from another agent.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Does a manuscript have to be sub-ready or will you sign stories that need work?

I am fairly hands on editorially, but I also like to be very clear with writers about how much editorial feedback they are looking for in the first place. I don't want to offer a bunch of editorial suggestions if the writer isn't so open to them!

What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?

I think it's important for a query letter to be well put together just at first glance. It's like the first 30 seconds of an interview. The first glance/first impression displays how serious a writer really is about their work and the relationship they hope to establish. This would mean: there aren't any typos, the font is consistent throughout (size and type), and they addressed me directly (not for whom it may concern, etc).

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?

I love gritty Southern stories. Anything from the movie Mud to the first season of True Detective really captures my imagination. I also love tense, thought provoking stories that play with futurism and dystopia like Ex-Machina and Black Mirror. Nonfiction works that seek to pull back the veil of how the world works - think Adam Curtis' recent documentary Hypernormalisation - just really excite me. 

John Bowers represents adult literary fiction and nonfiction in the areas of history, finance, media theory, politics, and science.

I’m from Richmond, Virginia and studied English literature at Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduating with a master’s degree in teaching, I spent a few years teaching English and Drama at American International schools in Colombia and Costa Rica. There I engaged in community outreach initiatives, picked up surfing, and after one too many eye-rolls trying to get kids to fall in love with Shakespeare, I packed my bags for Brooklyn.
Before joining the Bent Agency, I worked in literary scouting, where I read fiction and non-fiction and recommended titles for foreign publishing and film/TV adaptation. I now help handle the Bent Agency’s foreign rights and am also building a list of literary fiction and serious non-fiction for adults.
For fiction, I’m looking for Southern Gothic and Southern-influenced literary fiction along the lines of Ron Rash, Cormac McCarthy and anything in the tradition of titans like Flannery O’Connor. I would also love to see idea-driven science fiction such as Ursula K. Le Guin's THE DISPOSSESSED, dystopian fiction such as Nick Harkaway's THE GONE-AWAY WORLD and stories that make the world feel dystopian, like Kurt Vonnegut's classic, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-5.
For non-fiction, I’m interested in narrative non-fiction in the vein of Beth Macy’s FACTORY MAN and sweeping historical non-fiction like RIVER OF DOUBT and KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST. I’m open to projects that engagingly distill topics regarding culture, media theory, finance, and popular science much in the way of Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell’s acclaimed works. I’m deeply intrigued by stories that help us better understand our world and anything that sets forth strong characters, edgy and expansive themes, and new perspectives.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Join the fun! 

Come chat with a group of science fiction and fantasy authors from Harper Voyager. The chat will be on twitter at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm EST this Thursday, February 23rd. Find the chat at #SFFChat.

Whether you write science fiction and fantasy or not, there's bound to be useful writer information shared. We plan to talk about querying, world building, character creation, writing a page turner and even book promo and marketing! 

See you there!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sun versus Snow Thoughts

Once again Sun versus Snow was a fantastic success with over a hundred requests and a success story already, and maybe some more in the works! Wink, wink! 

I think some of the new aspects to the contest worked out extremely well. Adding a place for optional twitter handles certainly made less work for the hosts. For example, we are able to easily notify authors when requests arrived a few days after the official end of the agent round. Anything that makes less work for Amy and I is a bonus!

I also think that allowing authors to include ownvoices with their genres helped make up for excluding the biographies. Now the authors can help us know if their stories are ownvoices so Amy and I no longer have to be unsure.

I was delighted that we received nearly 20 of these entries and seven out of thirty-two finalists were ownvoices! I hope to see those numbers grow with every contest!

The mentors and agents were delightful and enthusiastic as always! And I can't wait for next year!

That said I want to announce that I'm taking a few weeks away from blogging to focus on my WIP and get some rest. I'll be back when I have more contest news to share! Thanks everyone!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sun versus Snow Agent Round 2017!

Today is the day our 21 amazing agents can begin reading the entries and making requests. Not only will they see the amazing entries here, but they can also make requests for Team Sun over at Amy Trueblood's blog!

As the agents move through the entries, please remember that contests are subjective. Our agents have a definitive idea of what they would like for their list. If they do not request, it DOES NOT mean the entry was not worthy. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep querying and NEVER GIVE UP!
Before Team Snow freezes out Team Sun, here are some guidelines to remember:
There is no commenting in this round except for agents. Sorry, but no cheerleading as this may lead to an unconscious bias.
We are happy to see and retweet your thoughts and cheers over on Twitter under the #sunvssnow tag! That’s the place to hang out and have fun! I hope to see my Team Snow members present with their snow hats and mittens! We have a blizzard of amazing entries that are going to completely obscure Team Sun!

Watch both my and Amy’s Twitter feed as we will be tweeting when an agent makes an appearance!
Agents will consider entries at both the blogs regardless of whether they are Sun or Snow fans. Amy and I are hoping the agents go crazy with the requests! There is amazing talent on both our teams!
Good luck to all! And get out your snowballs and thermals because Team Snow is taking no prisoners!

SVS Agent Round 1: NOTORIOUS, Adult Historical Mystery

Genre: Adult Historical Mystery
Word Count: 75,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold?

Even in summer, the wind off San Francisco Bay drives the mist through your clothes until the damp lies frigid under your skin. Some nights, Vespertine dreams of life in the sun atop one of the seven hills of the city, but not tonight.

She draws her heavy shawl tight and prays the westerly clears the confusion from her mind. No hot act of passion will solve Mr. Founar's murder, only a determined application of logic will organize the facts of the case into a solution like a winter freeze crystallizes mist into snowflakes.  

SVS Agent Round 2: LOVE INTERRUPTED, Adult Romance OwnVoices

Genre: Adult Romance #OwnVoices
Word Count: 75,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold:

LOVE INTERRUPTED is a romance. There are two MCs.

Christine is hot. She's a woman working in a STEM field. She's had to fight to get where she is. She has no patience for stupidity or bullying.

Paul is cool under pressure. He needs steady nerves to take the kill shot when surrounded by smoke and gunfire. But, wow, he is also very HOT!

SVS Agent Round 3: TO LIVE, Adult Science Fiction

Title: TO LIVE
Genre: Adult science fiction
Word Count: 71,000

Main Character Hot or Cold:

Well I’m dead, but don’t assume that makes me cold. If your virtual afterlife was glitching like mine is, if you found yourself entangled in a conspiracy with humanity’s very future in the balance, well then you just might be as hot as I am.  

SVS Agent Round 4: DOG'S BREAKFAST, Adult Upmarket

Genre: Adult Upmarket
Word Count: 79,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold: 
Veteran diplomat Andy Pulano has achieved a level of success but aches to rise to the top. He is cold to the bone and chillingly effective.

Hot on the inside, cool on the outside, Tara Zadani is a first-generation American, the daughter of Indian immigrants. She is a young woman, new to the world of diplomacy, with strong feelings about justice. Her ideals and love of life burn within her heart. But to succeed in her environment, she must be cool and calculating.

SVS Agent Round 5: CORPORATE GUNSLINGER, Adult Science Fiction

Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Word Count: 89,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold: 

Kira presents cold, but inside she's a hot mess most of the time. As a professional gunfighter, she has to stay calm under pressure. When the pressure comes off, though, things can get weird. So, put her down as cold, but be ready for a sudden thaw. 

SVS Agent Round 6: SEEING MY SISTER, MG Contemporary

Genre: MG Contemporary
Word Count: 39,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold: 

Renee is a hot character. She approaches life with fierce determination and enthusiasm, especially when it comes to figure skating. At home, Renee’s grit gets her in trouble more than it helps her. Though Renee loves her little sister, Justine, it’s hard for her when her parents spend every waking second obsessing over Justine’s disability. When Renee’s skating coach gets diagnosed with cancer, it makes Renee’s fragile world even more shakable. As Renee faces difficult challenges, she struggles to understand why so many bad things are happening.  

SVS Agent Round 7: I AM BECOME ANNABELLE, MG Fantasy

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Word Count: 34,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold?

Annabelle is cold. Given all she’s been through at such a young age, and the secrets she now keeps, she handles things coolly and calmly.


Genre: Middle Grade Mystery
Word Count:  52,000

My main character is hot, pretending to be cold.

I'm thirteen and a master at reinventing myself.  I've bounced around a lot of foster families and this one is my last shot.  I'll be whatever kid they want in order to stay.  But my new sister, Soledad, thought I was like her when she picked me from the database: a cold, analytical genius. She wants an assistant just like her to help track down her parents' killer.  But the deeper we dig into the case, the more I rely on my old instincts because the evidence feels all wrong.  Unfortunately, feelings are something Soledad won't accept, even when solving the case depends on it.

SVS Agent Round 9: THE MOJAVE FAILURES, MG Contemporary

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Word Count: 43,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold: 

Austin has already boiled over with disastrous results. Cold brought him even more attention. Neither way felt right. He doesn’t understand why his mind works the way it does. Questioning everything until his head pounds like a drum. His newest approach to is to stay lukewarm. But soon he’ll be back to his old life where it can get very frightening, amazingly fast. MOHAVE just might be a way for him to get control of his emotions and succeed for the first time.

SVS Agent Round 10: THE LAST DOUBLOON, MG Contemporary OwnVoices

Genre: MG Contemporary, "Ownvoices"
Word Count: 36,OOO

My MC is cool, impulsive but not explosive.

SVS Agent Round 11: THE LONE EARTH GIRL, YA Science Fiction

Genre: YA Science Fiction
Word Count: 78,000

Is Main Character hot or cold?
Nova is both; she has to be. Her peers are smarter, stronger, and have no problem letting her know it. But’s she’s adapted, having lived with them her whole life, so she chooses her battles. When something strikes her close to the bone she sidesteps, letting it pass. When the blade lodges into her marrow, run for the ships because the mountain flows molten rage. 

SVS Agent Round 12: PROMPOCALYPSE, YA Disaster Thriller

Genre: YA Disaster Thriller
Word Count: 68,000

Is Your Main Character hot or cold? 

No matter how much Sam might aim for a calm, cool personality all it takes is a spark to get her emotions flared up. With a tendency to rely on instinct and intuition instead of ice-cold logic, Sam’s spontaneous decisions have a tendency to combust into four-alarm fires. Whether she wants to admit it or not, Sam is fiery and stubborn.

What she hasn’t realized is that the fires in her heart show up for a reason; it’s a burning signal when something needs to change. Now, she just needs to learn how to harness those flames.

SVS Agent Round 13: HIDE ME AWAY, YA Thriller Ownvoices

Genre: YA thriller Ownvoices
Word Count: 62,000

Is your main character hot or cold? 

Tanvi believes she's cold. She has practiced years of controlling her feelings and emotions, afraid that she'd repeat the mistakes of her mom. But inside she aches for the warmth of a family and the love of her best friend.