I happened to be viewing my twitter account this morning when agent Michelle Witte (who I queried the day before) asked for questions at #askagent. Being in the middle of sending out queries myself, I had plenty of questions. At various times during the hour I hung around, there were up to six agents involved, including Janet Reid. I fired off a few questions and received some varied answers. Here are my questions and a few from others in the session that I found interesting:
How can you tell if an agent who reps YA prefers fantasy or contemporary? One agent responded. He suggested you check their website or any interviews they had done, and what they’ve sold lately. Now, I always check an agent’s website (if they have one) before I send a query letter, but I don’t always find what form of YA they favor even on the website. Sometimes I have to send the letter and hope they are interested in fantasy.
If the query letter doesn’t spark your interest, do you look at the pages or hit delete? I got varied answers on this one. Janet Reid said she doesn’t look at pages if she doesn’t connect with the query. Two other agents, including Michelle Witte, said they still check out the pages as writing a novel is very different from writing a query letter.
Do you like some short chitchat somewhere in a query letter or would you prefer we stick to the point? Again I got varied answers. Both agents from FinePrint Literary said get straight to the point of telling what your book is about. The other agents said they don’t mind chitchat as long as it is short. I usually stick straight to the point in my query letters.
Does being published with a small press help or hurt your query chances? One agent answered and said she likes to know this information. That wasn’t a direct answer to whether it helps or not. Another poster asked the same basic question. Does a small press in your bio help you get out of the slush pile? Several agents answered this time and said yes.
Another question that I didn’t ask, but found helpful was whether to double space your pages included inside a query letter? Janet Reid gave this a big yes. Other agents said you should double space, but that going through email often erases the formatting or plays tricks.
Someone asked about low word count in YA Contemporary. The agents said anything under 40,000 was a novella. When asked if editors are looking for novellas or whether agents will rep them, one agent replied she’d had an editor ask for novellas recently. Most others didn’t represent them unless it was an established client.
Someone asked about advances. Whether you have to pay them back if you don’t earn out? The answer was no. There was a brief discussion about the average size of an advance, but I didn’t pay close attention. I think it was somewhere between $500 and $10,000.
It was a helpful session, and it certainly makes me respect the agents that they would take the time to help writers on their Saturday morning. Joining Twitter has definitely paid off.