Thursday, July 25, 2013

Query Questions with Jennifer Laughran

As well as the interview with Jennifer Laughran, I want to announce I'm having a baby contest. No, not an actual baby. It's a tiny contest called Agent Greetings which will start August 5th, and the prize will involve something from an agent(s?). All the details will be on the blog Saturday. Now on to the interview:

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 new series of posts 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.

Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency shares her answers to common query questions. Thank you so much Ms. Laughran for taking the time to respond and ease some fears about the query process.

Is there a particular time of year that is better to query?

No. Major holidays like the week between Christmas and New Year, Passover/Easter, July 4 and sometimes the last couple of weeks of August, lots of people are on vacation... sort of like in every other business. Lots of other people, however, use that "downtime" to catch up on queries. So it doesn't really matter - you're just  getting in line, and queries get read when the agent has time to read them.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?

Make it as clean as you can, obviously -- since it's less than a page long, if you can't proofread THAT, chances are your manuscript will be a hot mess. But an honest mistake is not enough to stop me reading if the premise and everything else looks good.

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

I always glance. The strength of the query may play a part in whether I am looking interestedly or reluctantly.

Do crazy fonts caused by email gremlins make for an automatic rejection?

I have not noticed email programs that change things into crazy fonts. If you have such a program, I suggest that you change programs. I don't care what the font is as long as it is legible and normal. Whatever the default font is, is fine -- or Times, or similar.

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

If you want to give me a line about why you're querying me, that is fine - but you have a very short window. I REALLY want to know about the manuscript. And at the end, yes, a short bio is fine, but I have no interest in digging deep into your personal life.

Does it matter whether the word count/genre information is first or last in a query?


Is there a bias against querying authors who have self-published other books?


Do you go through a large group of queries at a time or hold yourself to a few?

I do as many as I have time to do in a given time. If I only have 15 minutes, I do that many. If I have hours, I will do it until I get tired of doing it. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?

I probably get 60-80 queries in a week. Of those I might request.... 4 or 5 fulls. 

In a year, I might take on 4 or 5 new clients.

Have you form rejected great projects you think could be accepted elsewhere or do you try to give some feedback?

Many things could be accepted elsewhere. I hardly take anything on. My rejecting it does not mean it is BAD -- it just means it's not for *me.*  

I give form rejections to pretty much all queries unless I know the person. I give somewhat personalized rejections to pretty much all fulls. 

Many agents say they don’t care if writers are active online. Could an active/known online presence by an author tip the scales in getting a request or offer?

If it is an EXTREMELY well known web presence, sure, that could translate into more interest -- but ultimately the strength of the work is the most important thing.

What does ‘just didn’t connect enough’ mean to you?

It means I didn't like it enough to want to read it dozens of more times and spend the next couple of years of my life thinking about it. 

What themes are you sick of seeing?

I am not the person to query for depressing "issue" books about abuse and the like.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?

Perhaps the most memorable was the book of Hillary Clinton erotic fanfiction. Needless to say, I kept the email.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

An exciting middle grade adventure. Really heartfelt, beautiful middle grade that will make me cry. A sweeping, epically romantic and awesome YA.

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

Classics: MIXED-UP FILES by EL Konigsberg.  LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett. BALLET SHOES by Noel Streatfeild. FIVE CHILDREN AND IT by E Nesbit. Anything by Bill Peet, William Steig. 

Modern: BETTER NATE THAN EVER, Tim Federle. SEE YOU AT HARRY'S, Jo Knowles. CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, Linda Urban. SKY IS EVERYWHERE, Jandy Nelson. ANNA and LOLA by Stephanie Perkins. HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford. I could seriously go on for years.
Adult: THE THURBER CARNIVAL by James Thurber. FINGERSMITH, and pretty much anything else by Sarah Waters. Also I love regency romances, particularly by Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan.

Movies/TV: THE APARTMENT, and pretty much anything by Billy Wilder. Gilmore Girls.


Jennifer began her career in agenting after working as a long-time children's bookseller and buyer. She is also the founder of the extremely popular YA event series "Not Your Mother's Book Club". She joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2007. Always on the lookout for sparkling YA and middle grade fiction with unusual and unforgettable characters and vivid settings, she is drawn to all kinds of books, whether realistic comedies or richly imagined magical adventures. However, the common thread in her favorite stories is an offbeat world-view. Jennifer adores simplicity, but she is not interested in the conventional, predictable, mechanical, gimmicky or ordinary. Jennifer loves funny books, thrilling books, romantic books, books that make her cry, and all-around un-put-downable books... and her true favorites are all of the above.


  1. Great interview, Michelle. Thanks, Jennifer, for taking the time! Love The Sky is Everywhere too.