Monday, July 15, 2013

Query Questions with Juliet Mushens

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 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 that 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.

Today I'm very pleased to bring you answers from agent extraordinary Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group. Thank you so much Ms. Mushens for taking the time to respond and maybe ease some fears about the query process.

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

Not really - the only bad times are April and October because of the book fairs. However everything gets read, I just might be slower than usual in responding because I'm so busy.

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

Not at all. I do advise people to get a friend to proofread it for them, but we all make mistakes and I understand that. 

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

Yes, absolutely. Though there is a difference in UK & US submissions - in the UK you send a cover letter and the first 3 chapters. I'll always turn to the first three chapters though I can usually tell if a book will be me for me by the end of the cover letter - I have occasionally been proven wrong though. 

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

No, but do try sending it to yourself first to make sure it looks normal! 

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

I want the focus to be on the manuscript but a couple of lines about yourself is welcome too. Warm and funny letters are always nice.

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

No. One of my most successful writers self-published originally - he sold 350k copies and is now a paperback best seller with publishing deals in 10 countries. 

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

I try and set aside half an hour on the bus every day to do submissions - I can get through 1 in that time, or I can get through 20. I'm used to doing it so I know pretty quickly if it's one for me or not. If I'm really busy I can build up a backlog - it is a common misconception that we spend all day reading, whereas in reality most submissions reading is extracurricular.

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

Probably 30 or so. I call in maybe 2 full manuscripts a month. Sometimes I call in nothing for 6 months, sometimes 2 in a week.

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

If I think something is great I will probably represent it! Occasionally I have said no to good things as I'm busy but I will always explain that.

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

I'm not invested enough in the characters, usually.

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

I once got sent a gnome with a query before. That was pretty weird.

Juliet Mushens is an agent in the UK literary department of The Agency Group where she represents a bestselling list of fiction and non-fiction writers. She was picked by The Bookseller as a Rising Star in 2012 and shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize 2013. Please email her your cover letter and first 3 chapters when submitting. You can follow her on twitter at @mushenska 


  1. A gnome? Ha ha that's hysterical. Thanks for the great interview!

  2. Great questions and answers. I love reading about the process of agenting.

  3. What a great interview! Thank you so much for sharing :)

  4. Hehe Was it the roaming gnome? Great interview!

  5. I've definitely got to keep tabs on this series.

    I'm curious now-- will each of the agents in the series be given a new set of questions, or will there be some repeats?

  6. I intend to repeat the questions to get a variety of answers, but drop off questions over time and replace them with new ones. I also left it up to the agent to answer the questions they chose and skip the rest. But it will all depend on how many interviews I manage to set up.