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.
Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary sent these answers before she took time off for her maternity leave. Now that is dedication to helping writers. She is currently closed to queries.
I hear publishing shuts down in August. Does that make it a bad time to query?
Some would argue that that makes it a better time! But the truth is, though many editors and agents do take some time off during August, often they're trying to get through their submissions piles before they go, so you may even find faster response times in the summer. And if you want to put credence into the theory that it is a quieter time in the industry, then maybe there are some agents and editors who have time to go through their submissions during the work day, instead of just after hours, as we more usually do.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No, though it can speak to a lack of care in what you're writing and submitting. But it's not an automatic no.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Only if the query is strong, and the hook is intriguing.
Do crazy fonts caused by email gremlins make for an automatic rejection?
Again, no, but I would definitely advise avoiding crazy fonts and colors.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I definitely like to hear why you're querying me -- what brought me or my agency to your attention, which authors of mine you've read, etc., but not to the exclusion of a description of the manuscript!
Does it matter whether the word count/genre information is first or last in a query?
Not for me.
Is a too high or too small word count a cause for rejection?
Not automatically, but it can speak to a lack of understanding of the market. My favorite post to point people towards with word count questions is by Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, aka Literaticat: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html
Is there a bias against querying authors who have self-published other books?
I can only speak to my own opinions, but I'd say no, with the caveat that if you're querying a manuscript you originally self-published, and now want to seek traditional publication, you need to have serious sales numbers. And I don't know many agents who want to take on the third or fourth book in a series that began as self-published, unless the numbers are HUGE.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
A couple hundred? I haven't been keeping track lately. Out of a hundred queries though, I might ask for material on one or two, maybe
If you think a project has potential elsewhere, do you try to give some feedback?
I do try to give feedback on partials or fulls that I review, but I can't on queries. This is usually just a line or two, though.
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?
For some agents, maybe, but only if I'm truly on the fence about a manuscript -- and most of the time, if I'm on the fence, I'm more likely going to say no than yes.
What does ‘just didn’t connect enough’ mean to you?
It means I didn't fall head-over-heels in love with it.
After a dozen years working in publishing in New York City, Kate Schafer Testerman moved to Colorado and formed kt literary in early 2008, where she concentrates on middle grade and young adult fiction. Bringing to bear the experience of being part of a large agency, she enjoys all aspects of working with her authors, offering hands-on experience, personal service, and a surfeit of optimism. She is not accepting queries at this time.