Thursday, August 29, 2013

Query Questions with Molly Jaffa

Molly Jaffa has left Folio Lit and perhaps left agenting, but I'll leave the interview for reference.  

Real quick before this query interview, I wanted to say that I have my own interview about writing over on Terri Bruce's blog, which is part of the Blog Ring of Power. I'd appreciate anyone who can stop by and say hello.

And if you're looking for more agent interviews, be sure to check out I Write for Apples. Dee takes a wider look at the agent process.      

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.

Molly Jaffa is here from Folio Literary Management to share her query wisdom. Thanks so much for your help, Molly! 

I’ve heard August is a time when publishing shuts down. Does that make it a better or worse time to query?
That’s a good question, but personally, I don’t think a query’s timing has an impact on how I consider it. Though many people do take vacations during August, not all of us do, and the idea of publishing shutting down during the summer is starting to become outdated. I sold a novel this month and have closed multiple foreign deals, and our office is busy as ever! I’d advise authors to query whenever their manuscript is as ready as it can possibly be; there’s no need to overthink it.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. We all make mistakes, and when I read a query, I’m not looking for reasons to reject it—I’m looking for reasons to request the manuscript! If the whole thing is riddled with typos, though, I’ll pass, as that usually doesn’t bode well for the manuscript itself.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I look at the query first, and I only read sample pages if some aspect of the query intrigues me. It doesn’t have to be a “perfect” query (is there such a thing?), but there has to be something that makes me want to keep reading. Sometimes that’s an exciting hook, comp titles that I love, or a degree from a writing program I respect.

Do you have a reader or associate go through your queries first or do you check all of them yourself?
I read and respond to all queries myself.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes. If you’re worried about including your prologue because you think it won’t hook an agent or isn’t indicative of the manuscript as a whole, then that may be a strong sign that you should remove it from the manuscript.

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?
I don’t share queries very often, but it happens on occasion. At Folio, it’s perfectly fine to query another agent within the agency if one of us has already passed.

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included?
Word count and genre should always be included. I’m sure anyone who’s doing enough agent research to be reading this interview won’t make that mistake!

Is there a bias against querying authors who have self-published other books?I wouldn’t say there’s a bias, but it does depend on the author’s reason for self-publishing, how those self-published books have performed, why the author wants an agent now, and what the author plans to do with those self-published titles moving forward. Those aren’t questions a self-published author would need to address in a query, though. If I really love a project, the author’s self-published book(s) would be part of our discussion about potentially working together.

Do you go through a large group of queries at a time or hold yourself to a few?
This really varies. I read queries in my spare time–between meetings, at night, on weekends, on the subway—so it depends on how much time I have at that particular moment!

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I can receive up to 100 queries a week. I might request one or two manuscripts from that, but I don’t set a minimum or a limit for myself. Some weeks I don’t request anything at all, and some weeks I’ll request multiple manuscripts. You never know! 

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?
A great social media presence wouldn’t cause me to offer representation if I wasn’t already planning to do so based on the quality of the author’s writing. It’s a plus, though—especially in YA, since teen readers really love interacting with their favorite authors online. So while I don’t require my clients to start social media accounts, we do have a discussion about it. If a particular platform isn’t a natural fit for them, though, I certainly won’t force the issue.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
It depends on the kind of book they’ve written, but overall, they should keep it simple. A line or two about themselves, like where they live or what they do for a living, is plenty. For YA, I like seeing bios with a bit of spark, something that makes me think that person would be a hit with the teen readership. 

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
If I write that in response to a query, it’s mostly likely a form rejection. If it’s in response to a requested manuscript, I probably didn’t feel that I had a substantive enough reason for rejecting the project to provide more detailed feedback. Sometimes it’s easy for me to pinpoint the moment or reason when a manuscript stopped working for me, but sometimes I simply just don’t love it enough. There’s not a specific reason why; I’m just not head-over-heels for it. In those cases, I don’t want to give feedback that might cause an author to think he or she needs to revise per my notes, because another agent may love it as-is.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
The only things I don’t want to see are projects that feel derivative, and projects that are undercooked. If you’re a great writer who’s put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into an original, intriguing project, then bring it on! But if you know in your gut that you can still improve your manuscript without the help of an agent, or if you know your project sounds just like a bunch of other books out there, it may not be time to query. Ask yourself: is this the manuscript that will allow me to launch my career with a splash?

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Someone once sent me erotica (which I don’t represent) about a woman who just so happened to share one of my colleagues’ names – first and last. It was a little weird.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
I’d love to see contemporary YA that makes me laugh and cry (like Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD LOVE STORY or Morgan Matson’s SECOND CHANCE SUMMER); a big, sweeping YA fantasy (like Libba Bray’s THE DIVINERS or Rachel Hartmann’s SERAPHINA); and literary middle grade (like Kimberly Newton Fusco’s BEHOLDING BEE or Crystal Chan’s forthcoming BIRD, which is the best MG novel I’ve read in years). 

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
My favorite YA novels of 2013 are Andrew Smith’s WINGER, Rainbow Rowell’s ELEANOR & PARK, and Katie Cotugno’s forthcoming HOW TO LOVE. Also, I just started reading Cassandra Clare’s CITY OF BONES for the first time and am absolutely loving it. I’m late to the party on that one, but it’s exactly the kind of fantasy I love! On the adult side, I’ve recently read and enjoyed Alissa Nutting’s TAMPA, Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE, and Elizabeth L. Silver’s THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON. Though I’m not currently taking on adult fiction, those titles are indicative of my taste in YA in that I look for novels that push the envelope in some way, whether in form or content. As a reader, I want books that leave me in a dazed state when I finish them. I want to have to sit and puzzle out my feelings when I’m through.


Molly has been working closely with Folio authors’ projects since 2008, and is an Associate Member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). In addition to building her selective but growing list of clients, Molly utilizes her editorial background, previous work experience in the e-publishing industry, and intimate knowledge of the Folio list in her position as Folio’s Co-Director of International Rights. She actively pursues sales of international and audio rights and attends all major international book fairs, helping Folio clients’ books reach wide audiences in as many formats as possible. Molly is an avid reader, and when she’s not devouring manuscripts, she can usually be found camped out in the aisles of the Union Square Barnes & Noble (until they kick her out at closing time). 

I focus exclusively on middle grade and young adult fiction. I’m looking for books that challenge the reader intellectually and emotionally, from the high-concept and fantastical to the frank, fresh, and contemporary. I love fiction set in another country, time, or place (real or imagined!) that opens up a rich new world for the reader to discover. Stories featuring characters with strong passions, talents, or smarts – or characters in search of theirs – resonate with me. I’d also like to see: Contemporary YA that’s not afraid to explore complex social issues, historical fantasy, smart middle grade adventures, heartbreaking middle grade with beautiful writing, and good, old-fashioned YA romance.


  1. Very informative interview. Thanks to you both for providing it.:)

  2. I've been wanting to query Ms. Jaffa for a while. I think I might finally do it!! Thanks for the interview!

  3. Molly always gives great advice! Hi Michelle! Congrats on your signing with an agent. :)

  4. Great interview and very informative. I think I will query Ms. Jaffa