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.
I just love the name of this agency. Please welcome Jennifer Goloboy of Donald Maass Literary for more query answers.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
In early September and early January I'm generally busy submitting manuscripts, so I'd avoid sending queries at these times.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Only if you accidentally called your book "Let's Eat Grandma" instead of "Let's Eat, Grandma".
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Only if the query is strong. I generally want sample pages only if I like the query.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I check all of them… which is why it sometimes takes a while.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
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?
Please query only one Red Sofa agent at a time. If I think a query shows promise, but it isn't my kind of thing, I'll let Dawn take a look, and vice versa.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I'd rather hear about the manuscript. However, this doesn't mean that you should be stiff and formal in your query letter-- that's really not necessary. One exception: if someone I know told an author to query me, or an author and I met at a conference, I would like to know that.
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?
Many talented writers get the genre wrong-- that's not a problem. I will not reject a book because the word count is off, but it will be the first thing to get fixed, so why not do that before querying? An example-- I recently received a romance manuscript that was about twice as long as it should be, but showed a lot of potential. That was a revise and resubmit.
Is there a bias against querying authors who have self-published other books?
No. One of my clients, Daniel Bensen, self-published a book called The Kingdoms of Evil. (You can read it here: http://www.thekingdomsofevil.com/?page_id=154) The talent he showed in this book was one of the reasons I represent him. What you should never do is self-publish a book and then immediately query me for the same book-- you just published it, what do you need an agent for?
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?
Yes, social media is important-- authors are going to need to publicize their books, and this is a cost-effective way to do it. I want to know that an author is committed to getting people to read the book!
Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive?
Not at all! An author can also mention a blog or artwork in the bio, especially if his credits are thin, or if he's achieved special recognition for this work.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Here's what not to include: "This is the first novel I have ever completed." (Warns me that the prose is probably pretty rough.) "I've been published in my college/high school magazine." (How unbiased was the editorial board? I know I talked my board into publishing my stuff even when it was horrible.) "This has been professionally edited." (I probably haven't met your editor, so I don't know how competent he is.) "I have X children and Y pets, which qualifies me to write YA." (Unfortunately, no.)
Here's what to include: Uncommon life experiences, especially if they gave the expertise to write the manuscript. ("I have been a horse trainer for ten years…") A link to a blog or other social media content, especially if it's demonstrably getting attention. Other skills, talents, connections or memberships that might make publicizing the book easier. My client, Tex Thompson,(http://www.thetexfiles.com/) helps run a big writers' conference; Jamie Wyman, who has a book coming out this fall from Entangled, (http://www.jamiewyman.com/) can breathe fire.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
It means that while this manuscript shows talent, either it's about something I don't enjoy reading about (like elves) or is something I don't know how to sell. Other agents will probably feel differently about this idea.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
Standard paranormal romance/urban fantasy, especially in YA. I love a good romance, but it really needs to be something new-- and a new kind of supernatural creature does not count. Standard steampunk seems pretty played-out too.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
I try not to keep a wish list-- I'm looking for smart, well-written, innovative science fiction and fantasy for kids and adults. A sense of humor is a plus, as is a really good romance. That said, I have been asking for a YA/NA marching band romance for months, and so far I've only seen one!
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan, for the way his books are funny, humane, and (in their own way) an astute reflection on British history. The most recent book I read and enjoyed: William Haggard's The Unquiet Sleep (1962), which featured a female answer to James Bond-- a heroine of the French Resistance with one steel foot. I don't know why that one never became a movie! (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/forgotten-authors-no32-william-haggard-1680132.html) Write me a sci-fi version of this, and I'll be a happy woman.