Thursday, September 19, 2013

Query Questions with Jessica Alvarez

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.

Today's guest is Jessica Alvarez of Bookends, LLC! Thanks so much Jessica for sharing your thoughts about query slush.

Is there a better or worse time to query?  
No.  Submissions come in a constant flow, and there really isn't any particular time of year that's better than others.  

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
One, no. If there are a lot of typos or grammatical mistakes, however, it will concern me.  I want projects to be polished before they are sent to me and a query full of errors makes me think the writing in a manuscript will be rougher than I want to deal with.  

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
We do not ask for sample pages with the query at BookEnds.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I go through all my queries on my own, though I will occasionally ask our literary assistant or intern to do a first (or second) read on requested material.  Even if they do review a project for me, I will still review it and make the final decision.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
I don't ask for sample pages with a query, but if I ask for the first three chapters, yes, I want the prologue included.

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?
At BookEnds we prefer that writers only query one of us at the agency.  If we think a project is better suited for one of the other agents, we will pass it along.  That happens maybe once or twice a month.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I don't mind some but too much can sometimes make a query seem amateurish for me.  In general, I'd rather the writer focus her energies on the plot summary.

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?
I do want the word count and genre somewhere in the query, though I don't care where it is.  I won't reject a project if they don't include the word count and genre but it will make me wonder why they weren't included.  Is the manuscript too long or short to be marketable?  Does the writer not know what genre it is?  So, yes, it is a bit of a red flag.

Do you go through a large group of queries at a time or hold yourself to a few?
It depends on what else I have on my plate, but it isn't unusual for me to go through a hundred in one sitting. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I probably get around 100 queries a week, and maybe request partials or completes from 10% of those.

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?

If an author has a blog or website, I appreciate seeing the link in her signature even if I don't always click on the links.  It's actually pretty rare that I do click on the links, but it's much easier for me than having to hunt the internet to find a writer's site.  As for manuscript-related artwork, that I don't care to see.  It has no relevance on my decision and only takes up extra space in my in-box.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
I use a very similar phrase to that in my form rejection letter and it means exactly that--the project just isn't right for me.  It might be because the project is in a genre I don't represent.  It might be because I just wasn't hooked by the idea.  It might be because I have a similar project on my list.  A project could be wrong for me for any number of reasons.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
1. Paranormals and urban fantasy.  Okay, these are genres instead of themes, but I'm not looking for these right now and I still get a lot of submissions in both areas.
2. Projects with characters in show business.  There are exceptions (I'm shopping a project with a rock star right now), but I generally am not drawn to these books and I see a lot of them.
3. Women's fiction about women reclaiming their lives after their husbands' affairs, or returning to their small hometown after their mom/dad/grandma died.  Again, there are exceptions, but there are so many books like this out there that the approach needs to be unique to stand out.  

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Contemporary romances, women's fiction, and cozy mysteries.  They all need to have strong, marketable hooks and bring me something that I haven't seen before.  I know that's a very generic answer but I don't want to limit it too much.  Please note, I am not looking for paranormal romance, YA books, sci-fi or fantasy, nonfiction or thrillers.  My list is focused on romance and women's fiction with a smattering of cozy mysteries.  


Jessica A

After ten years as an editor, Jessica Alvarez joined BookEnds in April 2011. She began her publishing career in 2001 as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Books. There, she had the opportunity to acquire and edit a wide array of fiction, specializing in historical romance, romantic suspense, and inspirational romance. Jessica left Harlequin in 2008 to pursue a freelance editing career, and completed projects for Harlequin, Scholastic Books, Thomas Nelson, and independent writers. She uses her editorial background to help writers hone their skills and develop strong, marketable stories. Jessica is actively building her client list and is proud to work with a wonderful group of clients. She is a member of AAR.

Jessica read her first romance at the age of nine when she pilfered from a friend's mother's Harlequin Presents collection and was instantly hooked. Though her pilfering has passed, her weakness for alpha heroes and exotic settings remains.

A New Jersey native, Jessica still resides in the Garden State. She is perpetually over-caffeinated in an attempt to keep up with her young son and two energetic wheaten terriers.

Jessica's areas of interest include historical romance (particularly 18th and 19th century!), inspirational romance, contemporary romance, category romance, erotic romance and smart, female-focused erotica, women's fiction, and cozy mysteries.

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