Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Query Questions with Sarah Negovetich

Sarah is no longer an agent, but her interview might give an overall idea of how agents think. 

I'm super excited today because the agent being interviewed is my agent! I still love saying that. Welcome to Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency

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.

Is there a better or worse time to query?
Nope. There will always be writers finishing stories and agents there to hear about them. Although, of course, pay attention to announcements from individual agents if they plan to close to submissions for a bit. 

What's the best reason for querying a new agent?
With a new agent, I think writers can get the best of both worlds. A new agent won't have as many clients so you're more likely to get extra personalized attention. At the same time, a good agency has a system in place to help new agents grow and learn, with seasoned agents on hand to answer questions. Make sure if you query a new agent, they have the support structure there to guide them.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No, but they do quickly add up. A query is roughly equivalent to one page of a book. If you were reading a book by a new author and came across a single typo on a page, it probably wouldn't stop you from reading. But if two or three errors showed up, still on that same page, you might be concerned. If you turn the page (in my case, read the synopsis) and find even more errors, the average reader is likely to assume the entire book is filled with mistakes and set it aside. As an agent, I am the same way. A single error isn't going to destroy an otherwise excellent query. But several mistakes are indicative of a project that is likely to need more editing than I'm willing to put in.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Both. If the query is so-so, but the premise is one that gets me excited, I'm going to read the pages. I get that writing a query is a different skill set than writing a novel and lots of really great authors struggle with it. That said, if it's not a great query and the premise is sort of ho-hum, I don't keep reading.

Do you have a reader or associate go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
Both. We have interns that work our query box. While they are learning the ropes, I look at every single query before they send a rejection to make sure we aren't passing on something that should be read. Once an intern has shown they know what they are doing, they do reject on projects without others reading them. That said, I try to get to my queries fast enough that I can respond to all of them personally. It doesn't always happen, but I try.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
For me, I want to see the first five pages, whatever that happens to be. This is your chance as a writer to say, this is what I want to give readers. If the prologue isn't strong enough to snag an agent, it likely isn't strong enough to hook a reader either, which begs the question "why have a prologue?". I should admit here, that I am generally not a fan of prologues.

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?
We do have a one agent, period rule. We all have pretty unique taste, which are provided on our website, so I don't usually get projects that would better fit another agent. That said, we do pass them along. I can't say it happens often, but we share with each other what we are looking for and keep an eye out for it. 

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I don't mind the personalization, but honestly, I usually skim it and head straight to the meat of it all. I'm going to assume that writers have done at least a minimum of research to determine that I might be interested in their work. If they haven't, this is usually pretty evident. The writer that sends me an Adult spy novel, didn't look at my preferences. The writer that sends me a YA time travel did. I don't need to know that you've read all the archives of my blog. Who has time for that? Go write something.

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?
Yep, put it wherever it fits in your query, but it needs to be there. Not including it makes me think you're hiding something. When it comes to genre, I know that writers can be worried about what to label their work, especially if it straddles genres. I promise not to throw a fit if you label your urban fantasy a paranormal romance.Just make an educated decision and go with it. Notice, I didn't say best guess. I do expect that writers put some thought and consideration into what kind of novel they've written.

I will say, I've gotten a lot of queries that list the genre as YA speculative fiction. Probably, because I state in my preferences that I like speculative fiction. However, speculative isn't a genre. It's a category that includes a lot of genres. This isn't an auto-reject, but it does make me nervous when writers use terms that they aren't familiar with. It makes me wonder what other parts of the industry they don't know about.

Is there a bias against querying authors who have self-published other books?
Not for me. I love that there are so many options out there for writers. I get that self-publishing may have been the right decision for one book, but traditional is the route for a new book. That's the beauty of our evolving system. That said, don't hide it. If you self-pubbed something, even if it was a huge flop, I need to know. Going into a business relationship with secrets is a good way to get egg on your face. Your agent needs to know about any previous publications, no matter what path they took.

Do you go through a large group of queries at a time or hold yourself to a few?
I tend to work through big batches late at night when everyone else is in bed and it's finally quiet. If you get a response from me at 2am, don't be surprised. I do my best work after midnight.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
Right now, I'm averaging about 100 queries per week. Out of those, I probably request additional pages from about 6. 6% is actually high among most agents I know. I can't help it. I love writers and reading. 

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?
I don't think it really affects offers or requests. If the material isn't up to par, I have to pass. That said, I do love requesting material from writers I know have a great online presence. It's like a free gift with purchase. I don't force my authors to sign up anywhere, but I've yet to come across a client that doesn't understand the need for a web presence in order to market their work. I'm not really concerned about that until the book sells.
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?
I don't mind links in a signature so long as they are kept to the really important ones. I don't need a full link to every online account you have. Same thing goes for prior publications. I'd love to look at those, but don't include an individual link for each one. Put them all in one place online and give me the link there.

Whatever you do, don't tell me you have the book I'm dying to read and then give me a link to where it's posted on Wattpad. I promise I'm not going to read it.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
"I am a (fill in the blank with your profession) and this is my first novel." Honestly, much like the chit-chat at the start of a query, I tend to skim right over the bio. At this point, you've either hooked me with your query and I'm scrolling for pages, or I'm ready to move on. 

What does ‘just not right for me’ mean to you?
This is such a subjective part of querying. You might have a great query letter and strong pages, but I still might not want to read your book. It's the same thing that happens in a bookstore. You pick something up off the shelf thinking "Yeah, I love MG spy novels". But then you read the back cover and end up putting it back on the shelf. There's nothing wrong with it and you like the genre, but it doesn't have the spark.

Keep in mind that the opposite can happen, too. I can be thinking, I'm really not into animal stories. Then I get a query for this hilarious MG about a hamster and I have to have it. ;) This is why I'm open to almost every genre. I never know what is going to hit me in just the right way.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
MG kids traveling to another world/dimension/planet to save a lost parent/sibling (especially if they thought that parent/sibling was dead). I probably get two or three of these a day. 

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Someone once mocked up the acknowledgment page of their book as if it was published and inserted my name as their agent. It was weird.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Gadget heavy SciFi (especially if it doesn't have aliens). I want amazing tech that incorporates seamlessly into the world building. This includes Steampunk.
Redeemable bad guys. I want a bad guy with such a well developed motive that I start to wonder if he's really the bad guy.
An extreme: Either something that makes me cry with laughter every other page or something so dark and twisted it keeps me up all night with the covers pulled over my head (but not gory).
Bonus points if you can give me all three. If you have all of these things in your novel, query me right now. 

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
I am such a wierdo when it comes to these questions. For books, I love 1984 by George Orwell because of the way it forces the reader to question everything they thought to be true. I adore anything by Jane Austen for her dry sense of humor and wit. And I'd be ashamed not to gush for Harry Potter, because I can reread them every year and never get tired of them.

My favorite movies tend to be older comedies. I love Goonies, The Three Amigos, and Princess Bride. I'm also a fan of Idiocracy which is really a horrible movie, but it makes me laugh until I can't breathe. I have little kids so I usually only go to the theater to see YA book adaptations.


Sarah Negovetich is fully aware that no one knows how to pronounce her last name, and she's okay with that.

Her favorite writing is YA, because at seventeen the world is your oyster. Only oysters are slimy and more than a little salty, it's accurate if not exactly motivational. 

Sarah's background is in Marketing. FYI, your high school algebra teacher was right when they told you every job uses math. She uses her experience to assist Corvisiero authors with platform building and book promotion.

Sarah is only accepting MG and YA fiction manuscripts.

She is open to any genre within those age groups, but prefers speculative fiction.

Contemporary is not her favorite, but she will look at it. She is not interested in seeing poetry, novels in verse, short stories/novellas or anything focused on saving the environment (she's all for recycling, but doesn't want to represent it).


  1. I'm really enjoying your interviews, Michelle. Thanks for doing this and congrats on a fabulous agent. Too bad she doesn't represent adult specative fiction, or I could send her my Persuasion meets 1984.

  2. I wonder which hamster book she's talking about.... :)

  3. Thanks for the interview, Michelle. She sounds great! Just sent off a query. Wish me luck!

  4. Neh-GO-veh-tich, right? lol

    Hm, a hamster book? Yes, I wonder what that is...*giggle*