Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Query Questions with Caryn Wiseman

Much as I love contests it's time to get back to the usual routine. We'll start off with a bang and a new round of Query Questions!

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.

It's exciting to welcome Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (In fact, we are having two agents in a row from Andrea Brown. Talk about coincidence.) This agency specializes in representing writers of children's books for all age levels.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?  Not really, although things do slow down in August and December.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?  No, but it does give me pause.  It's always about the writing itself, but if you're making grammatical errors or typos, it shows a lack of professionalism.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?  Pretty much, unless I can just tell that it's something not for me.  That doesn't mean that I finish the sample pages, so I need to be hooked pretty quickly!

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?  I get so many queries these days that I sometimes do have to have my assistant go through them first, or I'd never get to them all.   I work closely with her and she really knows what I'm looking for.  She's also very good about erring on the side of showing it to me if she thinks that there is a remote chance that I'd be interested.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?  Yes, but I'm not fond of prologues in general.  There really needs to be a raison d'etre.

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 feel strongly (and our guidelines say) that you can only query one agent at our agency.  However, we are a very collegial agency, and all of us, including me, constantly pass along queries that might be of interest to agency colleagues.

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.

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?  Yes.  It shows that you haven't done your homework.

I’ve heard sometimes query letters confuse age category for the genres, just saying YA for instance. Can you explain the difference between category and genres for readers?  Category defines your audience -  the age group of the target reader, and the parameters around each, i.e. picture book, chapter book, middle grade and YA;  genre is the specific type of book - science fiction, thriller, horror, fantasy, contemporary, etc.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?  50-150 queries.  I might request between 0 and 5.

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?  It's not required by any stretch of the imagination, but a writer with "the whole package" (great manuscript plus strong promotional skills) has an advantage.  I don't want to see a writer tweeting or blogging about nothing because she thinks that she's "supposed to" but if a writer does have an established presence, that's a plus.  A writer these days should be willing to establish an online presence once their manuscript has been acquired.

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?  No

 What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?  None, unless he or she has done something very relevant to his or her writing

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?  It means that I didn't fall head over heels, absolutely, positively, I must have this, I can't stop reading this, in love with the book (which is what I must do in order to offer representation).

What themes are you sick of seeing?  The usual - dystopian, vampires, fantasy where child goes to live with elderly aunt/grandmother/stranger and finds a locket/ring/letter that transports her to another world, paranormal in which protagonist has the same dream all her life and finally finds out what it means.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?  Someone once sent me a FedEx box that said "Live Lobsters" because his book was set on Cape Cod.  Nobody was there to sign for it that day, so the box was sent back to the sender (because there were "live lobsters" in the box).  Turned out that there weren't REALLY lobsters in the box; it was just an expensive lesson in not using attention-getting devices for the author.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?  An amazing YA contemporary that makes me laugh and cry (preferably on the same page) with hard-to-shake characters, beautiful writing and a story that I can't put down, like FANGIRL or ELEANOR & PARK.  Also, a laugh out loud middle-grade that has serious underpinnings.  (I know, that's only two)

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?  These are all kind of random, first thing that comes to mind.
Favorite movies:  The Way We Were, Crash, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Sound of Music (I know, I know), Rear Window, really anything that I sob through (and it doesn't take much)
Favorite kids' books:  All of my authors' books, FEED by MT Anderson, HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rossoff, FANGIRL and ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
Favorite adult books:  LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann, FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen, THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett, 11-22-63 by Stephen King


Caryn Wiseman

Caryn has been an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency for ten years, and she has sold more than 200 books. She handles children's books only: young adult and middle-grade fiction and non-fiction, chapter books, and picture books (fiction and non-fiction). She represents NYT bestselling authors, award-winning authors, debut authors, and authors at every stage in between. No matter the genre, Caryn is looking for books with emotional depth and a strong voice; excellent writing in a tightly-plotted, commercial story; and characters that stick with her long after she has closed the book. In YA, she gravitates toward books that make her think and toward books that make her cry; in middle-grade and chapter books, laughter tends to be the common thread. She loves books that are intellectually challenging and take risks, but in a very logical way. 

Caryn is drawn to speculative middle grade or YA fiction—usually contemporary with a very smart science fiction or light fantasy element, but she also appreciates being carried away by great world-building in a unique story that isn't grounded in reality. Zombies, horror, and high fantasy will, most likely, not appeal. She would love to see a YA thriller with the pacing and twists of HOMELAND, and a YA Pitch Perfect or Big Bang Theory. She would be thrilled to see more contemporary multicultural middle grade or YA—books that deeply explore another culture, as well as books in which the ethnicity of the character is not the issue. She adores a swoon-worthy romance with an intelligent heroine who isn't simply swept off her feet by a hunky hero. A sweet, funny or poignant middle-grade novel, with a great hook that makes it stand out from the crowd, would hold great appeal, and she's partial to lyrical, non-institutional picture book biographies. She is always open to terrific children's work that doesn't fit these categories as long as it makes her laugh, makes her cry, and keeps her awake at night, either reading the manuscript or thinking about it. She does not represent adult projects.

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