Friday, October 11, 2013

Query Questions with Paula Munier

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.


I'm so glad to have Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Services! It's fantastic to have an agent to the blog that is looking for non-fiction.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Not really.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I always look at the writing itself.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes, but don't call it a Prologue. Ever. Readers skip Prologues.  Give it a time/date/place stamp instead.

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?
Query one agent per agency at a time. We often refer projects to one another.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
If you met me at a conference or took one of our boot camps or have been referred by a mutual friend/colleague, start with that. Otherwise, no small talk.

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. Also give me a logline; I need to know that you know what your story is about and can articulate that succinctly.

Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query?
Yes. Stick to main characters and leading secondary characters. Remember that the query should be written from the protagonist's POV; that is, the query should tell the storyline of your protagonist.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
More than a thousand a month. We ask to see maybe one in every two hundred of those that come in blind (that is, not by request or referral).

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?
Platform is critical in nonfiction--and can make the difference in fiction as well, although it's not critical.

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 offensive to me.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Whatever might inform the work: I'm a cop who has written a police procedural, I'm an actor who's written a cozy set in a community theater, I'm a Francophile who's written a novel set in Paris, etc.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
 Exactly that. I can only take on work that 1) I LOVE, and 2) I think I can SELL.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Women's fiction
Middle grade
Nonfiction book proposals

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
I have very eclectic tastes. Make me laugh, make me cry, make me your new biggest fan.


For nearly twenty years, this framed quotation has graced my office:
“Après les choses qui sont de première nécessité pour la vie,
rien n’est plus précieux que les livres.”

“après les

It's from Pierre Simon Fournier’s 1764 typography manual, and it means: “After all the basic necessities of life, there is nothing more precious than books.”
That’s how I’ve felt about books since my mother started reading to me as a baby. As soon as I could read my favorite stories on my own, my literary fate was sealed. I’ve lived in the world of words ever since—as a reader, a writer, an editor, and now as an agent.
The only thing I love more than books are the writers who write them. I’ve had the privilege of working with talented wordsmiths of every stripe—from reporters, nonfiction authors, content creators, and memoirists to novelists, screenwriters, graphic novelists, cartoonists, comic book writers, short story writers, and poets.
Writers are my tribe. I began as a journalist, and over the years I’ve penned countless new stories, articles, essays, collateral, and blogs, as well as authored/co-authored more than a dozen books, most recently Fixing Freddie, 5-Minute Mindfulness, and A Miscellany of Murder. Along the way, I’ve added editor, acquisitions specialist, digital content manager, and publishing executive to my repertoire—the common denominator being my commitment to writers and writing, no matter what my title. From Gannett, Greenspun, and Prima Games to Disney, Quayside, and F+W Media, I’ve fought the good fight for good writing and good writers. And I’ve loved every minute of it.
But now, as an agent, I have the opportunity to support talented writers in the most direct manner possible, helping my clients do good work, land great publishing deals, and build successful writing careers. So if you’re a writer as obsessed with words and stories as I am, and you’re in it for the long haul, consider working with me. My specialties include mystery/thriller, SF/fantasy, romance, YA, memoir, humor, pop culture, health & wellness, cooking, self-help, pop psych, New Age, inspirational, technology, science, and writing.
P.S. If you write crime fiction…you should know that I’m very involved with the mystery community, having served four terms as President of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America as well as on the MWA board. (I’m currently VP of that organization.) I’ve also served as both co-chair and Agents and Editors chair on the New England Crime Bake committee for seven years and counting. And I’m an active member of Sisters in Crime.


  1. Thanks Michelle! These interviews are always great. As for your line about new questions, I don't have one, but please DON'T get rid of the question about personal chitchat. I love finding out who doesn't want to read it.

    1. That's what I need to know! Thanks for the input. Let me know what questions are helping please.

  2. I like the current questions too! But as far as new ones, how about - should writers follow-up if their query has not been replied to within the time frame posted on the website? Also, if you receive agent feedback mid-query round and decide to make a change to your story, do you need to notify other agents if they request material? How important are book titles/character names in a query - could they prompt a rejection of the agent doesn't like them?

    1. They usually advise writers resend if the time period given has run out, Michelle.

      I added your second question. It might be awhile before it shows up in interviews, however. I have quite a stockpile of interviews right now and they all have the older questions.

  3. Firstly, it's great to meet you, Michelle. Awesome new segment. Love Paula's comment on prologues. Mask it. Nice. But I always enjoy Paula's comment. She's my awesome agent, so insightful, to the point, and smack on!

  4. Hi Michelle, one question I always love to have answered is, how editorial and hands on are the agents. Some writers like to be left alone but others love constant contact with their agent and welcome editorial input. For myself I really hope I will be represented by a hands on agent :)

    1. I added this questions. It will be awhile before it shows up in interviews as I have quite a stockpile of posts.

  5. I sent an amateur query to an agent of the knight agency, and she rejected it. I need to know if agents are fine if authors revise their queries and send them again after some weeks. I mostly found vague answers on internet about this.
    I like these interviews.

    1. I would say probably not okay unless you also revised the sample pages.

  6. Hi Michelle,
    great to see Paula interviewed :) the Team at Talcott Notch are wonderful. No, I'm not represented by them but have done 2x Writers Boot Camp's with Gina and have got to know the Team through the camps. Everyone is very helpful and always encouraging.