Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Query Questions with Bree Ogden

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!

This week's interview is with Bree Ogden of D4EO. Bree represents categories from picture books to YA, NA and adult. For more on Bree, including her wishlist, check out her bio here.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
No, it's all the same for me. Well. I guess that's not completely accurate. There are times that are way more hectic in my career, but there is no way of knowing when those times will hit. If I knew when I was going to be buried in work, I could give you a solid answer, but we never know. So query whenever! Queries will always be tended to, no matter how busy I am. It might just take a little longer. 

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. But two or three might. So many people reading this interview have probably heard this quite often: literary agents get so many queries, we start to get insanely picky about which queries we read all the way to the end. One mistake won't kill it, but a two...three... that starts the querier on a path to the trash bin. 

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
If I have no interest in the query, I don't even glance at the sample pages. If the query is strong, I will glance over them to see if the writing holds a candle to the plot idea, if so, I'm always too eager to request the manuscript to actually read the sample pages. I want to see the whole thing ASAP! 

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I've had many slush interns in the past but I make sure that all queries are looked over by both myself and my interns. They simply weed out the ones that are absolutely not my tastes. I recently handed over the best intern known to man, Maria Vicente, to become a literary agent herself (at P.S. Literary). And after her, I've decided to go intern-less for a bit... for personal reasons. Nothing scandalous. I just want complete autonomy over my slush. For now. Not sure how long it will last. :)

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
People ask me this a lot and I never know how to respond. Yes? Honestly, I look at the sample pages to get a sense of the writing. You can't determine anything about the plot from five sample pages. So prologue or not, I just want to see how you write. 

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?
Are you referring to agents within the same agency? Never query more than one agent in the same agency at the same time. Perhaps you can query more than one agent at the same agency after one has passed on your manuscript or query, but always use full disclosure and check submission guidelines before you do so.  

If you are referring to agents in general--agents from all different agencies--never send out one query at a time. That's preposterous. It would take you eons to find an agent if you were only querying one at a time. Query wide. 

But something makes me think you are referring to agents within the same agency. A lot of agencies have the policy, "A pass from one of us is a pass for the agency." D4EO doesn't strictly go by that rule, we will send things to each other if we think it's a better fit for them, but it's rare. Because honestly, if a project is good, you're going to want to represent it yourself. 

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
A little is fine. it's nice to know that they are not just sending out mass queries to mass amounts of agents without even knowing who they are sending to. It's also nice to know a little about thee writer as a person. I've had people write things like, "I'm a fellow journalist with a penchant for all things dark so I thought you'd be perfect to query with my new manuscript." That lets me know they did their research while simultaneously giving me a glimpse into their life. 

But don't go overboard. One to two personal sentences is about all you should give. We are mostly interested in the manuscript. And somewhat going along with this, do not try to friend an agent on Facebook or tweet them incessantly right before you query them (or during, or after). It's very see-through and a bit of a turn off. 

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?
As long as it is in the query, we are golden. I tend to prefer the genre/age group first, before I get into the meat of the query. Word count can be plugged in wherever.  

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?
Absolutely. Think of a query as the back copy of a book. Too many characters, too many plot lines, too many things for the agent to try and comprehend... it's, as you can guess, too much. One or two main characters should be highlighted in the query. More than three starts to muddle the plot and I, personally, lose interest. 

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Don't sweat it. It's often changed. Well the title at least. A title/character name won't make or break an agent's decision. But be aware of books that have recently been released with the same title. I was queried with a book called THE LINE, which is the exact title of a book I had just sold. Again, not a deal breaker, but I did think it was funny. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
Honestly, no idea... anywhere between 100-200? And I request about 2-3 a week, on a good week...

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?
No I don't require it. It's nice, in my opinion, to have a social media presence. But I would never force that on someone. The only reason I appreciate it in writers who are querying me is because we like to stalk you just like you stalk us. If I am super interested in a query, I want to know all about the writer. The internet helps out with that. ;)

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 find links to be a bad thing in any part of the query OR the signature. Attachments are not welcome (unless specifically asked for) but links to artwork, blogs, websites, or portfolios are totally fine!

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
This greatly varies from agent to agent. So I can only answer for myself. If I haven't requested your manuscript (or passed on it), I don't like getting a second query UNLESS it has had a massive overhaul. Like MASSIVE. Because that could really change my mind. If I have your full manuscript and you have made some major changes, yes, I need to know. But it's really important to be completely sure of your manuscript before you send it out. Having to retract queries or manuscripts makes you look unprofessional and unsure of your work.  

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Their name, where they are from, their education, a few personal interests... that's all fine. We LOVE debut authors so we don't expect huge CVs with every query. 

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
Uhm... Haha. It means exactly what it says. :)

If I say something is not right for me, it's just not something I want to represent because, well, it's just not right for me. Either I don't like the concept or I know there are a million other agents out there that could do a better job with it.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
Orphaned, hard-assed teen has the key to saving humanity hidden within. I get it a few times a week. 

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Yes, absolutely.  

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
If you follow me on twitter, you already know these. I am dying for a horror manuscript with extreme body modification along the lines of the horror film AMERICAN MARY. I would love a LARPing-gone-wrong story along the lines of the film KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM, a perfect mix of horror and humor. And I am always looking for that perfect slasher horror YA novel... FRIDAY THE 13TH in YA novel form.  

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Movies: American Mary, Cabin in the Woods, Perfect Sense, Jeux d'enfants, Brick, The Loved Ones, Memento. Books: Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, The Monstumologist series, anything by Chuck Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh, Chuck Wendig, Chuck Klosterman, Nick Hornby, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Gorey, Katie McGarry, Ransom Riggs. The list could go on forever. 

Bree Ogden joined D4EO in November 2011, after having been an associate literary agent at Martin Literary Management for nearly 2 years representing children’s, YA, and graphic novels.
Bree graduated with her BA in Philosophy from Southern Virginia University where she served as editor-in-chief of the University’s newsmagazine. She was awarded Most Valuable Player and Editor of the Year, as well as SVU’s Pioneer Award, an honor the University awards to two students each year. She then received her MA in Journalism with an emphasis in editing and expository writing at Northeastern University where she worked on both the New England Press Association Bulletin, and also served as the features editor of the premier campus music magazine, Tastemakers Magazine.
Bree has spent many years working as a freelance journalist and currently co-operates the macabre children’s magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree where she serves as Editorial Director. Bree is also an instructor and columnist for the Web site LitReactor.com where she teaches Intro to Comic Book & Graphic Novel Writing. Bree is also a judge for the Ghastly Awards–Honoring Excellence in Horror Comics and writes about comics for her favorite horror Web site, BloodyDisgusting.com.

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