Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Query Questions with Adriann Ranta

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.

The picks for Sun versus Snow will be on the blog soon. Until then enjoy this interview with Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services! Adriann is helping us out with Sun versus Snow and now you can learn more about her.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
AR: Any time of year is fine, but expect responses to slow down around the holidays! 

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
 AR: One typo wouldn’t, but a crazy amount of typos could. Most agents aren’t unreasonable people and we know mistakes happen!

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
AR: I only read sample pages when the query letter piques my interest. Sometimes it’s immediately apparent when a project isn’t for me (“my 500,000-word One Direction fan fiction”) but if I’m unsure, I’ll read the sample pages.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
AR: I do have an assistant who reads queries for the agency, but I trust her taste implicitly. I’ve found many new authors and projects in the slush pile and I’m extremely anxious about missing something great. I’m usually spending at least a few hours a week reading unsolicited submissions myself.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
AR: Yes.

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?
AR: I strongly recommend querying only one agent per agency—I think most agencies prefer this—and also strongly recommend querying a number of agents at once. Every once in a while I forward a query to another agent within (and sometimes outside of) the agency, but I admit it’s rare.

For 90% of agencies, a pass from one agent is a pass from the agency, and if an agency has a group box (“queries@agency.com”) we KNOW when you’re spamming!

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
AR: It’s nice to know when one of my books has really impacted an author, which inspired them to query me, but it’s totally not necessary. I do pay more attention to queries from authors who clearly want to work with me, however. 

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?
AR: I don’t care if it’s first or last either, but it is good to know. If it’s missing, I usually don’t notice until I request the full and get unhappily surprised by a gigantic manuscript. If it’s hugely over 100,000 words, I couldn’t sell it if I wanted to. Authors, be advised!

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?
AR: This is probably a personal choice, but naming too many characters in the query can be very confusing. I don’t want to name a number, but this is definitely something for authors to be aware of!

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
AR: Titles are often changed by publishers, but I admit to being swayed by awesome titles. Kendare Blake’s ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD was an amazing project I found in the slush pile and I plucked it from the inbox immediately because of the title. I also admit to being turned off by lame titles, but I would never reject a book based on it. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
AR: We get about 100 queries per week, with maybe 1-10 requests? Some weeks are inexplicably good, some are inexplicably bad…

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?
AR: An author not being online wouldn’t hold me back from offering representation, but I always emphasize the tons of ways it could help them. I do know some editors who wouldn’t make an offer on an author who didn’t have an online presence, however.

Some folks are really bad at tweeting, and I don’t hold that against them. J

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?
AR: If it’s a query for an illustrated picture book and it’s a better presentation to host it on their website, I have no problem with clicking through. I also have no problem with including links to blogs in author bios, especially if you have a gigantic web presence or it’s a blog-to-book concept. If it’s just a link to a fake cover that you whipped up in Paint, don’t do it!!

In other words, if it’s relevant to considering the book or author, I don’t mind, but if it’s not totally necessary, leave it out.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
AR: It drives me crazy when authors withdraw or resend queries because they got feedback from another agent and want to revise. By all means revise, and if I request the full, please do tell me that you’re in the middle of revising, I’m happy to wait. But sending a bunch of follow-up queries just clogs my inbox. If I’ve already received the full, please just let me read the version I have!

 What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
AR: Any relevant schooling, workshops, writing communities, or work experience that might lend the writer some credibility. If there’s really, truly nothing to say, I don’t mind a query without a bio.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
AR: I suppose this is an infuriating thing to say, but it can really mean anything! It could mean “I hate this but I don’t want to break your heart,” or “I loved this but I don’t rep the genre.” If I think someone has written an amazing pitch, or if a colleague comes to mind who’s looking for exactly this, or if I think the concept would work better from a different angle, I do try to say so, but often a book just don’t hit me in the gut and I have to pass.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
 AR: I do, and I often discuss possible edits the first time I speak with an author on the phone, which I suppose sets a tone. I try to take edits as far as I can before sending a project out on submission, and sometimes work with an author between rounds with editors, if there’s strong editorial feedback.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
AR: I’d love more women’s nonfiction (which I’ve tastefully described as “cool women doing badass things”), contemporary YA, and some smart MG.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
AR: I’m the worst at picking favorites, but I love action-packed, historical YA like CODE NAME VERITY; smart, gritty crime novels like anything by Tana French; eco-fiction/eco-nonfiction like Norman McLean and Peter Hoffmeister (is it cheating to name your own client?); and I recently loved INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, so I suppose I love those soulful biographies (whether real or fake) as well.



Adriann Ranta is a literary agent at Wolf Literary Services. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Arizona, Adriann’s first introduction to publishing was at The Editorial Department, a freelance editorial firm based in Tucson, AZ. After making the move to New York, Adriann spent two years at Anderson Literary Management before moving to Wolf Literary in 2009, where she keeps her own list, and co-represents select clients with Gillian MacKenzie of the Gillian MacKenzie Agency.

While an avid reader of most subjects and themes, Adriann is most interested in gritty, realistic, true-to-life stories with conflicts based in the real world. She likes edgy, dark, quirky voices, unique settings, and everyman stories told with a new spin. She lives in Brooklyn, has many tattoos, and is an evangelical fan of the X-Files.


  1. Great interview, Michelle. I agree with Adriann that Anna Dressed in Blood is a title worthy of being plucked out of the slush pile.

  2. " I do know some editors who wouldn’t make an offer on an author who didn’t have an online presence, however."

    So it's safe to say that online presence is, in fact, an economic prerequisite in this day and age, with even attempts to digitize money itself. A lot of this, though, is pure logic and common sense. In the same way one has to be presentable and submit a resume for work, one has to 'sell' himself or herself in a way that convinces increasingly net-based companies their basic familiarity and affinity with the new landscape of transaction. You can't really go far without knowing where the stairs begin, and where they land.

    Masako @ Champion Online Marketing

  3. Would you mind if add a link to your website in my blog article about agent interviews?