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 that time again. I need suggestions of fresh questions! Please leave a comment with new ideas or questions you want kept.
A happy, shiny welcome to Taylor Haggerty for sharing her query slush procedure. EDIT: Taylor Haggerty is now with Root Literary.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
No, I'm always looking for new projects!
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Not for me. Multiple typos or grammatical errors would be a red flag, though.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I always take a look, but how far I read depends on the strength of the writing and my interest in the premise.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I read and respond to everything myself.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes, please. I like to see the first 10 pages of the manuscript, whatever that includes.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
The manuscript is the important part, but a brief personalized touch can be nice. (It reminds me that I am not, in fact, a query-reading robot!)
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?
Both elements should appear somewhere in the query, but I agree that the placement doesn't really matter.
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?
I don't know that there's necessarily a magic number, but you're aiming for a clear and concise introduction to the story—keeping character names to a minimum certainly helps achieve that.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Titles are often changed, so the one you query with doesn't necessarily have to be The One. That said, I do get pretty excited when I come across a brilliant title, so it can certainly be a way to stand out.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
The number of queries varies greatly from week to week, as does the number of manuscripts I request. Sometimes I'll go a week or two without requesting a single one, and other times I'll request several in a day.
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, it wouldn't tip the scales. A great book trumps an online presence every time, so that's my focus when I'm looking for new clients.
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 at all!
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
I'd say it's fine to requery if the revised ms is substantially different; otherwise, it's probably not the best use of anyone's time.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Something short and sweet—even a single line about your job or education, or just the fact that this is your first novel, is sufficient. Don't worry too much about it, the pitch is the important part!
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
Usually it means that I wasn't invested in the characters, or that something about the voice or the way the story developed didn't resonate with me. And sometimes I come across a perfectly lovely project that just doesn't have that certain spark for me. The very next agent to read might fall head-over-heels for the story, but if I'm not excited I'm not going to be the best advocate for it.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Yes—I enjoy the editorial process, and work with my clients to ensure a manuscript is as strong as possible before it goes out to editors.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Sometimes people will complain about the querying process in their query. (Fair enough, but I'm also probably not the best person to complain to...)
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1) Historical fantasy and historical fiction (especially stories with great female characters, dual contemporary/historical narratives, family secrets, or anything with a unique perspective on a major historical figure or event), 2) YA fantasy, and smart, funny, contemporary realistic YAs, and 3) unique settings (I love anything with a gothic feel, and am a sucker for gorgeous international settings). I also have a soft spot for unreliable narrators and books with interesting, non-linear structures. That's actually more than three, but there you have it!
I love books that surprise me: the ones that are just a little unexpected, a little more clever, or funny, or twisty than I’d anticipated going in. Across the board, I’m looking for high-concept premises and manuscripts that demand to be read in a single sitting. I tend to connect with a strong sense of place, beautiful writing, and a voice that jumps off the page, and love books that blend genres or try new and interesting modes of storytelling, whether that means playing around with format, or putting a new spin on a tried-and-true trope.
Here are a few things that are particularly high on my wishlist right now:
YA & MG:
In YA, I'm especially eager to find fast-paced, high-stakes fantasy with incredible and unique worldbuilding, magical realism, and accessible, character-driven SF. On the contemporary side of things, I'm looking for a smart, funny, romcom (bring on the banter!) and would love to find a romance that feels larger-than-life. Across the board, I love sibling and found-family stories, swoony romance, and anything centering on friendship. Some of my all-time favorite reads include Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Robin LaFevers's Grave Assassins trilogy, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, and Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun. I'm also on the lookout for MG projects that strike that perfect balance of heart and humor. I'm particularly drawn to friendship stories, and books featuring kids who are passionate about their interests, whether that means space, art, magic, monsters, or cupcakes. I welcome authors from all backgrounds and am particularly excited to boost underrepresented voices.
Romance & women's fiction:
Send me books that are perfect for the beach! I'm always looking for smart, funny, voice-driven projects to add to my list --- the more fun and escapist, the better --- and have a tendency to fall for books that blur the lines between romance and women’s/general commercial fiction. (My client Sally Thorne's The Hating Game is a great example of my taste here.) High-concept is key! For romance, I'm primarily looking for contemporary, or a big, hooky historical series (moreso than paranormal or romantic suspense right now, but never say never!). In women’s fiction, I’m partial to multi-generational stories, and anything with a historical element that still feels relevant and important today. I want the book that you can recommend to your mom, best friend, neighbor, and yoga instructor all in one go, as well as books that are just plain fun – and extremely well executed.
I’m actively building my client list, and would love to hear from you if you think we might be a fit!