Thursday, March 13, 2014

Query Questions with Cate Hart

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 really happy to have the newest agent from Corvisiero Literary Agency, Cate Hart! Among other wishes, she is looking for historical in YA, MG and Adult, along with other genres of YA and MG.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
I won’t say any time is a bad time, but mid-November until the end of the year is going to add length to general response times. Many agents close for the holidays and publishers and editors are either closed or on vacation, too. The first of the year is probably a good time to query. I like to start the year with a sort of clean plate, trying to respond to anything I’m still considering, or finish reading any manuscripts I have.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. I’m reading for a concise story, for voice, for a hook. I realize typos and stray commas happen.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I pretty much always read the sample pages. I read for two reasons, because sometimes a query can really pique my interest, sound authentic and unique, but the pages fall flat, and vice versa the query might not present the story in a succinct manner but the pages, the voice blows me away.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
We do have interns who read through the queries and make suggestions, but I always read the queries as well.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Oooh, the prologue question. If there is a prologue, yes include it as part of the first five pages. I personally prefer that authors really think about their prologue. So many times I’ve found it’s not needed.

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?
When I was an intern, I did this several times. If I find a well-written query that just isn’t a fit for me but may be something another agent is looking for, then I will certainly pass it on. Of course we all have grabby hands for amazing writing.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
 I don’t mind a brief sentence or two of personalization. But the quicker I can get to the query, the quicker I can get to the sample pages.

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?
I do consider it a red flag. I don’t reject based on that, but I do wonder how much thought and work was put into the query letter and into the professional aspect of writing.

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 do believe it makes the query less confusing. I think no more than two to three characters need to be included, the protagonist, the antagonist, and if appropriate the love interest.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
When I’m reading queries, I’ll admit I am drawn to unique and interesting titles first. So yes, authors should put a fair amount of thought into the title. I will say editors very frequently ask for title changes, and I may suggest a change as well. So, while I do think you should spend time on a title, don’t become fixated because it will most likely change again. I think the same can be true of character names.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I just opened to queries, so I’m currently receiving about 20 a day. The good news is, I’m building my clients and will be asking for more requests than an established agent with clients might.

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?
I can’t say that having a social media presence would tip the scale toward a request or offer. I’m more interested in the writing. I do follow up on authors’ websites and social media, as I think many agents do, for more of a personality fit. Being active online and in social media can be a great way for authors to network. I don’t require an author to start an online presence, but I’ve seen what interacting online can do and I highly recommend it if done correctly.

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’m not bothered by it, and it is helpful to include your website link. Social media links aren’t as necessary.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Hard question, because as an author I’ve done this. But don’t do this! Send only the best version of your manuscript. If you’ve made revisions, I prefer only to be notified if I requested the material, preferably with a nudge after an appropriate time frame.

 What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
The best thing to include is affiliations or writing groups, such as a member of RWA or SCBWI, even online writing groups like Romance Divas. This lets me know you’re a member of an organization devoted to helping authors at all stages to become knowledgeable about the business of writing and developing craft.

What does ‘just not right for me’ mean to you?
It’s so very is subjective. I have to fall in love with the manuscript. For me, it’s a gut feeling, a story I just can’t let go, constantly thinking about. When something isn’t for me, it means I just didn’t connect with either the characters, or the premise or maybe even the genre. It may be something I can’t put my finger on. The writing could be great and another agent could feel completely different, but for me I didn’t get that gut reaction.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
In YA and MG, the main character finding out they are “super humans” (i.e. they have hidden powers, they are the long, lost/secret child of a super species/god, the Chosen One, ect) and have to save the world or a fantasy realm or another planet.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Yes. My favorite part of reading a good manuscript is finding where as a team we can make it great. Though, being hands-on doesn’t mean that the manuscript you submit isn’t as polished as can be.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Someone querying their entire collection of self-published works. Actually, I’ve had a few queries like this.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Middle Grade Mystery, like the Three Investigators. I devoured those books in middle school and still love them. Three boys who had an “office” hidden in the middle of a junkyard with secret entrances. Love it.
I’d love to find a YA or NA magical realism, something like Practical Magic where the magic is a part of the character but not the overall plot.
And I’d love, love, love an adult romance a la Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie.
I’m really on the hunt for any historical set at the Turn of the Century.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
I used to manage a video store; I have so many favorites. Titanic, A&E’s Pride & Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Breakfast Club, Never Been Kissed.

Favorite Books: Where The Red Fern Grows, Outlander, The Infernal Devices, Harry Potter.  And most recently read: ‘Twas The Night After Christmas, Fan Girl, The Girl With The Iron Touch.


Cate is all about guilty pleasures. She loves salted caramel mochas, Justin Timberlake, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, and Steampunk. As a native Nashvillian, Cate’s biggest guilty pleasure is watching Nashville.

When she’s reading, Cate looks for character-driven stories, a distinguished voice, and intriguing plots.She loves characters that surprise her, like the pirate with a heart of gold, and plots that keep her guessing until the very last page.

When she’s not reading queries, Cate works with clients to build their platform, works on PR projects to help promote clients’ books, and reads manuscripts with an editorial eye. 


  1. Thanks for the interview! It's great to see what's tired and what's hot right now in the slush pile. :)

  2. Nice to get to know you better, Cate! Thanks for setting up the interview, Michelle. :)

  3. Awesome interview Michelle. I have been twitter stalking you Cate so it's nice to get to know you a bit better.

  4. One of the questions was whether the genre/word count should come at the beginning or end. You mentioned it was a red flag, but which is correct. Janet Reid says the end. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!!