Thursday, March 20, 2014

Query Questions with Sara Megibow

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.

Sara Megibow moved to KT Literary. Thanks to her for taking the time to answer some questions. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Thanks for having me here today! This is a great question and one I get asked frequently. The short answer is no - we receive queries 365 days a year and I am very good at reading them carefully. So no - there is not a better or worse time of year to query.

The long answer is - what I’m really looking for in a query is superior writing and a unique concept. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of queries (we received 40,000 in 2013), we don’t personalize our response. Every query is read carefully regardless of the time of year it was submitted. Queries that catch my attention receive a response asking for the first 30 pages and queries that aren’t quite what I’m looking for receive a standard rejection letter via email. Sometimes (like in December) my response might take 2-4 weeks and sometimes (like in February) my response might be as quick as two days. But, everything that comes in is read carefully and with an eye toward acquisition. Writers don’t need to worry that they received a rejection due to the time of year and they don’t need to worry that their queries aren’t being read carefully. 

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

Nope, but great question and another one that I am asked frequently.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Each agency is different in this. At Nelson Literary Agency we ask for a query letter only - no sample pages attached. When a query demonstrates superior writing and a unique concept, then I ask for sample pages. In 2013, we read 40,000 queries, 1,200 sample pages and 98 full manuscripts. From there, we offered representation to 7 clients and 6 of them have book deals so far. So, the short answer to this question is - we only read sample pages when the query is strong. My slush pile has many, many, many good queries - I think it’s inaccurate to say that the slush pile is filled with crap - it’s not. However, I’m not looking for good - I’m looking for truly superior because that’s how tight the competition is in publishing. 

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

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes, we ask for the first 30 pages regardless of what those 30 pages include. Page 1 to page 30, period. Great question!

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
Here are three examples of query letters that resulted in an offer of representation and a book deal. This is exactly what I’m looking for:

Tiffany Reisz for THE SIREN

Michael J. Martinez for THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT

Miranda Kenneally for CATCHING JORDAN (Originally called SCORE):

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Most of my clients have had the titles of their books changed, so don’t sweat that too much. Conversely, I’ve never been asked to change names of characters so the writer should feel confident in their choice there. Just to reassure everyone - I’m not rejecting queries due to titles or character names, so go forth and write with no worries on that angle.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
I think it’s fine to say, “this is my first novel” and leave it at that. Most of my clients are debut writers - I actually prefer to work with the newbies, so in this case saying “I’m new” is a benefit to you.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
No I don’t and this is an excellent question to ask an agent when she/he offers representation. I’m excellent at selling books and I identify works in the slush pile that are ready to go. Certainly I read and help shape my clients’ second, third, fourth, etc books, but in general I am not an editorial agent. There are some wonderful agents out there who are also great editors and if that’s what you are looking for in a partnership, you will find it!

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
Some (non-client) books I’ve loved recently include: THE THOUSAND NAMES by Django Wexler, ABOVE by Leah Bobet, A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd, LET’S GET LOST by Adi Alsaid and FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe and NO PROPER LADY by Isabel Cooper.

Some upcoming client books set to release this spring (of course, I’m ridiculously excited about all these books):

HIGH & DRY by Sarah Skilton - an edgy Veronica Mars-esque adventure
THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY by Jaleigh Johnson - fantasy middle grade about two girls who evade dangerous warlords by running away on a magical train
BOYS LIKE YOU by Juliana Stone - a beautiful, heart-warming book about two shattered teens who find love

Thanks again and happy writing!


Sara has been with Nelson Literary Agency since early 2006. Her first responsibilities included reading query letters, sample pages, and full manuscripts, and she was promoted to Associate Literary Agent in 2009. From sexy romance to epic fantasy, Sara has loved reading since picking up her first copy of The Hobbit. Sara earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a B.A. in American History from Northwestern University. She loves to ski, hike, kayak, and hang out with her beat-boxing husband, adorable son, and fuzzy cat.
Read about Sara’s submissions, clients, and sales at Publishers Marketplace.
Follow Sara on twitter @SaraMegibow.
LGBTQ friendly!

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