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 fantastic to interview an agent with this prestigious agency. Thank you Chelsea Lindman from Sanford J Greenburger & Associates.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Spring and Fall tend to be busy for me, which only means that it will probably take me a bit longer to get back to you than at other times of the year.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Not at all! The query letter and submission need to be well written and professional, but I'm not going to reject an entire manuscript because of a small mistake.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
It certainly helps if the query is strong! Personally, I look for three things in a query letter: an interesting concept or story, a strong author platform, a comparison to another book I love. If any of these appear in the query, you've piqued my interest in your work and I'm guaranteed to take a look at the sample pages.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I like to read all queries myself. Taste is such a personal thing!
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes. In my submission guidelines, I request the first 50 pages of a writer's work. If an author thinks that her book begins with the prologue, then I would like to read from the start.
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?
All the time. If a project isn't right for me, but I do think that there's something special in the writing, I'll share it with a colleague who might be a better fit for the author and project.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I do respond well to queries that are personalized, so long as they are still professional and it relates to your work. For example, if you're querying me because you're a fan of an author that I represent, or you saw me speak on a panel, or read this very interview, and thought I might be a good fit for your work because of any of the above, please mention that in your query letter! It gives me a reference point while considering your work--and, to go back to your earlier question about when I look at sample pages, I'm definitely going to read your sample-- and it shows you did your homework. :)
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 like to know word count and genre.
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 would recommend that writers do all that they can to clarify their query--whether that's limiting the number of named characters, or elaborate plot lines. I respond well to queries that quickly and concisely pique my interest, and get me to read the actual submission. If I fall in love with the work, I'll learn who all of the characters are there!
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
A good title at the time of querying certainly helps, but it won't make or break a submission. If the writing is there, we'll find the right title for it.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I receive about 30-50 queries per week, depending on the time of year. I'll request three to five full manuscripts.
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?
Certainly. Writers who have a dynamic social media presence will stand out, so long as it pertains to their work. An author who demonstrates that she is serious about her writing, involved in her writing community, and willing to promote her work will get more attention from me--again, so long as I also respond well to her writing.
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?
No way! If I like your work, I'm probably going to do a Google search, so the way I see it, you're helping me out by including that information in your query letter.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
If you've queried me and not heard back, I'm either still considering the work submitted or have declined the opportunity to represent you (depending on the time frame, as listed in my submission guidelines on our agency's website). With that in mind, I would urge writers to only submit the very best version of their work.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Let me know a little bit about you! If we will potentially be business partners, let me know who I'll be working with. Also, writers are often too modest when it comes to publishing credits. If you've studied under another author, or have gone to a writers retreat, are part of a writers group in your home town, let me know that!
What does 'just not right mean for me' mean to you?
Good question! This is a hard one for agents, and I'm sure it's hard for writers to hear as well. For me, it means that I don't think that I'm going to be the best agent to champion your work, day-in, day-out.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
None! I think that anything can be done well, and made brand new, with the right voice. Voice is a game changer!
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
I do work with my clients on an editorial level.
What's the strangest/funniest thing you've seen in a query?
I'll say that the most inventive query I've received was a YouTube music video. Unfortunately, it was for a genre that I don't represent. Oh, and one time I got a cool key chain along with a manuscript query, but that was back in the day when we looked at hard copy submissions.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
I would love to see a novel told from the point of view of a strange and lovable young girl or teenager, something like Swamplandia! or Tell the Wolves I'm Home.I would love to work with more mystery and suspense writers, especially if they're work is dark or twisted like Gillian Flynn's or Daniel Woodrell's.I would love to read a manuscript that makes beautiful use of the novel's place, similar to Seating Arrangements or Rules of Civility.Bonus answer! Anything related to sports.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
All of the books I represent are my favorite!Authors I return to time and time again: Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Jennifer Egan, Lorrie Moore, Richard Price, Marilynn Robinson, Jeffery Eugenedes, Meg Wolitzer.TV shows I'm obsessed with right now: True Detective, Girls, Mad Men.