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.
Mackenzie Brady has recently moved to New Leaf Literary.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
For me it's less about a season than it is about how many projects I'm currently juggling. I close to queries when I simply can't take on another project at that time. I announce these periods via Twitter, Facebook and the CSLA website. So, check those channels first and as long as I'm open to queries, I'm actively reading and looking for new clients.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. A few small errors won't disqualify a query, but if it becomes distracting I'd most likely pass.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
If the query is strong, I always look at pages. If the query is weaker but still has some sort of interesting hook, idea, or backstory, I may take a peek to see what the writing and voice are like. Some authors know how to write excellent novels but struggle with query letters, so I try to keep an eye out for those cases.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I often go through queries alongside my interns for educational purposes, but I read all queries that land in my inbox.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes. If the author thinks it belongs in the book, it belongs in the sample.
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?
Always. At CSLA, we constantly pass queries to one another when we feel the subject matter better suits another person, so queries will land on the right desk. Please only query one agent.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
If there is a specific reason why the author is querying me beyond thinking I'll like his/her work and represent him/her well - i.e. a referral from a client, read an interview with me, had a previous correspondence with me, etc - then I'd like to hear about it upfront. Otherwise, tell me about the work!
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 pieces of information should always be included in the query letter, as they directly affect an agent's evaluation process.
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?
Introduce only the characters that have pivotal roles in the plot you've outlined in the query itself. I can discover subplots and minor characters later when reading the manuscript.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
A great title may hook my interest, but a weak title can always be changed. So, a title is not a dealbreaker in any way.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
It fluctuates a lot and can range from a dozen to hundreds. I probably request 5-10%, but that also fluctuates depending on how many other projects I'm juggling at the time.
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?
Crafting an online platform is more important for non-fiction writers than it is for fiction writers, but it certainly doesn't hurt to create an online presence. In the end, it's just one more channel through which readers can discover authors and their work, so I think it's a smart move.
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?
Again, I think it's about discoverability, as direct links make it easy for the email recipient to find out additional information about the sender without much effort. Also, signature links are now widely used by many businesses, including publishers, so I personally don't have any issue with them.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Typically if I give editorial feedback, I'm hoping that the author will use it and send the manuscript again. But, if ever authors aren't sure about whether or not I'd be willing to take a second look at their work, they should just email me. I'll happily let them know.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
One including any schooling of note, current profession, interesting personal tidbits - I want to know what makes writers individuals beyond their writing.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
I know this phrasing is frustrating to many authors, but for me, it simply means that there was something about the manuscript that didn't fit my personal taste. There are bestsellers that I've HATED and out of print books that I've LOVED. Taste, especially in fiction, is so subjective. And as an agent I have to be obsessed with a project to believe that I can sell it. I have to want to talk about it at every lunch, coffee and drink date. I have to want to read it a dozen times. If I don't feel that way about a manuscript, I wouldn't be able to responsibly represent it. Also, just because something isn't right for me, doesn't mean others won't react positively to it.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
None. All books revolve around the same handful of themes. It's how originally these themes are treated that keeps me reading book after book.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Definitely. It's my favorite part of the job!
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Oh, where to begin. The one that I remember most was actually an author's response to a rejection I sent with editorial notes. It began ... "AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHH!"
Yes, that happened.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
In general, I'm on the hunt for YA novels and Adult NF, but I'd love to find a psychological/domestic thriller, pop-science book in the vein of Mary Roach and an illustrated NF project.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Too many to list, of course, but here are my favorite books from the last few years:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Just What Kind of Mother are You? by Paula Daly, Wonder by RJ Palacio, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Drown by Junot Diaz, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell, We the Animals by Justin Torres, Autobiography of an Execution by David R Dow.
Mackenzie joined New Leaf Literary as an agent in 2014. Previously, she'd been an agent at Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency and before that an intern at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and FinePrint Literary Mgmt.
She was a microbiologist in her pre-publishing life, so she's always on the hunt for projects that bring new facets of science to light. She is endlessly fascinated by the human body, especially the heart. Her taste in non-fiction extends beyond science books to memoirs, lost histories, epic sports narratives, and gift/lifestyle books. She is particularly interested in projects with a strong narrative and a female bend.
She represents select adult and YA fiction projects, as well. Her favorite novels are almost always dark, visceral reads focused on the complexities of being a human. Think Breaking Bad and The Wire but in book form. She also represents illustrators (with or without book projects of their own).
In the end, all she wants is to be told a good story.
Follow her on Twitter for the play by play: @mackenziecbrady