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.
A big welcome to Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary Agency. Thanks to her for taking the time to answer some questions.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
This is one of those silly querying myths. Agents read queries year-round. It doesn’t matter what time of the year, or time of the day, you send a query letter—agents read queries when they have some spare time, not the moment they arrive in our inbox. The only bad time to query is when an agent is closed to submissions. Check agency and/or personal websites to make sure the agent is currently accepting queries.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. We all make mistakes. It’s still important to edit your query letter—multiple grammar or spelling errors is a red flag—but if you accidentally hit an extra key on your keyboard, your query won’t be automatically rejected.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
At P.S. Literary we don’t ask for sample pages with query letters, so we only request material if the query successfully catches our attention.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I go through all of the queries on my own. We share a query inbox at P.S. Literary, so we all read every query that is submitted to the agency.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes. The prologue should be meaningful enough to the story for you to include it in your manuscript in the first place, so if I ask to see the first few chapters then I also want to see the prologue.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I prefer when a query letter is personalized. Tell me why you’re querying me specifically, whether it’s because you noticed one of my #MSWL tweets or something on my website’s wish list relates to what you’ve written.
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 always want to know the word count and the category/genre, so yes it’s a “red flag” if this information is not included. I personally prefer this sentence at the start of the query letter, just so I know what to look for in the pitch. Like you’ve said, it doesn’t really matter whether it comes first or last—just as long as it is there.
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?
Yes! Queries should deal with the main character(s) and the main plot. Including too many characters or minor subplots runs the risk of confusing the reader. Like Don Draper said: “Make it simple, but significant.”
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
The title of your book makes a strong first impression, as do your characters’ names. That being said, book titles often change throughout the publication process so it’s best not to get too attached.
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?
An online presence definitely impacts a request or offer for nonfiction writers. When it comes to fiction writers, I think social media only works if it comes naturally. There’s no point in starting a blog if you don’t have the motivation to keep it regularly updated. Similarly with social media accounts: followers can tell if you’re being genuine or not.
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?
If I am interested in a writer, I always search for them online. Having those links in the query letter—or the email signature—makes that process a lot easier. If someone is an author/illustrator, I absolutely want a link to an online portfolio. Other than that, it’s usually easier to include links to websites and social media accounts in the signature so that they are out of the way, but still accessible for those agents who want to learn more.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
If an agent still hasn’t responded to your initial query, chances are good that they won’t see your email with the revised manuscript until after reading the initial submission. If material was requested and you’ve since drastically changed something around, then it’s a good idea to let the agent know—but be aware that if an agent has already started reading, then they may not want to restart the manuscript from the beginning.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
It’s okay to mention that you’re a debut writer. You can include any writing affiliations you may have (degrees, certificates, workshops, conferences), any websites or blogs you may contribute to, and tell us a little about your personality—your day job, your hobbies, etc.
What does ‘just not right for me’ mean to you?
Well, it means exactly that. When readers walk into a bookstore, we don’t want to buy every book that we examine. Even if you love YA Fantasy, that doesn’t mean you’re interested in every YA Fantasy book ever published. Querying works the same way: even if agents represent your category/genre, that doesn’t mean the concept is what they are looking for or that your writing style is something that they will fall in love with.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. Magical realism for adult literary fiction, YA, or middle grade.
2. Contemporary YA with a focus on friendship rather than romance.
3. Something really scary.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
My favourite TV shows are probably the best indicators of my eclectic taste: Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dexter, White Collar, Fringe, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Glee, Firefly, and Modern Family. My favourite books are similarly random: Wicked, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Big Sleep, Watership Down, Of Bees and Mist, The Great Gatsby, and Winesburg, Ohio. My favourite movies are About A Boy, Moulin Rouge, and Wall-E.
Maria Vicente began her publishing career as an intern with Bree Ogden at D4EO Literary Agency. She was an intern at PSLA before joining the Agency as an associate agent. Maria has a B.A. in English Literature from Carleton University and a B.Ed. from The University of Western Ontario. Her reading preferences vary across categories and she is interested in writers with unique and creative concepts. Maria is actively looking for Literary and Commercial Fiction, LGBT, New Adult, high-concept Young Adult, Middle Grade, high-concept Picture Books, and nonfiction in the Pop Culture, Pop Psychology, Design, and Lifestyle categories. She does not represent poetry or screenplays.