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.
Leon is a new agent with the L. Perkins Agency. After Query Kombat, many expressed interest in learning more about him.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
A: I've noticed things get a little slow in fall (a friend of mine has a theory that lots of hopeful writers are teachers, so they query heavily in the summer and things drop off a bit when the school year resumes). That said, while there are more queries in the summer business in general is a bit slower, so we have more time to read. So honestly, it's a toss-up.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
A: Nope! I'm much more inclined to look harshly at poor or incorrect grammar than typos or spell/punctuation mistakes, unless they're particularly pervasive. So copy edit your query, but don't sweat the small stuff.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
A: I tend to only look at sample pages if the premise of the query catches my eye. Sometimes even if the query itself isn't that strong, if the premise sounds interesting to me I'll still read the sample pages.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
A: I read all my queries personally, but some of the bigger agents and agencies definitely do have slush pile interns.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
A: Tough one. I tend to think prologues are to be avoided in general (with some exceptions of course), since they're usually used to dump a big load of exposition that could be better delivered dispersed throughout the story. But for instance, Garth Nix is one of my favorite writers and he likes to put prologues on his books that detail some event which happened years before the actual story but has plot significance. The voice/perspective is often not the same as the rest of the manuscript, so I prefer not to see the prologue.
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?
A: My fellow LPA agents do have pretty different tastes from me in a lot of ways, so if I get a query that seems like it would be more up one of their alleys I'll definitely pass it along. I would recommend sending only to one agent at an agency; nobody likes that person who's sent the same query to every possible email address at the agency.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
A: If you have some real personalized chit-chat to make (for instance, if we met at a conference or if you happen to know that we love the same book or series), by all means make it. Unless it's something like that, cut to the chase and tell me about your book.
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?
A: Word count is very important. Sometimes I'll get queries for 9,000 word 'novels' and no matter how interesting it sounds I won't be able to sell anyone a 36 page book. Conversely, I once got a query for a 530,000 word manuscript. That's 30,000 words shorter than War and Peace! Obviously, that would also have been unsellable. What I'm saying is I need to know the word count to know whether it's worth looking at. Genre is also useful, especially at the beginning of a query so I can know what I'm looking at. If your book is a little weird, don't be afraid to give multiple genres though. But to answer the question, it's less a red flag than it is a minor annoyance to someone you're trying to make a favorable impression on.
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?
A: You know I'd never heard about limiting named characters in a query before, but thinking about it it does make sense to me. A Game of Thrones-size load of named characters in a query (yes, a Game of Thrones is the largest unit of measure for named characters. I think the smallest is The Road) is definitely confusing and disorienting, since the query lacks distinguishing characterization or description the way the manuscript would have. So yes, I would say keep them to a minimum. Also try to avoid similar-sounding names; a query about best friends Jake and Jeff and their mortal enemies Jimmy and Jeremy is unnecessarily confusing.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
A: Titles get changed, characters less so. You really want to avoid bland titles; we'll be sending the manuscript out to editors under your title, and if they want to change it that's their (and your) business, but it'll be easier to grab them with it if it's not something the eye just skips over.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
A: It really varies, so much so that it's kind of impossible to say.
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?
A: I request on the quality of the manuscript, nothing else. That said, particularly in YA and MG a strong online presence is a bonus and is something worth cultivating. It won't tip the scales for me as an agent, but it can help your career after you've acquired representation.
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?
A: Feel free to link away in your signature. I mean, I won't click on them, but you're welcome to put them there.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
A: Only if material was requested, unless you've made such substantial changes that your query itself has to be changed to reflect the changes in the manuscript.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
A: A bio in a query isn't super important, but just some basic information about you; where you grew up, where you went to college, what you like to read. Maybe we're from the same area or we went to the same school or we like the same books. Never hurts.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
A: 'just not right for me' ranges a lot in meaning, from a fairly literal "this isn't the sort of book I really like to read/represent and so I don't know the market or the editors that well" to a heavily euphemistic "I can't stand this". Basically, for most agents it's equivalent to "sorry, not interested".
What themes are you sick of seeing?
A: Let's see... well, like everyone I'm a little tired of Dystopian. I'm also really tired of all the super-common literary fiction tropes (estranged son/daughter returns to his/her family in Small Town, USA after the unexpected death of a loved one, for instance). I'm wary of what feel like token diversity YA books ("look how many LGBT/minority characters I crammed into one book!"). Which is not to say any book with those characters, by any means, but just the books where it feels like the author has an axe to grind and those characters are there to do it for them, rather than being real characters living real (or fantastical) lives who just happen to be gay/trans/person of color/whatever else. I've drifted uncomfortably close to politics now; please don't eat me, internet.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
A: Definitely. When I was getting into publishing it was a toss-up for me between editor and agent. I really love all kinds of editing, and if I feel like a book has promise but needs work I'm happy to do that work with the author.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
A: Oh, man. That's a tough one. Aside from the letters I've gotten from people who may have been honest-to-god, mentally-ill crazy, I think my favorite was the guy who wrote to just about every agent in the business with a link to his website and offered us the chance to bid on the rights to his manuscript. He was quite confident it would make millions of dollars and was ripe for adaptation into a movie which would, in turn, make billions of dollars. If you're looking for a good laugh, you should definitely check out the tumblr Slush Pile Hell. He definitely gets more of the crazies than I do, and if you look through his archived posts I think he also got that query.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
A: Hmmm. As far as a real wish list goes, I've always wanted a query from a prison inmate that's genuinely, astonishingly, diamond-in-the-rough good. You get prison queries from time to time, and 95% of them are people who want to tell the story of how they ended up in prison for whatever petty (and occasionally not so petty) crime they did and now regret. I'd love a real work of achingly beautiful, thoughtful, literary fiction from an inmate. Other than that, I'm always looking for original, interesting fantasy. It's rarer than you'd think. And to round out the list, oh, I don't know, something from Stephen King.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
A: Favorite books: I'm a lifelong Tolkien fan; that said, don't send me anything that remotely resembles Tolkien. He already did it better, don't even try (I'm looking at you R.A. Salvatore). I'm a huge fan of everything Garth Nix writes, and I love Christopher Moore. Scott Westerfeld is great. I also have a deep-seated love of late Victorian/Edwardian-ish children's lit. E. Nesbit, A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, C.S. Lewis (although that's post-war written in the style of Edwardian), etc. Oh, and Edward Eager, who is also faux-Edwardian but in a wonderful way. And while I do watch a lot of movies and I love movies, I've never been able to seize on any particular favorites. I honestly couldn't tell you why. But, off the top of my head...The Avengers is a fun movie, and Casablanca is the greatest film ever made.
Prior to joining the L. Perkins Agency, Leon was an associate agent at Anderson Literary Management. He has a BA in Literature from Bard College and attended the Columbia Publishing Course.
Leon is actively building his client list.
He has a particular interest in science fiction & fantasy, young adult and middle-grade novels filled with strong characters and original premises, but keeps an open mind for anything that catches his eye.
He is also looking for historical fiction set in the 20th century, particularly the 1980s or earlier.
He is not interested in non-fiction at this time.
Follow him on Twitter: @leonhusock