Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Query Questions with Myrsini Stephanides

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.

Welcome to Myrsini Stephanides of the Carol Mann Agency. She is looking for both fiction and non-fiction and has great advice for querying writers.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Not really. I read queries year round.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. Typos can be disruptive but I don't reject because of them.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I always read at least a few of the sample pages, even if the query is terrible. But a great query is what gets me excited to read the sample pages. A great query is one that makes me want to request the manuscript even before I read the sample.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
Queries that are sent to my attention at our general submissions email get screened by interns who know my taste and what I am and am not looking for. I review queries that are sent directly to my email.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Absolutely not. I have strong opinions about prologues (99 percent of the time they are unnecessary) and don't want them included with sample pages (or ever, really).

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?
Query only one agent at a time and don't double submit to my attention at our general submissions email and to me personally at my email. This always causes confusion. I occasionally pass queries on to other agents at CMA, but not often, as my areas of interest don't overlap very much with those of my peers. I don't see a problem with querying another agent at CMA if I've passed.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
If you can pull of a little chit chat, that's fine by me, but keep it short and to the point. D​on't be overly familiar if you don't actually know me​ because that can be creepy.

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 see this info somewhere in the query, ideally in a leading sentence.

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 and no. If your novel is character driven then yes, it's important to find a way to introduce the lead characters effectively. But broad strokes with thoughtfully selected details sprinkled in are what usually hook me. And shorter is always better.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Titles are more fickle (and fluid) than character names. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
100-150 per week to me directly. I'll request 2-3 a week. Sometimes I'll go weeks without requesting anything and then one week, I'll send 10 requests.
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?
I consider online and social media presence before I request nonfiction. For fiction, platform isn't as important. If a fiction author has an online presence that's a bonus, but it isn't something that's a pre-requisite. But, yes, once I sign an author I strongly encourage them to start building a presence online and tapping in to any relevant communities. Ultimately this will become the foundation for publicity and marketing efforts relating to their work.

​​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?
I work on a lot of illustrated books and I prefer low resolution PDFs attached to the email rather than a ton of links. A single link to a blog or website is fine.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
If I've requested the manuscript the author should send an email with a short summary of what changes were made and why. If I haven't requested they should not requery. And if I already passed they should not requery with the revision. If I really like a manuscript and have substantive feedback, I make it clear to the author that I would be happy to re-consider a revision. 

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Just a few sentences about who they are, what they do, where they live. I prefer to know something about the author rather than nothing at all. I regularly get queries that don't even include the author's name, and that's kind of off putting.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
It means that there are a number of objective and subjective reasons why I'm passing. I know authors are not fans of form rejections that include this kind of language, but it's a succinct and professional way of acknowledging the query and saying that I’m not the right agent to advocate for the project.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
Dystopian YA. Anything with vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, etc (I don’t represent Fantasy or Sci-Fi but I still receive a lot of queries in these genres). Grief memoirs.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Yes (I’m was an editor for many years and it’s hard to turn that part of my brain off).

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
A pair of soiled baby shoes that were sent with a physical query.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. Strong, voice-driven narrative science that’s accessible to a general audience.
2. Multicultural fiction (adult and YA) with a commercial edge.
3. I’m always looking for humor (illustrated or narrative) that will make me laugh out loud and/or do a spit take.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
My taste is all over the map. I update my Goodreads account ( regularly, so that’s the best way to see what I’m I loving now (I don’t give many five star ratings, but when I do, it’s love) and my epic To Read list. Two of my favorite movies of all time: Ravenous (directed by Antonia Bird with an amazing soundtrack by Damon Albarn) and Little Miss Sunshine (also has an amazing soundrack).


Myrsini has 10 years of experience as a nonfiction editor and book packager specializing in highly illustrated books. Most recently, she worked as an Acquisition Editor at Sterling Publishing, where she developed the pop/culture and music category with titles including Woodstock: Three Days That Rocked the WorldCanyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel CanyonThe British Invasion, and Record Store Days. Myrsini was the editor of the Weird travel series (Sterling), senior editor of The Duke Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional and Alternative Medicine for All Ages (Rodale, 2006) and developmental/series editor of the first three books in the Men’s Health Best series (Rodale 2005). She has also collaborated on projects with The Smithsonian, Archaeology magazine andYANKEE Magazine and was a contributing writer to the fifth edition of the Hammond World Atlas (Langenscheidt, 2007).

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