Friday, July 25, 2014

Query Questions with Saritza Hernandez

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.

Something a little different this week. Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency is a digital first agent. That's something we could all learn about. 

What does it mean to be a digital first agent? I'm sure everyone wants to know if this means your clients never get print books or can that happen also?

I’m not really just a digital-first agent. There’s really no such thing as we’re all literary agents and our job is the same regardless of whether the book is in print, audio, digital, foreign language. Most of my clients’ books are available in print, digital and audio. The difference for many of my clients though is the print option is a trade paperback versus a mass market paperback.

Submissions to publishers take months sometimes to get a response. Then longer for offers. Does the submission process go faster when apply to digital first publishers?

I work with both digital and traditional publishers and right now, the schedule for both seems to be pretty full. While a response to a submission may not take months to arrive, the offer can and that has more to do with whether the editor can sell the book to both their acquisition board and to their readers. Sometimes, the offer takes a while because the editor needs to research the market and make an educated decision on the marketability of the book. This is true (and should be true) of all publishers.

What genres work best for digital first publication? Do certain genres seem to be better fits as ebooks with readers?

Erotica, romance and erotic romance were the first to “break into” the digital marketplace and these are still the bestselling ebooks overall. For Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Books, the print version continues to be the bestselling option.

Do you see this as the direction more publishers are heading or is it more for smaller and medium sized presses?

Digital? All of the publishers have digital options now for their titles and most want to retain digital with the print option when negotiating rights. It’s not a direction they’re heading. They’re already there.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?

Not for me, no. There are times where I close to queries because I’m swamped and will take me a while to get through the work, but I don’t think there’s a “season” to query that’s better than any other.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?

Not at all! We’re not looking to reject work. Quite the opposite; we look at the overall query as well as the work before we make a determination.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

If the query is something I’m actively acquiring, then yes. Otherwise, no.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?

We have a team of interns who are amazing! They have a great eye for quality work and they go through our slush piles. However, anything we request directly (through conferences, etc.) come directly to us bypassing the slush pile.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?

I’m not a fan of prologues. Nine times out of ten you can fold the prologue into the story and make the work stronger. If it’s necessary to establish setting or history then yes, I want to see it but it counts as part of my sample pages request of five pages.

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?

I’ve passed a few queries on to other agents but only when the writing quality is high.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

I’m here for the manuscript. Give me the manuscript first and keep the chit-chat to a minimum.

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?

There is no perfect query (though I’ve seen some that are close) just like there is no perfect book. I want to know these four things in a query: Title, genre, word count, plot summary. They don’t have to be in that order but they need to be in every query.

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’m all for keeping everything simple so the query should include the names of the hero/heroine, love interest (if a romance) and the four things I mentioned above.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?

It’s not often changed but it can be so don’t get too attached to the title in case it has to change. Same for character names but that’s a question better suited to a publishing house.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?

Not sure how many I receive since I’m not going through the slush pile. But I generally request 5% of what I receive from our interns and offer on 1% of that.

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?

It’s 2014 and social media is a necessary marketing tool. I expect to see some social media presence and yes, I check before offering representation. I’m looking for active interaction with potential readers. I don’t care which social media my clients use, but I expect them to have at least one and be active on that platform.

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 have links to my social media in my signature line but they’re small and out of the way. If someone wants to get to know me, they’ll click on those links. If you keep it out of the way and in your signature line (preferable in a smaller font) then it’s fine. It shouldn’t be in your query though.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?

Only if it was requested.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?

You don’t need pub credits in your bio to get a request from an agent or editor. We’re interested in the work that’s attached. Is it the best it can be? Has it been properly edited? Then that’s what we’re going to base our decision on, not whether you had something published recently.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?

Exactly that. It didn’t fit with what I’m looking for or is something that’s too close to something else I’ve recently acquired or something that I don’t feel I’m the right person to represent (inspirational romance, memoirs, etc.)

What themes are you sick of seeing?

I’m not really sick of anything yet. Zombies, vampires and werewolves are plentiful though so unless your paranormal romance involves these types in a different way, I’m likely going to pass on it. For example, zombies in space. That I would likely read!

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?

Very much so, yes! Which is why I’m picky about who I represent too. I’m a red-pen whore.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?

A query for a geriatric erotic massage book. Um… no.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

1.    GLBT Young Adult where the sexuality of the main character is as second-nature to the plot as their skin color or where they’re from.
2.    Male/Male Space Opera with high erotic content.
3.    New Adult anything but specifically male/male and would love it if it’s a thriller or romantic suspense.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 

Favorite movies: Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally, Underworld, Harry Potter (all 8 movies), 50 First Dates, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Favorite books: My client books are really favorites of mine so look at my blog for those but I also loved, Feed by Mira Grant, every day by David Levithan, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice and The Siren by Tiffany Reisz.


Saritza is the Sr. Literary Agent at the Corvisiero Literary Agency and is known as the first literary agent to represent authors in the digital publishing landscape. While continuing to seek traditional publishers for her authors, Saritza is the leading literary agent in digital publishing deals. An avid coffee-drinker with a Kindle book obsession, she enjoys a steaming cup of strong Cuban coffee every morning while reading an erotic contemporary romance or action-packed science fiction adventure. A strong advocate of the GLBT community, she enjoys fresh voices in GLBT Young Adult and New Adult genre fiction. Her client titles include: Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan, Hot Head by Damon Suede, Fire and Ashes by Daisy Harris, Purely Professional by Elia Winters, Caught in the Crossfire by Juliann Rich

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