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.
You'll remember Jessica Watterson of The Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency from my New Agent contest! Jessica is looking for several age categories of romance. Here's some more information about her query slush. (We love the same movies!)
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
For me, there isn’t a really inopportune time to query. But there are definitely times when I get to my inbox slower, like around the holidays. Obviously right around holidays are going to be inopportune times to query.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Not necessarily. The main thing I focus on is content. However, if my name is misspelled, that definitely has a negative effect on the query.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I look at the sample pages without fail, unless the query is not something I acquire in.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I definitely check all my queries myself. One woman operation right here!
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
YES, this must be included. Sometimes a prologue just really sets the tone of the whole piece.
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?
Unfortunately not too often. Since I am the only acquiring romance at my agency, unfortunately a lot of what I read wouldn’t be of great interest to any of my colleagues, but I get the occasional gem that I hope someone I work with will love.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
Quite honestly I want to hear about the manuscript, which is surprising because I’m sure my authors think I’m quite chatty and longwinded now. But, I’m always going to be the person who wants to get down to the nitty-gritty first.
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 definitely need to know genre and word count, because if the submission is something not even in the genres I acquire, I might be a tad irked that I spent extra time going through it. Also, when someone doesn’t include those points in their query, it feels like they aren’t taking this submission seriously and that it was just thrown together.
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?
Quite honestly I say keep the names mentioned to only key integral characters that I will see in your synopsis. While an author might think that their list of characters is not overwhelming, they have to realize that since a query is so short, you really just want to have the big chunks of meat in there that will hook an agent on the line.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Definitely don’t sweat this, and for sure don’t become attached to the name of your MS. Those are things that will most likely be changed at some point in the editing process.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I receive anywhere between 150-200 queries a week, especially since I’ve been more active on blogs and social media. Out of those, I may request about 6-8 per month.
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?
If a writer doesn’t have one, to me not the biggest deal in the world. I honestly would suggest it to any author I sign, but would never force anyone to join social media against their will. J
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?
Personally, I don’t find them inappropriate if there is one or two. However, if it’s a link to every social media account of theirs, then I start having issues.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
Normal girl meets billionaire and her life changes drastically.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Yes to both. For sure before I take anything to market it has gone through editing with me.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Strangely, I have gotten a few queries where male genitalia is the main character of the MS. I don’t know if this is because I mainly represent romance, or if people think I look like I would really enjoy stories with that premise (I don’t, please don’t send me anymore of those).
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. SCOTTISH HIGHLANDER ROMANCE- seriously I am a SUCKER for these so if you have one, I want it.
2. I want a modern Robin Hood type romance novel.
3. Small town romance ah la Kristen Ashely, I LOVE these.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Movies: The Wedding Date, Clueless, Bride and Prejudice. (I may have a love affair with Jane Austen).
Books: The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery, anything by Karen Marie Moning, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay.
JESSICA WATTERSON joined SDLA in late 2013, and currently assists Sandra Dijkstra and Elise Capron.
She graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a degree in Sociocultural Anthropology and English. Jessica has made books a serious part of her life for many years. During college, she started an indie review blog which has featured author interviews and has reviewed several self-published books that eventually ended up on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Please note: Jessica is specifically not interested in: children's books, middle grade, cookbooks, poetry, short stories, screenplays, self-help, or religious/spiritual books.