Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Query Questions with Michelle Richter

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.

I'm glad to have a fresh Query Questions interview for you. Today we hear from Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
I don't think it matters, because I'll read them when I can, which may be weeks later.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No, but a slew of them does. Or can be the last straw if things aren't looking good.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Only if the query is strong and intrigues me.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
 It's all me :)

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
I kind of hate prologues, and I only ask for the first 20 pages, so I think writers should think about what best serves their work. But epigraphs should NOT be included.

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?
We only want one agent queried at a time for a work, but if it's good but not a good fit, sometimes we'll email each other and ask "for you?" 

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
If the chit-chat shows someone is responding to an interview I did or meeting at a conference, by all means, include it. Anything to make you stand out. But don't spend too much time on it. I want to hear what the book's about!

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 care more about genre than word count. Because some genres are just wrong for me. If I can't figure out the genre from the description and it's not specified, it's a red flag.

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 think if you have more than half a dozen, it may be overwhelming.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
They're often changed by publishers. But a title can make me look at a query out of order. Sometimes because it's great. Or sometimes because it's awful or clues me in that it's a particular genre. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
My first week as an agent, it was about a hundred, but now it's between thirty and fifty. My request rate is around 5% right now.

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 think it's more important for nonfiction than fiction, but it's not usually going to sway me to make an offer or request.

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?
 Frankly, I don't even pay attention to them most of the time.

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

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
If a non-writing career informs their work, or they have a lot of contacts/went to Iowa/are a journalist or ad copywriter, tell me. I probably don't need to know about family or residence or schooling.

What does ‘just not right for me’ mean to you?
I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you ;) 

What themes are you sick of seeing?
WWII, political/spy thrillers, sex trafficking or abuse, suddenly single ladies of a certain age reinventing their lives

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

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
The greeting "Come on, let's date!"

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. A novel with friendship at its core, as I've seen from Ann Packer/Richard Russo/Ann Patchett/John Irving
2. A twisty stand-alone thriller with a great cop, bonus if female. Multiple perspectives are also a plus.
3. A thriller with strong sense of the killer's POV

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
My favorite movies tend to be musicals (The Sound of Music, Once, Begin Again), but TV shows may give you a better sense: Elementary, The Wire, Luther, The Killing, The Bridge, Dexter, The Mentalist, Scandal. I love Tana French, Laura Lippman, Tom Perrotta, Richard Russo, RUSSIAN WINTER, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, GONE GIRL, READY PLAYER ONE, MR. PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE.


Michelle Richter has a degree in Economics with a minor in Russian from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and left a career in finance and banking for publishing. She joined St. Martin’s Press’ editorial department in 2006 after obtaining a Masters in Publishing from Pace University. While at St. Martin’s, Michelle edited MELISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL by Melissa Joan Hart, among others, and worked on a variety of fiction and nonfiction.
Michelle is primarily seeking fiction, specifically book club reads, literary fiction, and well-crafted women’s commercial fiction, thrillers and mysteries (amateur sleuth, police procedurals and smart cozies). Her favorite authors include Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, Richard Russo, Tom Perrotta, Chelsea Cain, and Gillian Flynn. For nonfiction, she’s interested in fashion, film, television, science, medicine, sociology/social trends, and economics for trade audiences. She has a soft spot for fiction and nonfiction in and about Boston/Massachusetts, Ireland, and Russia.  

You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @michrichter1.

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