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.
Brent Taylor was a Pitchwars mentor when I met him. Suddenly, he pulled out of the contest. Shortly after, we found out why. Brent has become an associate agent with Triada US. Congrats, Brent. I'm so happy to offer you a spotlight.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
I don’t believe so. I’m looking for great stories 365 days a year.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
If the concept and writing otherwise enticed me, no. If I felt on the fence about it, the typo would show me that you didn’t spend enough time “sweating” over the materials you sent me.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I almost always jump straight to the pages. There are too many incredible fiction writers that are bad at query letters (the same way I struggle sometimes with writing pitches). I usually skim the query for word count, category, genre, and to see if there are high enough stakes. Once I feel confident I want to request the full, I go back and read the query letter.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
Although I spent years as the intern that did this on behalf of other agents and value interns greatly, I’m so new in my role at TriadaUS that I’ll be reading my own submissions for quite a while.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Despite the fact that I am not a fan of prologues, and think they’re nearly always unnecessary, I still consider them as part of the first ten pages, which is what I request.
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 often share and discuss projects with each other at TriadaUS.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I prefer queries that jump straight into the story, but personalization at the end is always nice.
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?
Yes, these are important in determining whether or not a project is of interest to me.
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 recommend writing the most concise query letter possible, which means you should probably refrain from mentioning secondary characters. All I want to know from your query letter is:
- Who your protagonist is
- What they want more than anything in the world
- What (or who) is stopping them
- And what’s going to happen if they don’t get what they want
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
The title or characters names have never been, and probably never will be, a reason for me rejecting a novel.
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 depends on the project—is it nonfiction, a memoir? I primarily work with fiction, and the number of twitter and blog followers a writer has does nothing for me either way.
I would advise my clients to have a website and social media presence, but the only thing I would ever require is great fiction writing. That’s what matters to me.
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?
Absolutely not. I often google search potential clients anyway and find their blogs that way, so I appreciate being able to skip a step.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Only if I specifically requested the project be revised and resubmitted.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
I don’t care as much at all about this part of the query letter, but starting with your day job is fine. If you’re querying me for a police procedural thriller and I see you’re an FBI agent, I’ll be particularly intrigued.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
It means that I can’t fall in love with the project enough to believe that I would be the best agent for it.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
I can be, yes, but some clients don’t require it. I’m a flexible agent constantly molding myself to fit the tailored needs of my clients, and if a project needs an intensive edit before going out on submission, I am willing and delighted, even, to provide the necessary editorial guidance.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
I would love a middle grade fantasy, a young adult thriller, and a new adult romantic suspense.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
My favorite shows at the moment are Revenge (Gossip Girl meets Person of Interest in the Hamptons) and The Following (fast-paced, hard-boiled, edge-of-your-seat thriller). I would love to find someone that writes high-stakes books similar to those of Cecily Von Ziegesar and my good friend Michelle Madow.
My recent favorites have included CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois, A SNICKER IN MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd, and BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer.
Prior to joining TriadaUS Literary Agency, Inc. in 2014 as an assistant, I completed numerous internships in publishing, most recently at The Bent Agency. My tastes are eclectic, but all of my favorite novels are similar in that they have big commercial hooks and fantastic writing.I am seeking smart, fun, and exciting books for readers of middle grade, young adult, new adult, and select mystery/crime and women's fiction.
Middle Grade: for younger readers I am on the hunt for a humorous, intelligent fantasy; a scare-the-pants-off-me ghost or haunting story; fast-paced literary writing similar in style to Jerry Spinelli and Cynthia Lord. I have soft spots for larger-than-life characters and atmospheric setting (creepy and/or quirky).
Young Adult: I’m always looking for genre-bending books that can be an exciting puzzlement when thinking about how precisely to market; specifically mystery and crime for teens, the grittier the better; high-concept contemporary stories with addicting romantic tension. I’m a sucker for themes of finding your place in the world, new beginnings, and summer-before-college stories.
New Adult: my tastes in New Adult tend to be more darkly skewed but I would love a well-executed story that shares the same excitement, wonder, and invigoration of books like LOSING IT. Although I appreciate any story that’s told well in great language, in New Adult I’m more concerned with being entertained and gripped by the edge of my seat than in being stimulated.
Adult: I would love a psychological suspense based on actual events, i.e. CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois which fictionalized the Amanda Knox trial and hooked me from beginning to end. Alternatively, I’d love high-concept women’s fiction; either an exquisitely told story huge in size and scope, or a less ambitious novel that simply warms my heart.