Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Query Questions with Andrea Somberg

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.

Here's a hint of Nightmare on Query Street. Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger tells us a little about her query slush procedure. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
The week between Christmas and New Years isn't great. But all that means is that it might take me longer to respond.....

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No, not for me! I put much more weight on the concept and on the strength of the writing.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
It depends, but oftentimes I find that it's hard to judge the merits of a project based on a query letter alone. I like to get a sense of the author's narrative voice.......

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
I usually find it more helpful to see pages from the first chapter, however I've certainly requested manuscripts after only reading the prologue....

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 definitely encourage authors to simultaneously query multiple agents - but only if those agents are with different firms. If I do think that a project is a better fit for another agent at my agency, I will most certainly pass it on to them.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
Time is short - straight to the point is usually the best way to go!

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 wouldn't say that it's a red flag per se - but it's definitely helpful to have that information clearly spelled out.

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?
There are two things I want to know from your plot description in your query letter: 1) Who is your protagonist, and what makes them sympathetic and compelling, and 2) What is the primary conflict? If including multiple character names helps you get that information across, great! But oftentimes it can just be extraneous and confusing.....

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
It's almost always changed by the publisher. That being said, a good title can definitely help sell a project, so it does make sense to take time to get it right.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I get about 250 queries a week. Of those I request maybe one or two projects.

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?
For novels, I almost always make a decision based on the strength of the manuscript itself. But once a client does sign with me, I certainly encourage them to become active online, and I also provide my clients with information about ways they can help promote themselves and their book.

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 think it's great to include the links - whether in the email signature, or in the query itself!

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
This is really a case-by-case basis. Oftentimes if I am interested in seeing a revision I will mention that to the author.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Oftentimes people will include information about where they live, their age, their schooling, their family.... all of this information is great, but I would definitely limit it to a sentence or two.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
Usually there's just something about the manuscript that doesn't completely resonate with me - it can be a highly subjective reaction!

What themes are you sick of seeing?
Dystopian can be really tough to sell these days, but other than that I'm open to a wide variety of themes and subject matter!

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

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Picking favorites is so difficult! Plus, my tastes are incredibly varied. However some movies and books I've recently read/watched and enjoyed....

Movies/TV shows: Chef, Trolls 2, Twin Peaks, United States of Tara
Books: Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, Eric Kahn Gale's The Bully Book, George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, Lily Tuck's I Married You For Happiness


A literary agent for over ten years, Andrea Somberg represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including projects aimed at a young adult and middle grade audience. Previously an agent at the Donald Maass Agency and Vigliano Associates, she joined Harvey Klinger Inc. in the spring of 2005. Her client list is quite full, however she is always actively looking to take on new authors who write in the following categories: Fiction; literary, commercial, womens fiction, romance, thrillers, mystery, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, young adult, middle grade. Nonfiction: memoir, narrative, popular science, pop-culture, humor, how-to, parenting, self-help, lifestyle, travel, interior design, crafts, cookbooks, health & fitness, business, and sports.

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