Thursday, October 9, 2014

Query Questions with Patricia Nelson

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.

Patricia Nelson from The Marsal Lyon Literary Agency is filling us in on her agent procedure.   

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

You should query whenever your manuscript is ready! It seems to me that there's very little rhyme or reason to how many queries show up in the inbox on any given day, so trying to time your queries to the rhythm of the slush would be nearly impossible. At MLLA, we read every query, so no matter when you submit, your query will be carefully read.

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

Definitely not! Admittedly, a typo in the first sentence does make me raise an eyebrow - but it's not a dealbreaker.

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

As a new agent, I go through all of my queries myself. But as someone who has worked as both an assistant and an intern before becoming an agent, it's worth mentioning here that when agents do allow assistants and interns to go through their queries, it's because they trust that that person knows their taste incredibly well. 

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?

Frequently! All of my colleagues are fantastic agents, and there's quite a bit of overlap in the genres that we represent, so if a query comes through that is strong but just isn't for me, I always think to myself "who else in the agency might like this?" before deciding to send a pass. That said, if one of us does pass and you think another agent at MLLA might be a good fit, you still are welcome to query someone else.

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

If there's a specific reason that you're querying me (e.g. something you read in my bio or in an interview made you think we'd be a good match), I would love to know that. But there's no need to force it, and just jumping into a description of the manuscript is fine too. For me, the presence or absence of a personalized opening isn't a huge deal either way - the most important part is ultimately whether I'm grabbed by the description of the novel and want to read more.

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?

​Absolutely. When I'm reading a query, one of the things I'm looking for is to see if I feel a connection to the journey the protagonist is going to go on, and too many named characters tends to distract from that. As a rule of thumb, I would say generally stick to naming your main protagonist, the love interest if there is one, and at most one other character.

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?

​An online presence won't cause me to request on a query that I wasn't excited about to begin with, and a lack of online footprint won't make me rethink the impulse to request. But yes, if I'm feeling on the fence about a query, a blog presence that reveals a certain level of professionalism and seriousness about a career as a writer, and/or a Twitter account that suggests a great sense of humor or a sensibility that seems to gel with my taste might top the scales in the writer's favor. 

I do recommend that authors I sign at least start thinking about a website and Twitter, especially if they write in a genre like YA or romance that has an active online community of writers and readers. 

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?

Links in an email signature are definitely not offensive! If a query jumps out at me, it's very likely that I will Google the author and/or look for them on Twitter (I'm curious! I'm excited! I want to know more!), so links just make it easier for me to get there.

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

It's important to remember that when an agent signs a writer, they're making a commitment to stick with that book through an entire publishing process, and that writer through an entire career. When I offer representation, I know that I'll be reading and thinking about that book and that author for years - so I want to be sure that I love a story and a writer's voice so much that I feel I can stay excited about the project through every step of the way. Every author deserves that in an agent! So "just not right for me" means exactly that... I may like the manuscript and think the writer is talented, but if I'm not head-over-heels in love, it makes the most sense for everyone for the author to find an agent who does love their book in that way.

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

Yes, absolutely. It's crucial that a manuscript is in the best shape it possibly can be before it goes out to editors, and as an agent, I feel that part of my job is to help each book I take on to get there.

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

All-time favorite books is, of course, a nearly impossible question for book lovers! But some novels that I've read and loved in the past year include: Sara Zarr's WHAT WE LOST, A.S. King's REALITY BOY, Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL, Emery Lord's OPEN ROAD SUMMER, Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, Sarah J. Maas' THRONE OF GLASS series, Ariel Schrag's ADAM, Meg Wolitzer's THE INTERESTINGS, Maria Semple's WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE and Jami Attenberg's THE MIDDLESTEINS.


Patricia Nelson joined the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency as assistant to Kevan Lyon in March 2014, and became an agent in September 2014. Previously, she interned at The Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency and in the children’s division at Running Press.
Patricia represents adult and young adult fiction, and is actively looking to build her list. On the adult side, she is interested in literary fiction and commercial fiction in the New Adult, women’s fiction, and romance genres. For YA, she is looking for contemporary/realistic fiction as well YA mystery/thriller, horror, magical realism, science fiction and fantasy. She is also interested in finding exciting multicultural and LGBTQ fiction, both YA and adult. In general, Patricia loves stories with complex characters that jump off the page and thoughtfully drawn, believable relationships – along with writing that makes her feel completely pulled into these characters’ lives and worlds.
Patricia received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 2008, and also holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the world of publishing, she spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article! I'm going to definitely query this agent about my novel. Great job!