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!
I'm so happy to finally have a new interview for everyone! Please do mention new questions in the comments or on twitter if anyone has suggestions. It's about time to add in some new ones.
We're back into the query slush answers with Lydia Moed of The Rights Factory. A big thanks to her for taking the time. Anyone who loves Firefly is welcome here!
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
In addition to being a regular associate agent, I also handle foreign rights for my agency’s children’s and YA list. As a result, I’m pretty busy around the big book fairs - March/April and September/October are my busiest times of year. Over the summer and during the winter holidays I have a lot less going on on the foreign rights side, so I’ll tend to respond to queries more quickly at those times.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Not at all - everybody makes mistakes! And hey, if you didn’t notice it when you were proofreading the thing nine times before sending, there’s a chance I might not notice it either.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I ask for the query first, and request sample pages only if the query 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?
Absolutely - if the prologue is an integral part of the story then of course I want to see it. If it’s not, then the manuscript probably shouldn’t have a prologue at all.
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?
If I get a strong query that I think might appeal to a colleague, I’ll forward it on. Occasionally that happens several times in a week, but sometimes months will go by and I don’t get anything I think I should forward on. I love it when I do manage to put a colleague in touch with an author they really connect with, though.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I’d rather hear about the manuscript, to be honest - I like to be reminded if I’ve met an author in person or been in touch with them in any way previously, but apart from that I don’t really need to know how an author heard of me or why they think their book would fit my list. If the author has read about me and knows what I like, I can usually tell just by reading about the manuscript.
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?
If I were already interested in the manuscript it wouldn’t make me less keen, but I would definitely ask for clarification when I requested material. The mechanical stuff about word count and genre is the easiest part of the query to write, so there’s no reason not to include it!
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Definitely think about it, but don’t get too attached. It’s great to have a strong, attention-grabbing title, but there are a lot of reasons why a publisher might want to change it to something even better.
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 wouldn’t tip the scales, but I do like to see that a writer has a good web presence and knows what they’re doing online. I encourage my clients to develop some kind of web presence, even if it’s just a lander page, but I’m not fussy about whether they prefer Twitter, Tumblr, long-form blogging or any of the other options out there.
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?
Not at all - link away! If I like the query, the first thing I’ll do is Google you, so adding the link in your email just saves me a step. The link could be in your email signature, or it could be part of your bio - I really don’t mind.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Only if material was requested.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
A couple of sentences about yourself (what you do for a living, a link to your blog if you have one, any interesting hobbies, anything that might make me think ‘hmm, they seem like an interesting person’) and a couple about what makes you a good person to write this book. Did your childhood in India inspire you to write a story set in the Mughal Empire? Does your Japanese heritage inform your Asian steampunk novel? Did your PhD in crustacean biology help you create your alien species? I want to know that stuff, so stick it in your bio.
What does ‘just not right for me’ mean to you?
Usually it means ‘I am just not excited by this query, and I cannot come up with a more concrete and helpful reason why it doesn’t appeal to me’.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
Basically any of the common tropes of YA science fiction/fantasy (society divided into Named Classes, starcrossed lovers and/or love triangle, pointlessly oppressive regimes and all the rest of it) - I’m open to YA, but not if it contains any of these tropes. Pirate crews or similar ‘ensemble cast’ situations with only one female member (inevitably described as ‘feisty’). Any fantasy set in Western European Fantasyland (cloaks, taverns, broadswords, wizards etc).
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
I’ll tell you some stories if we meet in real life, but I’m not going to embarrass anybody on the internet - even anonymously.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. I’m looking for great writing by authors from marginalised or underrepresented groups. We need new perspectives, and I’m very interested in hearing from anybody who can help to make my favourite genres less white, straight, and abled/ablist.
2. I’m developing a reputation as an SFF agent, which is great because I love the genre, but I’m looking for other kinds of writing too. I’d particularly love some well-researched historical fiction set in a lesser-known time or place.
3. I’m very interested in writing that explores what happens after the apocalypse, as people learn to cope with the change and try to create a new society that fits their new circumstances (e.g. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Warren Ellis’s Freakangels, the TV show Defiance).
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Books: Mervyn Peake and Angela Carter are probably the two authors who have had the greatest influence on my reading tastes. My more recent favourites include China Miéville, Nalo Hopkinson, Catherynne M Valente (I’m not fond of her YA but I love her writing for adults), Frances Hardinge, Philip Reeve and Margaret Elphinstone. I also love classical and pre-modern Japanese literature. My ideal narrative non-fiction writer is Tim Mackintosh-Smith: informative, erudite, highly entertaining, feels like a friend of yours by the end of the book.
Movies/TV: I love any film directed by Naoko Ogigami - my favourite is Kamome Shokudo (‘Seagull Diner’). I’m also fond of Wes Anderson and Studio Ghibli - I’d love to find a manuscript with a Miyazaki feel to it. TV obsessions of the last few years include Firefly (of course), Orphan Black, Arctic Air, Defiance, the Japanese drama Jin, and the Korean dramas Sunkyungkwan Scandal and Tree With Deep Roots.
Lydia Moëd is an associate agent at The Rights Factory in Toronto. She came to Canada from the UK, where she worked as a foreign rights executive for UK children’s publishers. She has also worked as a freelance literary translator and editor, and as a bookseller at Foyles in London. In addition to handling foreign rights for The Rights Factory's children's and YA list, she is also building her own list of clients for representation.