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.
The series continues with the very gracious Jackie Lindert, Literary Assistant from New Leaf Literary.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Not really. Time of year doesn’t really come into play as much one might think. Our whole office somehow manages to be super human—balancing projects, current clients, and queries every day. Query away!
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
One? No. A ton? Maybe. But if the hook grabs me, I’ll forget any typos—though proofreading your queries to prevent the need to “look past” the errors would be an excellent idea.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
There could be a diamond in that rough! I always look at the sample pages. The stronger the query, the better, but sometimes queries are just not a writer’s strength.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I am an assistant, currently. I do go through the agents’ queries at New Leaf, but they look at everything that comes in, too. I just help with the reading of all those manuscripts. Suzie Townsend, who is a rockstar, will tell you it’s beneficial to have eager assistants get the first view of your query—we tend to be more forgiving and likely to fear that we’re missing some hidden gem of a writer, and if we tell an agent, “Omg I love this manuscript. You have to read it!” they take our opinions very seriously.
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?
Not really. I’ll either request the full manuscript or pass when I’m going through them.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
I’d say it depends on the project. I leave that to the writer, who knows their work best, to decide if it should be included.
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?
Here’s the thing: I love comp titles. Give me books, movies, TV shows, or elements from any of them—I love it! Another thing: If you don’t include comps, and I love the query/sample pages, I’ll forget you didn’t include comps. J
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?
In-house, we know each other well enough to know pretty quickly if there is someone better for a project, so we trade queries if it’s in the best interest of the author. A couple of the agents have also passed queries along to agent friends outside of New Leaf as well.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I’m not a fan of chit-chat, personally. That’s not to be confused with telling me about yourself. I do want to know about the author, but lines like, “How are you?” “Is your cat feeling better (I saw you tweeted that he was sick)?” range from unnecessary to creepy. We can get to know each other and chit chat further down the line.
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 the query jumps right into the story, as long as it’s clear what I’m looking at, I don’t need that to be repeated. Example: “the spaceship was spinning wildly out of control. Who let a 16 year old fly this thing, anyway?” Doesn’t need to be followed up with “YA Sci-fi”. A lot of people follow a formula that includes this info, so it’s really ok either way. If it isn’t obvious, though, I’d definitely want a writer to include what genre it is.
Word count is a plus, but again, not vital. I’ll see the numbers if I request the full manuscript. As you can maybe tell by now, I don’t have much of a “red flag” attitude.
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 do. That’s great advice. If I’m confused about who is who before I even start reading sample pages, that’s a bad sign.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Don’t sweat it. Don’t get me wrong, a clever, funny, or unique title might grab my attention, but I would never judge a manuscript based on title alone, and that’s always something that can be discussed between author and agent. Same with character names.
I can’t see a publisher changing a title or character names without getting approval from the author (this is why contracts are important!).
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I don’t receive many of my own queries yet, but New Leaf agents get a couple hundred, collectively. They’ll request 1-3 (each) of those every week, on average. There are always some weeks that are better than others in terms of request rates.
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?
If your story or your writing blows me away, it makes no difference (except I’ll be sad I can’t tweet at you). However, readers care—they want to see and communicate with authors. It’s a great way to gain a following. We recommend picking a social platform that best suits an author and what they want their image as a professional to be, and working on that. Sometimes, it’s just not in the cards, though, which is still fine, in my 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?
If your blog has an impressive following, or you have a website that shows you’ve been featured in smaller publications, or just shows off you and your hobbies, that’s great! Include your Twitter handle, too—that’s what signatures are for now, right? Let me creep on your Twitter to get a sense of who you are beyond what I get from your query. Just make sure you haven’t tweeted something like, “All agents are lame.”
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
For me, I’d say only if material was requested, and even then, only if the changes are significant. If you are making changes after I’ve requested your work, let me know right away so I don’t take the time to read the non-updated draft. I’ll read it when you’re finished.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Show your personality. What are your hobbies? Do you have a family? A day job? Where are you from? A few lines about who you are is important to me. If you’re funny, sweet, or talented, show me that. I’m considering entering into a long-term relationship with you—who are you? Humanize yourself.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
If I say that, I mean that either the themes or the characters in your manuscript didn’t fit my taste. Publishing is a very subjective industry, which can be disappointing, but it means there is always a possibility that it’s exactly someone else’s jam.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
Damsels in distress. Correction: Damsels in distress who need a man to rescue them. Other than that, I don’t rule anything out if the voice feels fresh and different.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Yes. I wanted to work in editorial, originally, until I found out some agencies are taking on those roles (woo!). I’m lucky to be at New Leaf where everyone is careful and thorough. We all make sure submissions go out in the best possible shape.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Hmm. Someone once prefaced their query by mentioning they hoped God would smite me if I passed on their query. That person is not my client, so obviously I live in a state of constant fear, but so far, so good.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
I’m not good at being specific. I just want to be wow’d. Floor me with excellent writing. The three areas I’m looking to build my own list in are YA (all subgenres), adult upmarket fiction, and literary MG.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
My movie tastes are totally different from my book tastes, so I’ll stick with books!
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelseon
MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold
GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard
SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King
LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES by Alexis Bass
And probably plenty more that I’m forgetting about.
Jackie earned her degree in English in her home state of Wisconsin. After college, she trekked to Colorado to attend the Denver Publishing Institute, eventually landing an internship in NYC with New Leaf Literary & Media. Following the internship, she found a job with the publishing house formerly known as Penguin Group as a Subsidiary Rights assistant. One year later she finds herself back at New Leaf as an assistant handling client care, mailings, and best of all, reading manuscripts.
Fun Facts: She grew up in the Water Park Capital of the World and has a cat named Humphrey Bogart.
Fun Facts: She grew up in the Water Park Capital of the World and has a cat named Humphrey Bogart.
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