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.
From Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Jennifer Rofe is here. And I'm happy to have another agent who reps picture books for all the PB writers coming to my blog after PB Party!
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Not really, but over the winter holidays isn't the optimal time.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Certainly not. This would be an ineffective and inconsiderate practice, wouldn't it? However, a quantity of typos and misplaced commas is a different story.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I look at sample pages if the story, as pitched in the query, piques my interest.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
When I have an assistant, s/he goes through queries first and color codes them based on my system. However, I still look at every query. There are exceptions, though: Queries that don't include a greeting and that are sent in a mass email are automatic deletes.
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Based on the Andrea Brown submission guidelines -- first 10 pages, in this case -- the prologue would be part of the query. In a related comment, I rarely see prologues that are crucial to the story.
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?
Comp titles are nice, particularly because they give an indication of a writer's knowledge of the market and how his/her manuscript fits in. However, they are not imperative, and one must choose comp titles smartly and realistically.
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?
At ABLA, we share queries with each other on a daily basis. For instance, I might receive a query that doesn't suit me, but I think three of my colleagues might like it, so I send it on to them.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I like knowing that a writer is querying me for a specific reason -- because of my interests, because of certain authors or illustrators I represent, etc. It's also helpful to know if I've met the writer before or if s/he has seen me present at a conference. This kind of professional chit-chat, which has context, is fine.
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?
If I have difficulty keeping track of your characters or plot because there is too much detail in your query, then it's a problem. Writers should use jacket flap of published books as a guide for pitching their own work.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Writers should give their work the best title they can. And then they should have a healthy detachment from this title because it can change.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I can receive 30-60 queries in a week, depending. I might request none; I might request a few. I have no exact number, but the general answer is "very few."
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
If an agent took the time to offer feedback, then the writer would be wise to at least let the agent know that s/he has revised and would be happy to send updated materials if the agent is interested in reviewing them.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
Include information that is relevant, such as specific work experience or involvement in the writing community. Are you a member of SCBWI and do you attend conferences? Have you attended craft workshops, such as the Andrea Brown Literary Agency Big Sur Writing Workshop? (My shameless plug.) This kind of information is perfect for the bio.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
It means I didn't connect with the story or the writing. Why this lack of connection exists is a different question that could have numerous answers.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
I do, yes.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Back when we accepted queries in the mail, writers would sometimes send me photos of themselves, their children, their pets. I always found this strange. What was I supposed to do with them?
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Funny picture books; any kind of middle grade; heart-bursting-hopeful YA and/or big-world YA.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
I always forget the answer to this question. My favorites list changes and grows.
Movies: Dirty Dancing; Sweet Home Alabama; Almost Famous; The King's Speech; Rushmore
Books (by non-clients and in no particular or sensical order): The Schwa Was Here; Elsewhere; the Dairy Queen series (I love DJ Schwenk); Openly Straight; The Known World; Catherine Called Birdy; Flora & Ulysses; City Dog, Country Frog; Punk Farm; Never Talk to Strangers; most books by Toni Morrison.
Jennifer represents projects ranging from picture books to YA. Middle grade is her soft spot and she's open to all genres in this category, especially the tender, hilarious, or zany. She is always looking for fresh and distinct voices; stories that simultaneously tug at her heartstrings and make her laugh out loud; and "adorkable" heroes. As for YA, Jennifer is drawn to contemporary works; dramatic, funny, or cringe-worthy romance; and urban fantasy/light sci-fi. She's especially interested in smart stories that are layered, complex, and unexpected, and she appreciates big, developed worlds. In terms of picture books, she is interested in character-driven projects and smart, exceptional writing. Jennifer also represents illustrators and author-illustrators.
Jennifer is co-author of the picture book PIGGIES IN THE PUMPKIN PATCH (Charlesbridge). She has been on faculty for several conferences including the Big Sur Writer's Workshop and numerous SCBWI conferences, and she is especially known for her The "So What?" Factor presentation. Jennifer earned a BA in English with a minor in Social and Ethnic Relations from UC Davis and has a background in secondary education.