Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Query Questions with Kurestin Armada

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.

I'm happy to host a newer agent. Kurestin Armada is here from P.S. Literary Agency.

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

If there’s just one, I don’t think it will be a problem. However, if the only typo is in my name, you’re definitely starting your query off on the wrong foot! It won’t make me automatically reject it, but I’ll be in a worse mood reading it.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

As long as the query is remotely interesting/in a genre I represent, I’ll read the sample pages. I don’t want to miss out on beautiful writing just because the concept is described a bit awkwardly!

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

I check all of them! I trust the author to do the best job possible when it comes to pitching their book to me. We do have a literary assistant who does a wonderful job of keeping the query inbox organized for us, and she’s the one who you can expect to hear from if we request material.

Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?

I do, actually! I’ll sort through the definite “yes” and “no” queries, and then I’ll come back to the “maybe” pile later to see if a different mood affects how I feel about them.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?

Yes. I want the sample pages to start exactly where a reader would start if this was the published version of your book.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?

I’m less excited by comp titles than other agents I know. I think they can add something great to your query when they’re done well, but bad comp titles can also really take away from your query. Personally I get a bit turned off by comp titles that are all in a different medium, like TV shows or movies. Those can work well to show tone, but it’s just unrealistic to say that everyone who loves The Avengers is going to love your book. So I think you should go ahead and include comp titles if you feel very strongly about them and really think they add to your query, but you should err on the side of not including them if you want to play it safe. Never add them just because you think you’re supposed to include them.

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?

Our query inbox is set up so that we can all see the queries. We pay special attention to the ones directed to our attention, but if something comes in for Maria, for example, I might still request pages on it. That’s why we say that a rejection from one of us is a rejection from all. I wouldn’t need to pass on anything to my fellow agents, because if they see it and love it they’ll try to snag it too!

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

I’m very business-minded when it comes to the queries. I love when people get right to the manuscript, and focus all of their concentration on pitching it. If something comes naturally, like a reference to #MSWL or a post I’ve made, feel free to include it of course! But just like comp titles, please don’t force it in the letter just because you think it’s a requirement. The only requirement is that you tell me about your book!
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?

YES. This is one piece of advice that I truly hope people take to heart. I understand that those other characters are very important to the action as it unfolds, but if I get confused in your query and lost interest in reading further, it’s game over.
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 for that sort of thing are great, actually! I’m likely to go snooping on the net when I’m interested in representing an author, so links to your blog will just save me some work. I’ll also be headed to the part of your web presence that you’ve (hopefully) put the most work into! So it’s win/win.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?

A little something about where you’re from or what you do now is fine. You don’t have to stretch yourself trying to find a way to make your career as an accountant sound relevant to your current novel, honestly. That’s not going to affect how I read your query/manuscript. Something that shows you’re actively engaged in your genre, like conferences you’ve attended recently, would also be appropriate.

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

It means I wasn’t interested in reading the entire thing, that I was bored or just not excited about the story at any point. If I represent your book, I’ll be spending a lot of time with it throughout the process. If I can’t get through even one read of it, then I’m not the right agent for the book.

What themes are you sick of seeing?

Trends definitely come and go, but right now there are a few things I’d like to take a break from. The top two are angel/demon stories, and crime stories focusing on international sex slavery rings. The first one may come back around and be fresh and interesting again in a couple of years, but the second one is just never going to be my cup of tea.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

I would LOVE to see these three things:

·       Historical fiction (preferably with a touch of something mysterious or magical, even if it has a realistic explanation) where the city itself is a fully fleshed out character in its own right! Think along the lines of THE MINIATURIST or THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI.
·       Science fiction that explores both the future and the past of the world, while also showcasing strong characters. Something like REVELATION SPACE or ANCILLARY JUSTICE.
·       An updated version of some of the Tamora Pierce-style heroine narratives. I’m specifically thinking of UPROOTED by Naomi Novik, which comes out later this year. It reminds me of a lot of the books I read as a young girl, and I think it’s time for a revival of those books, with a fresh update to fit today’s young women.


Kurestin Armada began her publishing career as an intern with Workman Publishing, and spent time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency before joining
P.S. Literary. She holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, as well as a publishing certificate from Columbia University. Kurestin is based in New York City, and spends most of her time in the city's thriving indie bookstores. She reads widely across genres, and has a particular affection for science fiction and fantasy, especially books that recognize and subvert typical tropes of genre fiction. If you would like to send a query to Kurestin, please click or tap here to review our Submission Guidelines.

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