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.
Peter Knapp is back with Park Literary and is joining us today to answer some questions about his query slush.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
No, not really. There are a few windows, such as the last couple of months of the year or in August, where it might take a little longer to hear back from agents because they’re travelling or otherwise busy, but even if you send a submission while an agent is travelling, it will be there when he or she gets back.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Absolutely not. If it’s littered with typos or errors, that’s more problematic—but, let’s be real, no one is perfect.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
If the query is in a category I represent and it’s a genre I’m interested in, I will look at the sample pages even if the query is weak—I’ve seen a number of very strong manuscripts where the query letters weren’t perfect. That said, I look a lot faster when the query letter grabs my attention—a great query letter gives me momentum as I head into the sample chapters.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I check all of them.
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?
Yes, sometimes I will flag queries where the letter and first page interests me to go back to so that I can respond quickly to the ones that are more obviously passes for me.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes. If the prologue is necessary to the manuscript, then it should be included. If you think you can send the sample pages without the prologue and not lose anything, there’s a good chance the prologue is dispensable and should just be cut from the manuscript entirely.
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?
They can be helpful, as they show the author knows the genre s/he is writing in, and when the comp titles speak to me, I definitely take notice. That said, they’re not essential—and if you don’t have great comp titles, it’s fine to send a query without them.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
The most important thing is the manuscript pitch. If you want to and can naturally add a line or two that shows your personality or voice, that’s great—but keep it short. Occasionally I will receive a query letter where the personal bio or “chit-chat” is needlessly longer than the actual pitch, which always makes me wonder…
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. A query is meant to cut straight to the heart of the book, so if we’re suddenly pulling in second cousins and great aunts, it’s going to both get a little confusing and it also probably means the pitch isn’t quite focused enough. Stick to the core characters and relationships.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
Titles often change, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Take is seriously—give the book the title you think it deserves—but don’t worry that an agent will reject it because they don’t like the title.
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?
Unless you are a rising internet star—for example, an up-and-coming vlogger with 600,000 followers—it’s unlikely that your social media platform will be what tips the scales in your favor when I’m reading a submission. Certainly, you don’t need a social media profile to get an agent or a publisher. I will often encourage my authors to try social media out, not just for marketing purposes but also because there’s a great community of writers online, and it can be helpful to join that conversation. But each author is different, and not everyone gravitates towards social media; that’s okay.
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?
It’s fine to include links. In fact, I prefer links to be somewhere in the query letter. If I read and like a submission, I often then look the author up online to see what else they might have going on; including links makes that research a lot easier.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
A short one. I often get, “I am an active member of SCBWI and this would be my debut novel.” Something like that is just fine.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Humor, horror and bittersweet books, for both middle grade and young adult.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Movies: Stand by Me; The Talented Mr. Ripley; We Are the Best; Land Before Time; Whisper of the Heart; Boyhood; Sunset Boulevard; many, many movies with Meryl Streep; many, many movies with Greta Gerwig (most especially, Frances Ha).
Books: Anna Kerenina; Never Let Me Go; Netherland; The Thing About Luck; When You Reach Me; The Age of Miracles; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Faithful Place; Let The Great World Spin; The Invention of Hugo Cabret; Acceleration; and many, many more…too many to list!
Fueled by the thrill of reading a new story for the first time, Peter works creatively with clients and the PLM team on marketing, branding initiatives and promotions to get great books into the hands of readers. Before joining PLM, he was a story editor at a book-scouting agency working with film clients, and he continues to look for new ways to partner with Hollywood on adaptations and multimedia properties. Find him re-watching Studio Ghibli movies, playing board games with friends, or right here to submit a new fiction query—he’s ready to add more authors to his growing client list!