Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Query Questions with Eric Smith

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.

There's a break in the action as Query Kombat is over on the guys' blog this week, so I can squeeze in a Query Questions! Eric Smith is newly joined PS Literary as an associate agent. Here are his answers to questions about query slush!

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query? Eh, not for me. We're all human, you know? I've abused many commas and ellipses in my day. What I would avoid, are the followup apology emails once you've realized you sent a query over with a small, insignificant typo. Missed a quotation mark? Tiny grammar mistake? Don't worry about it. 

Agents get a lot of email. A lot. And if it's going to the general query box, all the agents are going to see it. So we're getting emails directed at every agent, not just us. So those apologetic emails really aren't necessary. Your work will certainly stand on its own, with or without that comma. 
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?  If the query is strong, I'll generally request a partial or a full manuscript right away. I'm a fast reader, and get cranky if I'm reading something that's amazing and can't finish it because I asked for the first 50 pages. I'm not overly concerned with a query that's written poorly. I'm more interested in the synopsis and the work. Query writing is hard! I get it. 
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them? I go through all my queries personally. If you're spending that much time writing a carefully written pitch email, you better believe I'm going to give you the attention you deserve. 
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look? I do! I keep a handful in a special folder in the ol' Gmail. Sometimes something will strike me immediately and I need to have it. Other times, I have to think about the project. Have I seen something like it before? Am I the right person to work on that particular book? If not, do I know someone? 
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages? Sure! 
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? I like to see a few. I'm one of those people who fall for marketing lines like "this book meets that book!" or "this movie mashed with this television show!" I've purchased more books than I care to admit based solely on clever marketing blips. Get me hooked with one.
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? I've done it a handful of times since I've started. Sometimes an author has an amazing platform and book idea, but I'm just not the right person. Or it's a genre I'm not passionate about. Better to pass it off, than to take on something I wouldn't give the amount of love it deserves, you know?
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript? I like personalized. Let's just be real people. Be nice, be friendly, tell me about your book. Although please don't send an email that says "Dear Agent" or something like that. 
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? Not really. It doesn't take much for me to open up a manuscript, and let Word tell me how many words are in the manuscript. It's a good thing to include though. I definitely want to know how long the book is and what genre its in, so I know whether or not it's for me.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers? I wouldn't fret over it. The publisher might change it, the agent might have some ideas. 
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those? Hm. The agency gets a ton, but since I'm a new agent, I'll get a couple of dozen a week. Sometimes I'll request one or two full reads. 
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? You know, I think it depends, really. If the author is sending a book over that suggests they're an expert in a particular field that they are writing about, then yes, I do want to see some kind of online platform and evidence of their following. If you say you have a popular social-media-blog-to-book type idea, I'm going to want to see numbers and proof that there is a following and a desire for that book.

But when it's fiction... I think that matters less. The work is what's important. I'd ask my author to work on an online presence if they didn't have one though.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? If the changes are significant, I'd take a second look. I've already done that. 
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include? Just a bit about yourself. What do you do? Why do you write? Some authors are teachers, booksellers, librarians. That's all interesting. Some work in the fields that have inspired their fiction. Little details like that are important. 
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you? That it's a book the agent just isn't right for. I love YA, sci-fi, fantasy... but if someone sends me a non-fiction book proposal about a topic I don't know much about, even if the book is fantastic, I might have to pass. It's important for your agent to be as passionate about your idea as you are. 
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Sure am. I sent three edits letters today. I also have an awesome intern at the agency that helps me look through our manuscripts. 
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query? People who pitch saying they're fans of my Philadelphia-based blog... when they aren't from Philadelphia. Anywhere near it. Don't pad an email with faux compliments, you guys. 
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? Diverse authors writing YA, anything sci-fi and fantasy, and I'd LOVE some more historic YA. I love that stuff. Your book should make me have to Google stuff while reading it. 
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? Hm. Movies: Almost Famous, High Fidelity, When Harry Met Sally. I like rom-coms that make me laugh and cry. Books... that's tough. Anything steampunk. Classics like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. A wide breadth of YA. It it makes me cry, I love it.


Eric Smith is an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary, with a love for young adult books, sci-fi, fantasy, and literary fiction. He began his publishing career at Quirk Books in Philadelphia, working social media and marketing on numerous books he absolutely adored. Eric completed his BA in English at Kean University, and his MA in English at Arcadia University. A frequent blogger, his ramblings about books appear on BookRiot, The Huffington Post, and more. A published author with Quirk Books and Bloomsbury, he seeks to give his authors the same amount of love his writing has received. Which is a lot. If you would like to send a query to Eric, please click or tap here to review our Submission Guidelines.

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