Thursday, July 16, 2015

Query Questions with Moe Ferrara

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.

Today's Query Questions comes from Moe Ferrara of Bookends, LLC. Moe will also be taking part in New Agent! Here's what she had to say about her query slush. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Nope, no better or worse time of year in my eyes! Though I will say, be careful if you’re querying in December—especially if you just finished your NaNo novel. Please, please do not query a just finished novel (at any time of the year but I know the high authors get when they’ve just finished a NaNo project and want to get it out into the world ASAP). Take the time to revise before you start sending it around!
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
One or two small mistakes won’t shoot down an entire query in my eyes. However, when there are multiple spelling and grammatical errors (or one egregious error), I’m more likely to give it a pass. Queries are much shorter and if an author hasn’t taken the time to proof a query to make it the best that it can be, it makes me wonder at the state of the manuscript itself. You always want to be sending your absolute best work to an agent—it’s your first foot in the door! Queries are your first impression with agents, make sure you’re putting your best foot forward!
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Our agency doesn’t request pages with the query, just the query only. Of course, some people do include sample pages. If I’m on the fence about a query, sometimes I’ll look at the first few pages to see if the author has a strong voice but struggles with queries. (It happens, queries are hard!) If the query is strong, I know I’m going to be requesting pages regardless if they’re pasted below the query or not.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I look at everything! (Which, right now, there’s quite a pile but keep ‘em coming. For the record, our agency tries to respond within six weeks to queries and I, personally, will reply to everyone. I was a querying author once, and I remember how frustrating it was wondering if the agent was a non-responder or if my query got caught in a spam filter!)
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?
I do keep a maybe pile… for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because I just requested something similar or perhaps because the query wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but the hook is something special. So I’ll set it aside and read it with fresh eyes the following day or so. Another reason for my maybe pile is if a previously published author or an author who has parted ways amicably with their agent queries, I’ll take a look to see if there were sales, other books the author has written, etc. Sometimes I know I’m starting to get tired and want to take a look when I’m not exhausted. I love my maybe pile, even if it sometimes extends my response time!
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Going to answer this when it comes to requested pages — but the same is true with sample pages, too! A prologue is part of the book and if you can send your pages along without the prologue included, I’d say that’s a red flag that your prologue isn’t necessary. I’m not in the camp who inherently dislikes prologues (I’ve used them!) but if you’re going to have one, do make sure that it serves a purpose beyond a backstory dump or where you flesh out characters. Economy of words is a big thing and I want to know that every word in your manuscript is there for a reason and isn’t superfluous.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I like having a bit of chit-chat, so long as it’s genuine! And yes, there’s a difference between personalizing with “I saw you like these genres” and “OMG as a gamer, you should try x game if you haven’t”. Guess which one reads as more genuine*. It means a lot to me when an author takes the time to mention something I said in an interview or on Twitter. It tells me they took that little extra bit of time to personalize it for me rather than being one of 30 nameless agents who got a blast all at once. Personalization isn’t necessary; it’s not an auto-reject if someone doesn’t. It’s more… like getting two prizes in the bottom of the cracker jack box!
*Hint: it’s the second one.
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?
They’re both red flags, but one is less serious than the other. For me, the bigger red flag is not seeing a word-count listed. I prefer seeing a genre listed as well, because if it’s not something I represent (like picture books or mysteries), it’s easier for me to reject. Listing a genre also tells me how well you know what you’re writing and where it should be on the shelves. However, even if that isn’t listed, it can be fairly easy to tell what genre something is in—it’s harder when it comes to word count. I’m not someone who is going to reject a book based on word count alone if it’s a little on the high or low side. However, a 300k middle grade or a 20k epic fantasy…that’s another story! Often if the word count isn’t listed, the author doesn’t want me to know just how high the word count is.
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?
It takes a lot of skill to be able to have a fair number of characters in a query because you are limited in space. Often times when writers mention too many characters in a query, it’s to their detriment because I’m left confused as to who is doing what and how everyone fits into a plot line. It’s understood that you’re going to have more than a couple of characters and will have multiple plots running through your book. My advice is to go with your hook; the plot you tell people when you’re pitching it to friends and family. And if you have to have a lot of characters, read it with an objective eye. If you knew nothing about your book, would you be able to follow along?
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?
I’m definitely in the ambivalent camp where twitter or other social media is concerned. Twitter is a fantastic resource for talking to other writers and for building an online presence. I’ll never demand that a client participate in one form of social media or another, but we’ll discuss if certain platforms are a better for interacting with readers. Before I sign someone, I do check over their social media platforms to see how they interact with others, clues to next works, etc. Online presence (or lack thereof) isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s a great insight into peoples’ personalities and if we’ll mesh beyond what I’ve read in your pages!
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?
I’d prefer those links (particularly to a blog, a manuscript playlist, or related artwork) to be in the email signature as opposed to in the query itself. That way if I want to follow links, I can do so at my own discretion as opposed to making the query more about supporting materials than about the book itself. A lot of writers use playlists and I think it’s a fun thing to share with readers later on—but I want to see your book and judge it on its own merits and not if I think “Call Me Maybe” is totally your main character’s anthem.
  If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
If your query is in my inbox and I haven’t replied, please don’t nudge me on something like this. Because it’s hard to keep track of which version of a query belongs to someone when there are thousands upon thousands of queries in your inbox. I’ll judge on your query and if I request pages, you happily get to send me a revised MS and I’m none the wiser. If I’ve already requested material and you’re planning on doing changes, let me know ASAP and I’ll hold off reading! (Though I’ll only do this once. If you continually poke me, about this, it makes me wonder if you really revised before sending it out.) If I’ve rejected and you’ve made huge sweeping changes? Then I don’t mind seeing a re-query. All I ask is that you tell me in your query that I’ve seen this before / rejected and that you’ve made substantial changes to the manuscript based on x-feedback. If there’s ever a question if I want to see something again or not, you’re welcome to give me a poke on twitter (@inthesestones).
  What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
The hard part about this industry is that it’s so subjective. Just not right for me is my way of saying “I like this, I think it’s a great hook and great writing, but for any number of reasons I just didn’t connect to it.” It’s so important to remember that other Agents will feel differently. Hell, other agents at BookEnds may feel differently! Just not right or just didn’t connect or any other stock phrase agents use in rejections aren’t meant to be demeaning. We know we’ll pass on what will be huge books. It happens. But wouldn’t you want to have an agent who finds your book EXACTLY right for them as opposed to just-kinda-sorta?
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Most definitely! If you’re looking for the agent to tell you when commas are in the wrong place or use an en dash rather than an em dash, I’m not the person for you. I am much more the “help me omg my plot just got stuck and I don’t know where to go” sort of agent. The one who can look at the big picture and see character issues or plot holes. Who can track pacing, etc. So if you’re looking for a hands-on agent, I’m your gal.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. Adult-wise, I have a huge weakness for erotic romance of the m/m variety and I’d love to sign a couple authors who write those! I love things set on college campuses (not necessarily college students though!) or people with unusual jobs. The dynamic between an out man and his closeted lover is also one I adore. I prefer my m/m to not focus on a coming out story. Just a great romance between two men who happen to be gay / bisexual.
2. YA-wise, I have a soft spot for the fae and would love a fae-centric Urban Fantasy. Something with a new twist on the Tuatha Dé DanannReally, any new twist on the paranormals would be great—just no vampires please! It has to be something really special and new. (and squeezing in an extra want here… I’m surprised there haven’t been more assassins in my inbox given my love of Assassin’s Creed!)
3. MG-wise, I’d love to find an adventure-esque series with puzzles. A MG Indiana Jones!
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
Whenever I’m asked about my favorite book, I always give the same answer: the FEVER series by Karen Marie Moning. It’s a wonderful mix of romance + urban fantasy + fae. I love all things Arthurian and fairy tales as well as Greek and Roman mythology, so I’m always drawn to either retellings of both of these things or new twists on the old legends. Favorite movies / TV shows right now include: Jupiter Ascending, all things Marvel (I have a real weakness for Bruce Banner…), Once Upon a Time (my poor, poor Rumple), Star Trek (the original series, as well as the more recent films), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (see above for new twists on old legends / Arthurian).


Becoming a literary agent was fitting for the girl who, as a small child, begged her dad to buy her a book simply because "it has a hard cover." Growing up, she had a hard time finding YA books outside of Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine, and instead tackled Tom Clancy or her mom's romance novels. Though her career path zigzagged a bit—she attended college as a music major, earned a JD from Pace Law School, then worked various jobs throughout the publishing industry—Moe was thrilled to join the BookEnds team in May of 2015 as a literary agent and the foreign rights manager.

A Pennsylvania native, she is the proud owner of one rambunctious guinea pig who is a master at stealing extra treats. When not reading, she is an avid gamer and always awaiting the next Assassin's Creed release.

Moe is interested in science fiction and fantasy for all age groups (no picture books). She loves a bit (or a lot!) of romance in her fiction, so the right contemporary or historical romance will spark her interest. She's LGBTQ friendly, so send her that male/male erotic romance in your back pocket! At this time she's not looking for nonfiction, women's fiction, or cozy mysteries.

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic interview! Great questions, sure, but really appreciated Moe's detailed and insightful answers. Thanks for sharing.