Friday, August 14, 2015

Query Questions with Alex Barba

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.

Yay to having Alex Barba of JD Lit here today to talk about queries! Thanks Alex!

Is there a better or worse time of year to query? Nope!

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query? If you're misspelling words, yes!

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strongI look at sample pages unless the query is unintelligible.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them? At the moment I check them myself, although I may need an intern in the future!

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

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? If it's a very good, very true comp, then yes. Otherwise no.

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? Hardly ever. I don't mind if you're querying multiple agents at once, but if I request a full manuscript, it's very appreciated if you let me know if you've had other requests and/or offers of representation.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript? Manuscript, definitely. Although hearing that you've checked my preferences is always good - then I can safely assume that it's the type of story I'm looking for before I even get into it!

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? I don't require word count, although it's helpful. I'd say it's always a good idea to state the genre first.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
 While the title & names are sometimes changed by publishers, what I'm concerned with is what I'm reading. So yes - make sure they're kick-ass/what you want!

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those? At the moment, since I just opened for queries, I'm receiving about 40 queries a week. It depends on the batch, but if I averaged it out I think it'd come to about 2 manuscript requests per 40 queries.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? It's ok to resend if there have been dramatic changes made, but definitely mention that it's a resend in the first sentence of the new query.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you? Sometimes you magically connect with a piece of writing. Sometimes you don't. Unfortunately, there's no science or proven method to writing a piece that will connect with someone.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?  I look for projects that are polished as-is, but I am not averse to editing - if I find something I totally love but that just needs a few tweaks, I'll offer representation with the author's understanding that we'll do some editing before submitting.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? 1. YA versions of Elizabeth Bennet (admirable - yet fallible - heroine) and Mr. Darcy (suspect/maybe standoffish at first, but eventually proven totally lovable). 2. YA with a compelling, complicated romance really at the forefront - think Stephanie Perkins or a YA Emily Giffin or Nicholas Sparks. (That's from a #MSWL tweet by Emilia Rhodes, for whom I'd love to find a terrific manuscript!) 
3. Anything Wizard of Oz-y. Bring on the ruby-slippered heroines! Maybe a retelling, except grounded YA? Or Dorothy-as-a-teen-type thing?
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? Good question! Some of my favorite books, in no particular order: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty, the Between the Lines series by Tammara Webber, and Dealing with Dragons  by Patricia C. Wrede. Some of my favorite movies in no particular order: Casablanca, White Christmas, Family Man, Love Actually, Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, The Lord of the Rings (also the books because, duh).


Alex Barba joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in 2018, where she is building her list, seeking submissions in YA and MG. Previously with Inklings Literary Agency, she has degrees in political science and public policy, and worked as a literary scout in New York and in story development in Los Angeles. A traveler at heart, she’s lived in Spain and studied in Southeast Asia and Germany, but her favorite journeys always seem to be into the pages of a good book. 

​I am primarily looking for contemporary, but will also welcome light fantasy or sci-fi. A clever retelling or reimagining of an old classic - fairy tales, myths - is always thrilling, particularly with a magical, mystical storybook feel that is nonetheless tangible enough to imagine in today’s world (favorite book of all time: Ella Enchanted). I love escapist fantasy grounded in accessible characters. I’m craving feminist tales and diverse voices, particularly of the speak-truth-to-power persuasion/#resistance from young women characters.

Young Adult: Contemporary and fantasy YA with a strong, unique voice is my first love. I enjoy compelling romance with an interesting hook, and anything set in a beach town (gotta love those summer reads). I love issue-driven stories, slightly dark/subversive story lines for upper YA, and friendships that go the distance. I love a gothic tone or a light fantasy. I’m also open to commercial fiction with YA crossover appeal - those bold, coming-of-age stories for both the adult and young adult audiences.
Middle Grade: Positive stories with nerdy girl or boy characters, stories about that awkward tween phase, and historical fiction (I want the next American Girl series so badly). Mischievous MG characters are my fave.

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