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.
It's great to have Vicki Selvaggio here from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency to answer some Query Questions.
As with all my responses to the below questions, I’d like to note that all agents are different when it comes to their query/submission protocol.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
My protocol: The answer is “no”—one punctuation or typing error isn’t going to make me stop reading. In general, though, all writers (and illustrators, if applicable) should proof their query and manuscript several times, reviewing grammar, punctuation, and/or other errors. I’d also suggest having a reliable reader or critique partner review your query and manuscript before sending it out into the world of agents. At times, we become so passionate, that we can’t see those hidden mistakes. In addition, take a moment before you click “send”, make sure you’ve addressed the query properly—I can’t say how many times my name is incorrectly spelled, or that my title has mysteriously changed to “Publisher” or “Editor”!
Remember: Your work represents “you”, so send only your best!
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
My protocol: Honestly…I’m not a huge fan of the query letter. While I review queries faithfully, I’m more interested in the manuscript, and I will read the submission regardless of how I feel about the query letter.
The query, for me, is nothing but a tool in which I use to find out information about the project you’ve submitted, why you’ve submitted it to me, what other projects you have and/or the genres, what other publication credits you have (don’t fret if this is “none”. And don’t apologize for that!), and most importantly, to get an overall feel of you as a writer and your project.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
My protocol: No assistant or intern. I read, read, read everything! And I want to! For me, it’s like teaching your son and/or daughter to walk, talk, and/or ride a bike…I want to be there. I want to share in that excitement. I want to discover that gem!
In addition to this, it’s important for me to respond personally (no form letters) to everyone, even if I’m rejecting a project. But…this does take time, and I tend to be slower in my response time.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
My protocol: Simple…yes! If it’s part of the manuscript, include it.
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?
My protocol: I believe it’s important for a writer (and illustrator, if applicable), to have an idea on comp titles. While I’m not expecting a market analysis (please don’t send one), be aware of what projects are similar, and most importantly, how they’re different, and show that you’ve done some research.
When submitting to me, list this briefly.
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?
My protocol: I like to know this information ahead of time (before reading the manuscript)—it gives me a guideline on voice/character’s age/content. While I don’t have a preference if it’s in the beginning or the end of the letter, I do make a mental note, when one or both are missing.
Remember: Word count and genre gives a guideline on what I should expect to see in your submission. If you can’t decide what your genre is, and/or what the word count is, I’d review your manuscript again before submitting!
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
My protocol: This varies, depending on what website mentioned me (or interviewed me), or what event/function/social media/contest I’ve participated in.
Generally, the range is 50-100 a day (in a week, that’s a lot!). And as I’ve mentioned, I respond, personally to each one, which takes me a long time.
While I can’t give a percentage of requests (based on the number of queries), as it’s hard to say what will appeal to me on a daily basis, I can say that I’m quite thorough…meaning, I’ll request a manuscript, just to be sure (if I’m not), before I reject it. And usually, I include comments, so that the writer knows exactly what didn’t work for me.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
My protocol: Yes…and due to this, I’ve requested revised manuscripts. I do prefer an e-mail notification first, however, before forwarding the same “revised” manuscript. This allows me to organize my files/submissions appropriately.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
My protocol: Responding personally, my comments include my reason for passing on the project—I try to avoid using this phrase. I’m an author too…so I remember that, when responding.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
My protocol: I can’t list just three. I love all genres—from lyrical pictures books all the way to gut-wrenching thrillers.
For me, I want a beautifully written story in any genre. I’m all about the journey, the experience—captivate me, educate me, inspire me!
I am currently looking for lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction but find I’m especially drawn to Middle Grade and Young Adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me! On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.
Twitter: Victoria Selvaggio@vselvaggio1
Facebook: Vicki Selvaggio