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.
We haven't heard much from non-fiction agents. I'm happy to remedy that with Megan Close of Keller Media.
First off, I’d like to say that we are an agency that specializes in non-fiction. While we do occasionally consider a fiction project, I will be answering most of these questions in connection with nonfiction projects.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query? No. Publishers are generally not buying projects during the last couple months of the year, so we are usually not pitching at that time, but we are still enthusiastically receiving queries and proposals.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query? No, but if the query has clearly not been read over or edited well, it does lessen my enthusiasm.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong? Generally only if a query is strong.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them? We do have a query manager here that generally sifts through the queries that come in, but I review many myself.
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look? Occasionally. If there is a query or proposal that I am not sure about, I may sit on it for a little while. But generally if we have rejected something I do not go back and reconsider (unless a major change has been made – increased platform, etc.).
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages? That is fine.
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? In a nonfiction book proposal, they are hugely important. It shows that the author has done their market research and that this book would have a strong chance in the current marketplace.
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? If it is a book that is more to my boss’ liking, I will send it along to her. She does the same for me. I would do some research to see which projects the specific agent is seeking and query that agent over anyone else.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript? It does help to know WHY you are querying me or the agency, but I wouldn’t spend too much time on that. Knowing what you have to offer is the most important thing.
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? It is helpful to have it at the beginning, but if that information is mentioned elsewhere, it is not a dealbreaker.
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? You should always err on the side of simplicity when writing queries.
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers? No – more often than not it is changed during the publishing process.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those? Anywhere from 20-100, it really depends. I’d say we request additional information on 10%.
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? Your platform is one of the most important areas that we look at. We don’t require writers to have a social media presence, but that is something they would likely need to have. Nonfiction authors need to show that there are a large number of people out there who will buy their book and prove it.
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? No, they are not offensive in an email signature. I would make sure to include those links in your book proposal.
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? Only if it was requested.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include? Related professional experience, anything that speak to your expertise on the subject matter.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you? That the project is not in a genre we represent, that it is not something we feel we can sell, etc.
What themes are you sick of seeing? Memoirs about happiness, road trips or abusive parents. This is not to speak badly to people’s experiences – there is just rarely anything new to say about the topics. If a book offers that, we’re always excited to see that.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? I do. I have an editorial background and working with writers is my favorite part of the job.
What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query? My name being completely wrong, outlandish claims as to the platform or experience of the author, really extremist political/religious/social views.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? 1) Books that are fresh, interesting, contemporary takes on the following genres: Self-Help, Relationships, Pop Culture, Pop Psychology, Management, Career, Entrepreneurship; 2) Books that are geared toward millennials (as much as I hate that term); 3) Books that come with authors who have amazing platforms.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? In my spare time I reading love mystery and suspense books and I love classic movies, but I also love reading authors like James Ellroy, Joan Didion, Jeanine Basinger, Tana French, Erik Larsen, Bill Bryson, John D. McDonald and Ross Macdonald, Pat Conroy, Ernest Hemingway, David Thomson, etc. etc. etc. – I could go on and on. As long as a book or movie entertains, inspires, or educates me, I love it.