Friday, February 26, 2016

Query Questions with Tricia Skinner

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.

What better way to start the blog up again after an amazing contest than with an agent interview! Tricia Skinner is here from Fuse Literary to share her query process.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
It's best to visit the agency website or the social media for the agent you are targeting. Those places will usually state when they are open or closed for new submissions. Agencies take breaks around the holidays so everyone can enjoy family time or catch up on their manuscript reading. Queries that come in when an agency stated it was closed risk never reaching the agent.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
I'm not that hardcore! If there's one minor mistake I ignore it. The same goes for the manuscript. Yes, I want to see it polished, but I know one or two minor mistakes can slip past the author. The flip side, though, is a query or manuscript riddled with grammar and punctuation issues. That gives the wrong impression. It tells me the author doesn't care, which is not the kind of author I want to team with.​

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

​I always read the sample pages if the query has a good hook. I've read queries that weren't the best, but the sample pages proved the author had potential. Keeping me hooked with the pages is the real challenge. 

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?

​No. Even in my personal reading, I don't read prologues. The rarest time this might be different is if the world is known to me and the prologue helps place the story in that updated world. So, if I've been reading a series and a new book uses a prologue to explain a timeline jump or something like that, I'll check it out. But in a raw pitch of a manuscript I know nothing about? No. The sample pages should be strong enough to hook me without it.

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?

​At Fuse Literary, we regularly communicate with each other. So, if we've met someone at a conference but that person doesn't write a genre we cover, we'll suggest they contact someone else on the team. We normally don't forward queries around as each of us have a ton already. It's just best to query the correct agent rather than rely on one of us to send a pitch to someone else on the team.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

​The manuscript is everything. I've had queries go on and on with the "chit chat" and forget to say much about the manuscript. Those usually are instant rejections.

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?

​Yes! The genre info and word count tell me if the author understands the market. If I received a YA romance pitch that's 150,000 words, I'd reject it. ​That's not what an editor would expect from that genre. Researching genres is the job of every author.  

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 absolutely prefer to find writers with a social media presence. After reading a query I like, I will visit the website of the author and look at all their social media. I get a feel for how well they understand author branding. I also will notice any red flags that may make them a bad match for me. I really believe an unpublished writer should at least have a website to provide basic information (bio, current project/WIP), etc. They don't need a lot right away, but I like seeing they're ready to handle the branding part of their career.​

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?

​Honestly, a link to their website is the best. On the website should be links to the other social media outlets, such as Twitter or GoodReads. One or two links isn't offensive.  

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?

​Tough one. When you send a manuscript, you're saying you've polished it and it's ready to be read. I may begin reading a manuscript but stop for a short bit because of another pressing matter. I'll pick it up again and finish so I can make a decision on it. If I were to get a revised version sent, I'd likely ignore it because I expected what I had was ready to go. Time is tight for agents. The only advice here is limit how many agents you send the work to. If you end up massively revising it, you'll only have sent the original to a small number of people.

 What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?

​Anything pertinent to the manuscript. For example, if the book is about an anthropologist who tries to stop a crime lord from selling artifacts, I'd love knowing the author has a degree in anthropology or was in law enforcement. Education or careers that would add to the creation of the book. Hobbies that directly connect to the book, like being a candy maker and writing a cozy mystery, would also be fun to note.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?

​I want the manuscript to create a reaction in me. Since I'm focused on romance, I'd actually expect to fall in love with the characters and what happens to them. There have been manuscripts I requested that grabbed with with the sample pages, but the rest for the book fell apart. The reader promise I expected never happened. That doesn't mean the manuscript is awful. It means what I expected didn't happen or didn't work.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?

​Yes. I'll do everything I can to give my clients the best chance at landing a book deal. I've already chosen my client because I love their work so my main goal is to offer suggestions that will make the manuscript stronger. 


Tri­cia Skin­ner is an Assistant Agent working with Laurie McLean. Raised in Detroit, Tricia obtained her undergraduate degree from the nationally acclaimed Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State University. She earned her graduate degree from Southern Methodist University.
Professionally, she began her writing career as a newspaper reporter and wrote for The Detroit NewsInvestor’s Business DailyMSN, and The Houston Chronicle. She’s covered small & minority business, personal finance, and technology.
Tricia has 20 years of experience working with the video game industry in various roles, including public relations, industry relations, and writing/editing. She is also a hybrid author of passionate urban fantasy (represented by Fuse co-founder Laurie McLean).
Diversity in genre fiction is dear to Tricia’s heart.  As an agent, Tricia wants to represent authors who reflect diversity and cultures in their work. The real world is not one nationality, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. She’s looking for talented writers who deeply understand that as well.
On the personal side, Tricia has a Tom Hiddleston obsession and she is definitely Team Vader. Her fam­ily includes three Great Danes (so far).
Laurie McLean and Tricia are working together on clients. Currently, they are interested in Romance in the following subgenres and specialties: science fiction, futuristic, fantasy, suspense, military/special ops, paranormal, and medieval historical. Multicultural settings/topics and diverse characters strongly encouraged. Until further notice, they are only soliciting new romance clients for their team. For all other genres, Laurie and Tricia are closed to new submissions unless met at conferences or online events.

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