Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Agent Interviews

I think it's time to do a refresher on agent interviews. I've used the same list of questions for several years. I think some of the questions don't need to be asked anymore as the agents say the same thing on them. And there might be new questions that make sense as things are always changing and publishing doesn't stand still.

Here's where you come in. I need to know exactly which questions to take out and suggestions for new questions about query slush or query letters. I need you to leave a comment with numbers you want out, numbers you want to stay, and suggestions for new material.

The list is too long now and I really can't add more questions unless some are removed. Agents don't have time for so many questions and slimming this list down will likely lead to more interviews.

Note: If I don't get any comments or get just a handful, I'm going to assume nobody wants me to do any further interviews and stop petitioning agents for their time. So that's a warning that I need and expect your help.

Here's the current questions:

1. Is there a better or worse time of year to query?

2. Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?

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

4. Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?

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

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

7. How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?

8. 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?

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

10. 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?

11. 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?

12. Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?

13. How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?

14. 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?

15. 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?

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

17.  What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?

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

19. What themes are you sick of seeing?

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

21. What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?

22. What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

23. What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?


  1. I'd like the ones to stay:1,2,3,4,5,7,9,13,16,17,19,20

    A question I'm curious about is will they sign an MS if they think it needs work? Or do they only sign if they think it's sub ready, and if so, do they offer R&Rs? And how frequent is that?

    Thank you for the time you put into this!

    1. I love your new questions! What level of revision are they willing to deal with?

  2. I'd like to know how agents feel about an author nudging when an agent has requested a full and hangs on to it for a long time. I've heard that some agents consider a nudge as a reason to pass. But how long should an author be expected to wait for some response after an agent has requested a full?

  3. I would keep the following questions: 3, 5, 6, 11, 14, 17, 18, 22, 23.
    My question is about query letters. At what point do you revise? After five rejections? More? How can I determine whether it's my MS or my query that the agent doesn't like?
    Your continued efforts are very much appreciated!! Thank you thank you!!

  4. I like questions: 1,2,8,13,17,especially 19, 20, 22, 23

    I think most people coming here to read the interviews are new, unpublished writers.These interviews were invaluable when I first started querying. I still come here before I send a query to an agent. I'd like to know how open are they to someone who hasn't been published before. What would they look for other than a fantastic voice.

    I'd also like to know if they look for trends that are hot on the market or just want a good book they think they can sale.

  5. I would want to keep these: 5, 7, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23

    I like 21 a lot, because it's fun. But if you're looking to slim down, I'd leave it out.

    Maybe a follow up question on comp titles: Do you like to see books only, or are TV/movie references acceptable? (I've seen varying answers on this one from agents, so I'd love to know.)

    I love these interviews and when I'm researching, I keep your blog open in one of the browser tabs!

  6. The ones I feel strongest about and would like you to keep are: 1, 3, 7, 9, 22, 23.
    I think you could drop 11 and 12. The answers I've seen are pretty much always the same.
    Unfortunately I can't think of any new questions right now, but I want you to know that your interviews are a default go-to whenever I research an agent!
    Thank you so much for your time and efforts!

  7. These are all great, but I find questions 8,9, 13-16 and 20-23 particularly helpful. I'd also like to know, if the author substantially revises the query and the manuscript, at what point can they query the agent again after receiving a rejection to the original query (should they wait six months, two years?). Also, how likely is an agent to give an R&R (as opposed to an outright rejection) if they like parts of a manuscript but think it needs additional work. Thanks so much for posting these interviews! :)

  8. I use these interviews and others like them constantly when I'm in agent-research mode--they are super helpful for tailoring queries and finding agents who might be a good fit for a specific project.

    I notice that many of the questions are yes/no, but they could be re-written to be more open-ended, and encourage agents to personalize their answers. So instead of "Will typos automatically sink a query?" there could be a question like "Is there anything that will cause you to automatically reject a query?" or "At what point do you stop reading sample pages?" Instead of "Are you a hands-on agent?" (which is yes or no) maybe "What kinds of preparations you do to get a manuscript ready to go out on submission?"

    Also, the time-sensitive questions can be interesting. "What's the most recent novel (that you don't represent) that you read and loved?" "Have you noticed any interesting patterns in your query in-box lately, good or bad?" "Is there anything you would love to see land in your inbox right now?"

    That's all I've got for now. :)

    1. The yes/no type of questions are totally for the agent's convenience. The simpler the interview, the more likely agents might be to take part. So that's my thinking behind that. But I'll considering making them more open ended.

  9. I always found your interviews so helpful, Michelle! Thank you for them! I'm not looking for an agent now, but I really hope you keep doing interviews for those who are. I thought 10,11,12 and 15 could be dropped. Wendy's suggestion about rewording to make for more open questions is also great.

  10. Hey!! These interviews were fun an interesting to read. I am not looking for an agent (Thank you, Sun vs. Snow!) but in looking through the questions, I think 10-12, and 15 can go, and check the wording of 18. Thank you for all you do!!!

  11. The questions I would like to stay are: 3,4,7,9,12,13,16,19,21-23.
    I've always found your interviews an excellent source when looking up agents and personalizing my queries, so I hope you keep doing them!

  12. I' love to see this continued. Questions 7, 18, 19, 20, 22 are excellent.

  13. I hope you keep doing these! I'm new to querying and this is just the kind of information I'm looking for from potential agents.

    Personally, I'm not too interested in the answers to questions 2,5,8,10,11, and 13.

    I am interested in the answer to 12 and14, but I don't think they would change how I query at all, so if you are looking to eliminate questions, these could also go in my opinion.

    Thanks for doing these interviews!

  14. Hi Michelle,
    So many great questions. What about lumping a number of them together by asking agents to describe what a good or "Yes" query looks like to them. In a short response agents can hit at those things that matter most to them without having to answer multiple pointed questions. What resources do agents recommend for querying writer's. What's their biggest query pet peeve.

  15. I saw your request on Twitter! If I had to cut, my opinion would be to lose: 2, 5, 10, 11, 21

    The ones I'd most like to see stay are: 7, 9, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23

    I wasn't aware of your posts, but what a great idea! Now I'm going to go read through all your archives :-) Thanks for doing these!

  16. I think questions 1, 2, 10, 12 and 14 could be dropped - it seems like the answers to those have usually been pretty similar from one agent to the next.

  17. Please keep questions 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 13, 19, 22, and 23. They help to give a sense of the agent's interests. Thanks so much for featuring these agent interviews!

  18. Hi Michelle, ones that I would like to keep would be 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22. Thanks.

  19. Noted all the feedback and questions 4, 5, 17, and 18 are on the bubble. Any strong thoughts on any of those?

    1. (I love the interview questions, btw. Nothing to add.) But on these specific ones you've mentioned, I don't think 5, 17 & 18 are necessary. I do like 4 but I can't explain why. I think you could also skip 10, 11 & 12, because I don't know that a writer would base a querying decision on those responses. If you're looking for more to cut... Thanks for doing these interviews!

  20. I LOVE these interviews; please keep doing them!

    I vote for keeping the following questions: 4,6-9,13,17,21-23, and I would like to see the question "If you've requested material in the past from a writer, should they mention it when querying a new book?"

    1. I think the answer to that questions is absolutely, Kara. Thanks for the feedback.

  21. I've added many of the suggested questions and taken out the questions with the lowest response. The list is down to 17! I think this is ready to try out with an agent. Now to find a willing agent.

  22. 18 was my favorite, but I think you have solid questions and others have already chimed in as to anything I'd have to add. Well done.