Monday, September 19, 2016

Query Questions with Jennifer Soloway

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 series 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 from the real expert--agents!

Query Questions is back with a fresh set of questions and more agents. The people have spoken and let me know which questions should stay and which could go. We've got a few brand new situations that writers would like clarified.

I'm so happy to have Jennifer Soloway from Andrea Brown Literary Agency today to share her thoughts on querying. 

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

Please query me anytime. I am actively building my list, and I read and consider every submission I receive. My hope is to find a great new project. 
2. Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

I always read the sample pages. For me, what matters most is the writing and story. If you can raise a question in my mind (or better yet, two or three questions) that captivates my curiosity, I will request the manuscript so I can find out what happens next.  
3. How open are you to writers who have never been published?

Open! I'd love to find an unknown and introduce that writer to the world!
4. The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?

A rhetorical question isn't a deal killer for me, but I don't think it's necessarily the best way to pitch a project. I'd rather be tantalized with a conflict or problem that I'm curious to see unfold.
5. How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?

Comp titles are great and can be very helpful to set the tone for a project. I use them when I pitch to editors. Movie/TV references are fun too. For example, if you were to say, "BLACK SWAN meets ROSEMARY'S BABY," I would request it right away!
6. Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

Personalized chit chat is nice, but I really want to hear about the manuscript. Let me know the category (picture book, middle grade, young adult, thriller, psychological horror, etc.), the word count, and a brief pitch about the book. Raise a question in my mind. Hook me with a great premise. Make me want to read your book!
7. How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?

Our agency receives hundreds of queries a day. I read and consider everything that comes into my query box. I am very open and actively building my list, and I have been requesting quite a few projects with the hopes of finding clients. Today I went to a conference and heard some terrific pitches. I requested four full manuscripts and a number of partials. I can't wait to start reading their work! 
8. How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate?  

I don't mind a gentle nudge after a month. I always try to respond within 6-8 weeks, but occasionally, I do get backlogged with my reading, because I am focused on work for my current clients. When I do fall behind, I try to reach out to those writers to let them know I'm behind but that I'm still reading their work. I appreciate their patience and understanding. 
9. When a writer nudges with an offer, what length of time is helpful to give you enough time to consider? A week? Two weeks?

Two weeks is ideal for me. When I make an offer to a client, I always suggest writers take two weeks to consider their options before giving me a final answer. I want to make sure they have enough time to make an educated decision. My goal is to have a long career with my clients. I want really want to the partnership be a good fit.   
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?

I think it's wonderful is a writer is active on social media, but it wouldn't necessarily sway me either way.  I am most interested in story and strong writing. If I like a project, I will request it. And then if I fall in love with the project, I will make an offer of representation. 
11. If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? Does it make a difference if the changes are from an R&R with another agent?

We have seen amazing transformations in prospective client's work when they revise and resubmit, which is why we suggest to writers, "if the work is significantly revised, you may resubmit it after 6 months." If a writer wishes to revise and resubmit to me six months after first querying me, I would be delighted to consider the revised submission.
12. What themes are you sick of seeing?

I'm really open to anything. I love a good story, and if the writing is strong with a great premise and fascinating characters, I'll read any theme. 
13. Do you look at trends or editor wish lists when deciding to sign a manuscript?

Part of being a good agent is knowing the market and the types of projects editors are buying. I regularly talk to editors to find out their tastes and wish lists. Those wish lists are always on my mind as I read a submission, but I am also looking for that fresh new idea or voice that I haven't heard before. I'd love to find the project that will launch a new trend.
14. Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Does a manuscript have to be sub-ready or will you sign stories that need work?

A submission doesn't have to be perfect or sub-ready, but I want to see a manuscript that has been developed over the course of several rounds of revision.  I am a very hands-on, editorial agent, and I am looking for writers who are willing to work hard with me to produce their best work possible. I think the revision process is magical. It brings me great joy to help writers elevate their work. When I go out with a project to editors, I want to put our best foot forward. 
15. What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?

I don't really have query pet peeves, although I suppose it's a bit of a turn off when a writer tells me how great their project is. Don't tell me it's great. Let me read it and then tell you it's great. 
15. What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Psychological horror that blurs the lines between the real with the imagined. I love the question: Is it real or is it all in my head?

Action-packed thrillers and mysteries, full of unexpected twists

Literary stories about ordinary people, especially those focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or addiction. 

A spooky middle grade ghost story 

Laugh out loud funny picture books.

Oops, that's five

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

This is always such a hard question for me, because I read a lot and my taste is eclectic. Here are some favorites off the top of my head:

Picture Books: BIG PLANS, by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith; CREEPY CARROTS, by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown; GRACE FOR PRESIDENT, by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Middle Grade: The KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES Series, by Shannon Messenger; THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS, by John Bellairs (which I just reread and still love! I'd love to find a modern day version!)

Young Adult: THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, by Sherman Alexi; THE CURE FOR DREAMING. by Cat Winters; PEAS AND CARROTS, by Tanita S. Davis; THE SCORIO RACES, by Maggie Stiefvater; NIGHT SPEED, by Chris Howard; THE MARBURY LENS, by Andrew Smith; and anything by Judy Blume!

Adult: I love Tana French. I've read all of her work, and I especially loved THE SECRET PLACE. I'm also a die-hard fan of Donald Ray Pollock. THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME is a masterpiece. I think he's brilliant! And no one writes conspiracy thrillers like Barry Eisler. THE GOD'S EYE VIEW is a a fun, fast, tense read!  

Film: The best movie I saw last year was a Columbian film, EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT. It should have won the Oscar for best foreign film! And IT FOLLOWS is one of my most favorite horror movies. I'd love to find a YA horror like IT FOLLOWS! 

TV: I am really into MR. ROBOT right now, and I can't get enough of THE AMERICANS. I also love comedies: MASTER OF NONE, YOUNGER, TEACHERS, BLACKISH, and BROOKLYN NINE NINE.

Jennifer works closely with Executive Agent Laura Rennert. She enjoys all genres and categories, such as laugh-out-loud picture books and middle-grade adventures, but her sweet spot is young adult. 
Jennifer is a suspense junkie. She adores action-packed thrillers and mysteries, full of unexpected twists. Throw in a dash of romance, and she’s hooked! She’s a sucker for conspiracy plots where anyone might be a double agent, even the kid next door. She is a huge fan of psychological horror that blurs the lines between the real and the imagined. But as much as she loves a good thriller, she finds her favorite novels are literary stories about ordinary teens, especially those focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or addiction. In such stories, she is particularly drawn to a close, confiding first-person narrative.

Prior to joining ABLA, Jennifer worked in marketing and public relations in a variety of industries, including financial services, health care, and toys. She has an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College, and was a fellow at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto in 2012. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, their two sons, and an English bulldog.  

1 comment:

  1. I've already sent a query letter to Laura Rennert, but if I had read this sooner I would have targeted Jennifer. My manuscripts are right in her wheelhouse, and she seems so nice. :)