Monday, September 12, 2016

Query Questions with Renee Nyen

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.

Here today is Renee Nyen from KT Literary. Renee is looking for YA and MG, find her full wishlist here.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Not particularly. Sometimes I'm farther behind than others. But that's no one's fault but my own.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I read at least the first paragraph of probably 75% of the queries that come into my inbox. I really ascribe to the "content is King" school of thought. Novelists write novels. Writing a query is a different kind of writing. It's important for novelists to learn query writing, but I recognize the jump between disciplines can be difficult. So if I liked the premise, I usually read a few lines no matter what shape the query is in.

How open are you to writers who have never been published?
I love debut authors! Publishers tend to prefer it! Not that I can't sell a previously published author, but then the editor has to have the conversation of "low previous sales numbers" when I'm trying to negotiate more money. So "debut novelist" is a really advantageous place to be! (Even if you're querying your 3rd or 4th manuscript!)

The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?
Yes. Just. Yes. So much yes. Here's why:

It's a lazy way of trying to garner an emotional connection from your reader. And it almost immediately makes me think the writer might cut corners in the manuscript, too. By asking "What would you do if everyone you ever loved turned into a zombie?" a writer hopes I'm picturing my husband looking a little green, staggering around, and trying to eat my brains. But that's not the purpose of a query. I want to know what your main character does when, presumably, their family becomes zombies!

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 a lot of fun for me! I'm a sucker for a great comp combo. I like to see one or two books in your genre from a big house published in the last year or two. But after that, get creative! Like "The shifting reality of Claudia Gray's A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU with the high-stakes race plotline of Ryan Graudin's WOLF BY WOLF" or "The Breakfast Club meets EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU" or "AND I DARKEN meets Game of Thrones". Ok, now I'm just creating a wish list. But you get the picture.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I understand it can feel weird to dive into a query with no preamble, but go for it! We both know why you're in my inbox--I can get your manuscript in front of editors. That's why we're both there. If I love your query, your pages, and your manuscript, then I will ask why you wrote the manuscript and where you see your career going.

If you want to mention my favorite band or a favorite TV show we have in common, it never hurts. Or telling me why you chose to query me. But it isn't necessary. For me, social media is the best place for personal connection! (Shameless Twitter plug: Follow me! @ me! Send me Supernatural gifs. @Renee_Nyen I like seeing familiar social media faces in my query inbox.)

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
It depends. I've had as many as 200 in a week. But mostly, its about 30-50. I will usually look pretty closely at 25% of the queries in my inbox. Probably requesting partials for 1-3 per week.

How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate?
I'm not going to say you can't nudge. But I am going to say it doesn't make me read faster. I'm (almost) always aware of what's in my inbox. And if I haven't gotten to your submission, I intend to. That said, if I put out a "I'm all caught up!" tweet, and you haven't received a response? Absolutely follow up. Via email. Please. Nudges on Twitter or, worse, anonymously via Tumblr are not my favorite.

When a writer nudges with an offer, what length of time is helpful to give you enough time to consider? A week? Two weeks?
Usually I see two weeks. That's pretty industry standard. Just be polite and communicative and you'll be fine!

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 don't require an author be active online, but if I'm trying to get a sense of someone (especially if I love their pages/partial) it's really frustrating if I can't find them on social media. How else will I internet stalk them? :) It doesn't tip the scales in either direction for me, personally, but I love when writers provide me with their Twitter handle in a query.

I encourage my clients to at least have the social media set up. It's not necessary, but it's a useful tool, and usually one that editors and publicists ask about. And find what works for you. If you have a happy little corner of Tumblr, no need to dump all your efforts into Twitter. Social media works best when there is genuine connection with people. And that connection will work best if you're comfortable with the platforrm. So find what you like and go for it! There's no wrong time to start building relationships!

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?
I prefer to only see the query once. Even if you've overhauled it. Typically even a huge overhaul isn't going to change the mechanics of your query too much. So, I say don't switch out at the query level. If it's requested material, give me an FYI. If I'm interested, I'll ask for the update. If not, it's a good way to nudge an agent into a response without actually nudging them. :)

What themes are you sick of seeing?
The dead parent/best friend trope is incredibly overwrought in YA. Grief is a formative human experience, especially during adolescence, but it takes a very special grief story for me to connect with it. I also HATE the vacuous, gregarious, shop-a-holic, sex-crazed best friend trope. Hate. Especially when they drag the main character to a party in the first three chapters. That's not a meaningful relationship, that's a plot device with a name and, likely, a drinking problem. I've seen a huge shift to deep, genuine friendships in YA and I'm really loving it! Teens are complicated, and some of them like to party, but I like seeing the other side, too!

Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?
Do I sign books specifically to fulfill an editor wishlist? No. I have to sign a book because I love it. Not because I think someone else will.

Am I very aware of it while I'm putting together pitches for editors and building sub lists? Absolutely!

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?
I got into publishing on the editorial side, so I'm very editorially minded. I want my clients to get the best contract possible. If that means we put in a little bit of editorial work before hand, I'm happy to do that!

What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?
I don't like when writers use weird fonts and formatting. It detracts from your content. This goes for your manuscript, too. Just one font in one size, please. If you are really compelled, you can use all caps for character names in your synopsis, but that's it.
Also, please don't pitch the second, third, or fourth book in a series. Or a self published book. Getting a publisher to jump in mid-stream on something like that is pretty rare. Publishers like their intellectual property to be unencumbered by any other contracts.

Finally, queries written in first person "by" the main character are a big no for me. Even if your book is very voicey and in first person, I prefer to see the traditional query format.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
I'm a huge SFF fan. The farther from our world, the better. And I've been reading a lot of historical YA lately and loving it. Magical Realism seems to be a pretty regular thing on everyone's wish list lately, and I'm no exception.

Also, someone, feel free to write me that Kiersten White/Game of Thrones mash-up I pitched earlier, ok?!

That said, Any YA or MG can turn my head if I connect with the characters and the writing!

Several years in the editorial department at Random House’s Colorado division provided Renee with the opportunity to work with bestselling and debut authors alike. After leaving Random House, she came to KT Literary in early 2013. She loves digging into manuscripts and helping the author shape the best story possible. Though this is great for her profession, it tends to frustrate people watching movies with her. With a penchant for depressing hipster music and an abiding love for a good adventure story, Renee is always looking for book recommendations. Even if that means creeping on people reading in public. Which she does frequently. She makes her home in Arizona with her husband, and their two children.

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