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.
And here to take the first interview with the new questions is Shannon Powers of McIntosh and Otis.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
I think people think this magical “better” time exists, but as far as I’m concerned nope! The agents I know all read consistently throughout the year. Just expect to wait up to a few months for a decision, no matter when you submit. Remember that sometimes no response is the decision. Check the agent’s guidelines.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I make a solid effort to look at least a little bit of the sample pages to see writing. However, if a query really isn’t working for me or if it’s clearly not a book that would be a good fit (for example a genre I’m not interested in), I may skip them.
How open are you to writers who have never been published?
Very! Credentials are great but definitely not necessary in the querying stage.
The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?
I feel pretty neutral –to-“meh” about rhetorical questions. I definitely think there are better ways to incorporate a sense of mystery in your query, but I’m not outraged by rhetorical questions to the point where I’d pass on something immediately because of one. That said, in a query you want every line to be better than neutral-to-“meh.”
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?
I personally like comp titles and I love to see them in queries. They help me get a sense of where the author sees this book falling in terms of readers’ interests. Comp titles can also help get me really excited about a project. They are a great tool and even if they don’t make it into your query for whatever reason, you should be able to name a few anyway. For me, movies and TV are definitely ok!
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
No chit chat, and definitely not up front at the start of the query. The strongest queries for me are the ones that read like this book has already been published and I’m reading the jacket copy. If you’re going to chit chat, at the end of the letter is best. And keep it brief!
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
This fluctuates, of course. Right now it’s about 150ish/a week. From those I might request 2-4 things, on average.
How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate?
I don’t mind authors checking in via email (don’t do it on Twitter), but I respond personally to all requested material so there’s not a real reason to– they will hear from me either way once I’ve finished reading. However, as a rule of thumb I would wait at least 4 months before nudging.
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, otherwise you might get passes because of the rush. I wrote a detailed blog post about this whole process here!https://shannonepowers.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/so-you-got-an-offer-of-rep/
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?
Tip the scales, I don’t think so. At the end of the day the work and how much I click with this author are the deciding factors. That said, I definitely strongly encourage authors to beef up their online presence as it’s a great tool for both promotion and learning from others. For those who are social media-shy, I of course am happy to give tips and tricks to ease them in. A willingness to try with social media can go a long way.
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?
Only if material is requested. No.
What themes are you sick of seeing?
I don’t know that I’m sick of any “big idea” themes particularly, though I’m definitely not the best fit for something about say, parenthood or marriage. However are there are few tropes and plot devices I’m a little bored of: conflicts that center around reputation or “disgracing the family name,” women trying to be the perfect wife (whatever that means), an introverted character “coming out of their shell,” big, vague conspiracies (oppressive government, etc).
Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?
I would never sign a client just because they match a certain trend or editor’s wishes. As they say, if you’re signing for a trend, you’re already too late! However, I’m definitely always trying to be mindful of what is working in the market and listen to what editors say they are looking for. So I do consider these things, but they are never a deciding factor. Again, the writing and connection is most important.
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?
Definitely. I love the editorial side of things and am not afraid of substantial revisions, which I probably will ask for J What I look for before that is a solid foundation of story and characters and good writing – the rest can be adjusted as needed as we start to open up the big questions of the story, all the way down to the nitty gritty of the last round.
I’ve never really heard of a “sub-ready” manuscript coming in and needing no revision, and as an author I’d be wary if an agent had no improvements to suggest. Part of an agent’s job is to work with you to make your book better!
What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?
If a query doesn’t follow submission guidelines, I’m instantly turned off. It shows me that the author either is unprepared or didn’t care enough to research them.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. An incredibly smart, plot-driven mystery with great atmospheric writing.
2. A YA with the dark humor of Heathers.
3. A YA or MG featuring a Bonnie/Clyde style friendship or relationship.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Books (just some of a long list of favorites): anything by Megan Abbott, BONE GAP by Laura Ruby, IN THE WOODS by Tana French, THE FUTURE FOR CURIOUS PEOPLE by Gregory Sherl, GIRLS ON FIRE by Robin Wasserman, REBECCA by Daphne DuMaurier, THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner, WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple, THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller, THE TWO PRINCESSES OF BAMARRE by Gail Carson Levine, THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt, CORALINE by Neil Gaiman, WHY WE BROKE UP by David Handler, anything by Bill Bryson.
Movies & TV: My all time favorite movie is THELMA & LOUISE. Others: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, HEATHERS, IT FOLLOWS. Some TV for good measure: ORPHAN BLACK, PARKS & REC, STRANGER THINGS, THE KILLING, GILMORE GIRLS, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER.
SHANNON POWERS is a graduate of New York University. She began her career in publishing at McIntosh and Otis as an intern in 2011, and then went on to intern at The Book Report Network and W.W. Norton & Company. She has also worked as a bookseller. She returned to M&O in 2014, where she assists Shira Hoffman and Christa Heschke and is also looking to build her own list as a junior agent.
Shannon is interested in representing a range of both adult and children's genres. Above all, she looks for projects with a strong hook, smart plotting, memorable characters, and an addictive voice. She is open to both lighter projects and projects with a darker edge. For adult, her reading interests include literary fiction, mystery, horror, popular history, and romance. In YA and middle grade, she is searching for mysteries and thrillers with high emotional stakes, projects with romantic elements (whether fun or angsty), horror, light sci-fi or fantasy, and contemporary with a unique premise.