Thursday, July 13, 2017

Query Questions with Jess Dallow

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.

Jess Dallow has been taking part in our contests since she was an intern. Now she's at Brower Literary Management with her own clients.  

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Right around Christmas isn't the best time since publishing shuts down for a couple of weeks, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter to me when I receive them. I'll always get to my queries, whether it be before bed or during any free time I have at night, hopefully within a 4-6 week period. So, please feel free to send whenever, but a little warning that around the holidays it might be a week or so longer than usual. 
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
For the most part, if the query letter isn't strong, I won't read the pages since I have so many submissions I need to get to. There are times where I won't quite understand what the query is trying to say, but certain buzz words will stick out to me that'll make me take a quick look at the pages. I know it's a different skill set, but query letters really are so important. 
How open are you to writers who have never been published?
I'm very open to it. I generally tend to sign writers who haven't been published. Everyone has to start somewhere. 
The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?
Personally I'm not a fan of them, especially when a query starts out that way. I want you to tell me what your story is about. Tell me about your characters, your plot, why this is a manuscript I need to read. Asking rhetorical questions makes me feel like you're hoping I'll be convinced to read it, instead of believing in the story you have to tell. 
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?
This is a question that has come up a lot lately in conversations. I know some agents prefer not to have them or tend to skip over them, but I am a fan. I like knowing what it can be compared to either in plot, style, characters, genre, or whatever else. As someone who started her career in the entertainment industry, I do have a vast knowledge of TV and film, so I never mind when someone compares their novel to that if it works. It doesn't make or break anything for me, but I do appreciate it. 
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
It should mostly be about the manuscript, but I like when the author tells me a little bit about themselves outside of their former publications (if they have any) or their schooling. While that is good information to have, I often feel more connected if I know a little bit about you. One of the best query letters I ever received was someone who told me five facts about herself. It was random things that had no relevance to her writing, but I felt like I got a sense of her personality and her writing from that alone. If authors have looked me up, he/she knows facts about me. I like knowing some about you. I don't need a page, but a couple things is nice. 
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
It depends on the week. I would say around 25-50 a week? In that I'll request around 5-7, maybe. It's a small amount, but I know what I am looking for and not everyone is writing that. The writing can be fantastic, but it still might not be the right project for me. 
How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate? 
I'm fine with it, as long as an appropriate amount of time has passed. If you haven't heard from me in 2 months or over, feel free to email me (in the same thread) and ask if I've had the chance to get to it yet. The answer will likely be no if you haven't heard back from me yet. I try to get everything read in that amount of time, but there are some weeks/months that are crazier than others or I have client manuscripts to read, and I fall a bit behind. 
When a writer nudges with an offer, what length of time is helpful to give you enough time to consider? A week? Two weeks?
I appreciate when an author gives me 10-14 days. While I like to say I'd read immediately, sometimes it's not always possible, so having that time to read and get notes down is very helpful. I know it's nerve-wracking for the author to wait that long (and for the agent who had offered who wants you as a client), but it really does help. If it's a couple of days, even a week, there's a chance I'll say no just because I don't have the time to dedicate to it, as much as I might want to. The two week gap allows me time to rearrange things and get everything done. 
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?
If it's a work of fiction, I wouldn't not offer on someone because they didn't have a social media presence. I would encourage them to get one because I think it does help build their profile, but it's not make or break for me if they would prefer to stay off the radar for whatever reason. However, if it's non-fiction (which I rarely take on unless I feel very passionately on the subject), I will say no if there's not a huge social media presence. Much of non-fiction being sold to a publisher and people wanting to buy your book relies on who you are and if people know your story. 
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 don't need a new query if the plot itself hasn't changed. If the material is requested and I haven't gotten to it yet, I'd definitely prefer the newest version. I don't mind if the changes are from another agent due to a R&R, but I would like to know if they are considering an offer from that agent (or any other). 
Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?
I don't look, but I do keep it in mind when I am reading something. Unfortunately there are times I'll really like a manuscript or a specific genre, but I won't sign it because I know it's not selling at the moment. 
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 love the editorial part of my job. I go through quite a few drafts with my clients before it's ready to go out on submission, because I want it to be the best it can possibly be. There's something special about getting a manuscript that is so good, but needs to be torn up a little. If it needs too much work or I'm unsure of how that particular writer edits or takes notes or even what the story will become, I'll ask for a revise and resubmit instead. 
What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?
Writing the query in first person as your character. It's hard to understand and doesn't have the effect you want it to have. Majority of the time if I see it's in first person, I won't read it. Also, as mentioned above, I don't like the rhetorical questions. I'll still read it, but I prefer for queries not to have them. 
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? 
If anyone is interested in what I'm looking for, I tend to tweet out my #MSWL a decent amount on Twitter (@JLDallow). But the top 3, hm. This is hard!

1) I'd love a serial killer book. I want it to read like a true crime book or an episode of Criminal Minds. What's the motivation behind the killings? Who is this person in their every day life? What is the motivation behind the killings? How is this person seen to the outside world? Having them be a real person instead of just a killer and getting into their psyche is incredibly fascinating to me. 

2) A squeal worthy romance, but not a romance novel, if that makes sense. Something like The Royal We, where the romance is so much a part of it, but there's another story surrounding it. I want to fall in love with this couple, but see what their lives are like and how they come together in whatever circumstances. I'd actually love to see the romance happen between two people with a decent sized age difference, too. Not mandatory, but it could be interesting to see. 

3) A YA that deals with fandom/fanfiction. How people meet on line and are so willing to be open and honest with a stranger, instead of the people in their lives. I love the complexities that exist in the world of a favorite TV show or book or movie. The sense of community and the drama that happens; the relationships that form, either in friendship or romance; and how it can actually change a person and make them grow up. There's so much unexplored territory there to play with. 
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 

I am kind of all over the map...

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (Most of her books are on my favorite list.)
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll 
The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithan 

Scream Trilogy
How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days
The Proposal
Legally Blonde (Perfect example of a movie with a romance, but it's not the biggest part of it)
Working Girl

There's a lot more to both of these lists, but this is good for now. 

Having grown up with the same name as her favorite Sweet Valley High twin, Jess has always had a love for books, especially those that feature well developed, strong female characters. She is fascinated with complex characters and a world that she can fall in love with, stories that make her want to sob and laugh within minutes of each other, and a book that she can’t put down no matter what time it is or what rerun of SVU is on. She has a BFA in Writing for Film and Television from the University of the Arts and worked in entertainment for eight years before returning to her home state of NY where she worked at a literary agency for two years before joining Brower Literary & Management. Connect on Twitter: @JLDallow

Jess Dallow is interested in both YA and adult commercial fiction with a focus in romance, family stories, thrillers, mystery, and women’s fiction. She loves strong, complex female characters, worlds that she can fall in love with, stories that make her want to sob and laugh within minutes of each other, and a book that she can’t put down no matter what time it is. She is not looking to currently represent picture or chapter books.

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