Friday, July 21, 2017

Query Questions with Sarah Landis

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 happy to bring you a very new agent, Sarah Landis of Sterling Lord Literistic with her answers to your questions about querying and information about her wishlist. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Most agencies are closed the last week in August and the last week in December. I find the notorious “sleepy months” (July/August and January) in publishing are great times to reach out!

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I always dip into the pages because some great authors write terrible pitches (and vice versa!). But a well-written pitch with good comps will catch my eye and take top-priority.

How open are you to writers who have never been published?
Very! I love working with debut authors. And as a former book editor at large NY publishing houses, I can advise on all stages of publication, from first draft to marketing & publicity at a house.

The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?
Not always. They can be done in a clever way… but they can also get annoying fast.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?
Very important. It shows me that the author has done his/her research and knows what genre they are writing in. Movie/tv comps are good too. Anything that makes the pitch seem relevant.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I don’t think so. But fun/funny personal details in a bio are never a bad idea.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I’m brand-new so BRING ON the queries! I’m looking at everything and getting back to people quickly.

How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate? 
I think it’s fine if writers follow-up after 3 weeks. 1 week is too soon!

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 best, but I understand if things are moving faster than that.

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 an active social media presence is a bonus but not something that is going to sway me either way. I mostly work on fiction, and while a platform is lovely, it’s not always realistic. But I would always advise writers to start connecting with other authors on line. Twitter may not be their thing, but it’s so helpful to be active in their writerly community.

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 think only if material was requested.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
Issue books that are preachy. Copycats of blockbusters (cough Hunger Games). But I don’t want to close the door to any theme (even Vampires!). If it’s well-done it can rise above.

Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?
I try not to. If I feel passionate about a manuscript, I’m confident others will too!

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?
Absolutely! I was an editor for over 15 years on the adult and children’s side of the business. I love nothing more than working with an author on the page and brain-storming story ideas.

What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?
 I don’t think I have one yet. I’m too new!

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Can I only pick three?! Fantasy set in a world I haven’t seen. YA Stephen King (hey, a girl can dream!). Middle grade mystery with lots of heart. Contemporary romance that takes place during a summer. But most of all, narrative risk-takers!
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Favorite childhood books that date me: A Wrinkle in TimeITThe WitchesLittle WomenBridge to Terabithia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  
Favorite movies: GigiMy Fair LadyWizard of Oz (really, any musical from the 50s and 60s), LaLa Land, Pride & Prejudice   

Before joining Sterling Lord Literistic in 2017, Sarah worked as an editor for fifteen years, holding roles at G.P. Putnam Son’s, Hyperion Books, HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. Over the course of her career, Sarah has had the pleasure of editing many talented authors including the likes of: Jodi Lynn Anderson, Kasie West, Claudia Gray, Michael Buckley, Eileen Cook, Erin Summerill, and Megan Shepherd. Sarah is looking for middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction across all genres. She is particularly drawn to middle grade fantasy and contemporary with heart, humor, and magic. In the young adult space, she has an affinity for southern voices, high-concept plots, sci-fi/fantasy, historical, mysteries & thrillers, and emotionally compelling contemporary. Sarah graduated with a BA in English from the University of Virginia. Sarah accepts email queries at

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