Monday, July 16, 2018

Query Questions with Naomi Davis of Bookends

After a short break to give me time away from my blog, Query Questions is back!

I hope to bring you many fresh interviews with agents from fresh agencies. Feel free to throw agent suggestions at me on twitter. 

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 other writing sites. They are the type of questions that you need answers from the real expert--agents!

Today we hear from an agent who has recently moved to Bookends, Naomi Davis with her answers to your questions about querying and information about her wishlist.

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

Lots of writers think that conference season is not a good time to query. I find this to not matter, personally. Everything goes into the pile and we work through our submissions when we have time. This can be on a plane, in a hotel, in front of the TV at home, or during work hours – it all depends on the agent and the schedule she sets for herself. While there may be times of year when an agent is quicker to respond, it would be a pretty rare and unwise thing for an agent to be like “This is book sounds excellent but it came in during July so NOPE!” If we’re particularly busy, it may take longer for us to get to it. My best advice is to follow agents on social media and watch for MSWL posts that indicate the agent is hungry for a new project.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

There are many queries I see that clearly do not fit my wishlist. These I will reject based on the query itself. But when a project is within the genres I’m seeking, I base my decision on the writing sample probably 95% of the time.

How open are you to writers who have never been published?

Completely open. While I love to see queries from established authors and writers who are pursuing their careers independently through writing groups, social media presence, and shorter publications, I’m always hopeful that a debut author will be an undiscovered wonder I get to work with from the start!

The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?

You’ll find some agents vehemently opposed to these. I recognize that constructing a query is an art in itself, and I try to look for the story within the query, not just the way this is executed. Personally: I don’t immediately reject a project for any petty reason like this, but as a general rule, the fewer reasons you give agents to reject your book, the more manuscript requests you might receive.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?

They are important because they help us envision positioning on bookshelves and the target audience, which helps us strategize our own submission lists. While I do like to see them, I’d rather see an accurate comp title than see an author trying to force a label on their project when it doesn’t really fit. Yes, I like to see movie/tv comps – in fact I encourage creative comping, too, such as inserting familiar characters into other settings for a comp. “If Harry Potter was forced to navigate the world of Ender’s Game…” sort of comps tell me a LOT more than “Fans of Divergent will love this story” comps. A comp should tell the agent as concisely as possible what familiar notes to expect from your novel.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

I love when authors give me a personal note like “I loved your thread about worldbuilding on Twitter” – it tells me they probably have a clear grasp on what I do and do not want to see in a query. But it’s not required. Some of the strongest submissions I’ve read came from quick, to-the-point queries. I will caution that the more word space you spend talking about what you love about the story, the more reason you give us to skim. A personalized intro is fine but then do get to the point so we can form our own opinions.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?

I receive no fewer than 200 queries a month – usually closer to 300 or more. Of these, I typically request 20-40 manuscripts. It’s hard to break it down by week because when I post a #MSWL Tweet or two, I tend to get bombarded with queries. So to tie back in to your earlier question about when is a good time to query: I don’t post those Tweets unless I want my inbox SLAMMED. 😊

How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate?

It’s appropriate once we have exceeded the recommended time frame on our submissions pages on our websites. Not before then unless you have an offer from another agent or publisher. It DOES annoy me when authors nudge after a week or two – this industry is full of waiting, so get used to it at this early stage!

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 definitely preferred. You want to be able to consider all possible offers, right? Don’t rush this – the first agent who offered isn’t necessarily the right agent for you. And if they ARE the best fit agent, they will be willing to wait in the best interest of your career. Your agent should be the one you can trust to respect your decisions about these big issues and support your total career direction. But when choosing that agent, make sure you feel good about communicating with them editorially and strategically, too. We often give guidance about which project to tackle next or which project to NOT submit at a certain stage, and trust is essential in those situations.

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 nudge us with a revision if the material was requested and already sent. We know authors often continue to improve a story through the query stage. Otherwise, upon receiving a request, just indicate in your response that the material has been revised since the initial query, and send along an updated query if the changes were significant enough to warrant that.

Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?

Yes, absolutely. So many agents and editors are actively watching readers on social media and seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and talking about these things with them and with each other. While I won’t sign a book for trend-only reasons (the writing has to be there too), knowing what editors want to read is a critical part of deciding whether a book has real sales potential or not. It’s always my goal to get the books editors want to read into their hands, so we can share an amazing story with readers!

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 am absolutely willing to work hands-on and editorially with a client – in fact it’s rare that I don’t have at least a few comments about the book’s execution - but there is a limit to this. If I have to teach an author basic writing skills, this isn’t the strongest use of my time. A manuscript has to have only a few writing hiccups that I can correct in a way I know the author will carry forward into their next projects, or an adjustment of plot arc/character direction that I can visualize and relay confidently. If it really needs a total overhaul, I’d have to LOVE the voice to take that on.

What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?

Ohhh I don’t know if I want to answer this. There are indeed a few things. Believe it or not, I STILL get queries that compliment my physical appearance in the opening sentences. Do not do this. I can look like a Tolkien Uruk-Hai and still sell your book. Don’t start our working relationship off this way; make it clear you value me for my skills in this industry.

Aside from that, while I won’t reject a query for simple typos or grammatical errors, if you ramble on in your query and cannot get to the point, I do question whether you know how to use words wisely.

OH or if you say to me, “I know you said on Twitter that you’re not looking for X, but I really think you should give X a chance…” This shows blatant disregard for my opinion and again does not start our working relationship off on the right foot.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

Adult fantasy
Adult sci fi
YA sci fi/fantasy
But I can’t stress enough that I am active on Twitter and sharing what I do and do not want to see in these genres in great detail. These genres are BOUNDLESS. Give me totally new interpretations of these genres, and do not let what you’ve read in the past cramp your creativity. Take risks, break molds, try new things. Bring me something I’ve never seen before, done in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I’ll take that chance with you.


Authors have always been Naomi Davis's superheroes. Growing up in Minnesota, she spent her elementary years pretending she was every character in every book she read. Now a mother, gardener, and beekeeper, Naomi loves meeting readers everywhere she goes and finding out what makes them love the books that sweep them away. A life-long writer and author-fanatic, she has a mild to moderate obsession with slippers, and sings in two philharmonic choirs.

Naomi's first steps into the world of publishing came in grade nine, when she was invited to job-shadow the Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper. She then tip-toed into the world of journalism, having an article published by a magazine in her senior year of high school. Since then, her joy in the literary industry has taken many forms: blogging, critiquing, and writing fiction. Naomi has a passion for helping authors develop stakes, voice immersion, and tension to a story's highest possible potential, and often tweets about strategies for accomplishing those goals on her Twitter @NaomisLitPix

After five years with Inklings Literary Agency, Naomi is elated to join the Bookends team and grow her client list. She seeks dynamic, character-driven middle grade, adult, and young adult titles in fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. LGBTQ+ elements and diversity in all fiction are a particular plus, and Naomi will consider picture books featuring those elements. Naomi is particularly passionate about finding new fantasy and sci-fi settings with unique magical structures that surprise the reader and change the rules readers associate with those worlds.


  1. Awesome interview Naomi! Thank you for sharing!

    Is this an appropriate forum to post a question? I was just wondering if you (or agents in general) have a process for reading fulls? Do you typically go chronologically? Or switch between requested materials?

    Thank you again!

    1. Hi!
      It really varies from agent to agent, and there are many factors that go into this. For example, if a project I've requested 2 days ago has an offer from another agent, I jump on that rather than waiting for its turn to come up. Sometimes I work through genres based on my own submission schedule and might go through all my Middle Grade fulls in a day. It really varies based on my current situation. And other agents will have totally different answers to this! I hope that's helpful.

    2. Thank you for responding! And yes! That is good to know!

  2. Excellent interview and advice. Thanks Michelle and Naomi!