Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Query Questions with Ali Herring

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 Ali Herring of Spencerhill Associates.

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

I slow down a bit during the summer, so the calendar school year is the absolute best time to query me from the perspective of a faster response time. That being said, you can and should query me any time of the year since I read queries in order of those received first, so it’s best to get in line!

Also, just a note here: Please DO NOT query me via the submission@spencerhill... email address. Only query via Query Manager here: If you’ve queried via the email, go back and submit on the query manager site! Thanks!

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

I almost always read a portion of the sample, even if the query isn’t strong so I don’t punish someone who isn’t good at pitching themselves. And a lot of times, I’ll read the sample first. I will not read the sample, however, if the word count is incredibly high for the genre or the query doesn’t have a strong hook or stakes.

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

Very open! I love working with and discovering new talent! In fact, my fantastic client Kurt Kirchmeier is a debut author who came to me in my query inbox. He had responded to a #MSWL of mine, and not long after that we had a deal with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for his middle grade novel, THE ABSENCE OF SPARROWS. It’s out May 7, 2019 and we just did the cover reveal.
Check it out, pretty huh?

Kurt’s posted links on his website to pre-order at So run check it out for me ok! This will give you an idea of what I’m after with Middle Grade too.

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

Good question. For me, no. Hook me anyway you can. However, if you give me a “high-concept” two- or three-sentence pitch right after “Dear Ali…” with the stakes right there front and center instead, you’re doing yourself a favor.

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

Yes, I want to see comp titles in the query. They are incredibly important, because they tell me you know where your book should be shelved and that there’s an audience for your work. I’ve been confused by a plot summary before in a query, but chose to read the sample just because the querying author gave stellar comps that made me curious. Movie/TV comps are great too. However, I would prefer XXX movie/tv show meets XXX book, so you can show me a book comp that’s already on the shelf too.

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

Yes, if it’s authentic. If you came to me via a #MSWL or we chat on Twitter a lot (yes, I’m chatty), or you have something in common we share, etc, then by all means, yes. Otherwise, just tell me about the manuscript.

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

This fluctuates but about 50-75 a week in general.

Considering Spencerhill asks for three chapters up front and the synopsis, I probably tend to make less requests than an agent whose firm asks for a 10-page sample only. So out of those 100 queries, I’ll probably only make one request. Sometimes two, but it’s rare.

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

I don’t mind a nudge after 2 months.

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 would be awesome, but I find writers tend to give only one. It’s hard for them to wait that long—I totally get it. But it could be to an author’s advantage to do so. For instance, I’ve had two authors this week let me know they have offers of rep but asked me to still consider their work. I’m going to a conference Thursday so that makes things incredibly tight for me to read and make decisions on two books by Friday! If I had two weeks, I’d be golden.

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?

A lack of social media presence will never not stop me from offering rep. That being said, it certainly doesn’t hurt. And I love when I can look at an author’s Twitter feed and get to know them a little bit first. I don’t require writers to join social media when I sign them, but it’s my advice they should. Building community and growing a potential marketing platform for when books sell is just good planning.

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? What themes are you sick of seeing?

Only if it’s requested should they resubmit it. But you can and should always query with NEW work. I’ve signed writers whose second project I connected with, but not their first.  

If the changes came from an R&R with another agent, it’s probably best to only send new work to me at that point still.

In romantic suspense, I’d like to see stories that aren’t all centered on law enforcement officers, etc. Give me a new angle there.

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

No, but if I know an editor is looking for something and I connect with a piece that fits it, that’s a good sign.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?

Yes! Very much so.

Does a manuscript have to be sub-ready or will you sign stories that need work?

I will sign authors who need a little work, but it needs to be almost there or easily fixable. Sometimes in this case, I’ll do an R&R if it’s not-quite “almost there.”

What is your biggest query pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is people lying on queries, saying some editor I’ve never met before told them at so-and-so conference I didn’t attend that they should query me. I’m also not a fan of people pitching more than one book. I delete those queries.

Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?

If you don’t give me the stakes of the novel, I won’t request.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
  1. Upper Middle grade fiction that is high-concept but with literary writing – especially dark or scary fantasy right now, or something with incredible world building.
  2. Category romance – both inspirational and secular. Would really love some romantic suspense.
  3. I’d like a utopian YA novel with a dark, dangerous undertone.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?

BOOKS: Across the Universe by Beth Revis, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, Tau Zero by Poul Anderson, Consider (The Holo Series) by Kristy Acevedo, The Box Car Children, The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau, Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. TV: Netflix's Travelers Series, Big Bang Theory, Castle 

Ali joined Spencerhill in 2017 after moving back to Georgia from Connecticut, where she interned for a literary agency in the greater NYC metro area. A former magazine associate editor, Ali has a diverse background in communications and editing. She graduated valedictorian of her class at Berry College in 2001, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She is seeking middle grade and young adult fiction in all genres, science fiction and fantasy, romance, southern women’s fiction, and inspirational fiction, especially romance. She particularly likes high-concept commercial fiction with a literary flair. If you'd like a better idea of her interests, you can find her on Twitter, @HerringAli, where she regularly posts #MSWL's.

1 comment:

  1. So helpful, thanks!

    I am working on a utopian YA that actually turns out to be dystopian! I was so afraid there wasn't room for dystopian anymore so this gives me hope. Of course I am just finishing the first draft so it'll need several more passes before it's query-ready, but this gives me hope that someone wants it. Thanks!