Monday, October 19, 2020

Query Questions Interview with Megan Barnard

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

I'm so happy to bring Query Questions back from the dead with new interviews. Since I stopped doing interviews, a whole new crop of agents have settled into the business, and I'm sure people would like to know more about them.

Thanks to Megan Barnard with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency for starting us off!

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

Not for me! I tend to look at queries in batches--and that’s usually just when I have time. I might be slower to respond during the holidays, but I always respond to every query and submission I receive.


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

I would say 80% of the time I look at sample pages--I know how hard it is to write a query! The only time I wouldn’t look at the pages is if the book is in a genre I don’t represent, or it totally disregards my guidelines.


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

I’m totally open to unpublished writers! I love working on debut novels and helping guide new writers’ careers, so send your debuts my way!

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

I don’t reject queries because there’s a rhetorical question in the query. A lot of agents don’t like rhetorical questions because we get them so often, and I think there’s usually a more interesting way to put the question, so I would just really think about whether you need that rhetorical question before you send your query.

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

Comp titles are really helpful for me because it helps me picture where your book would sit on a bookshelf. Movie/TV references are fine as comp titles, though you do generally want at least one book (published within the last 3-5 years) as one of your comps. 

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

I don’t really care either way! If you comp to a book I recently tweeted about that can be nice especially since I usually say if I’m looking for something similar, but I don’t reject queries if they’re not personalized.


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

I answer all queries and submissions. I try to respond to all queries within 6 weeks, and full/partials within three months. After that, it’s totally fine to nudge and never bothers me. I’d say give most agents at least three months with requested submissions (but check their guidelines first!) but tell all queried agents about offers of representation as soon as you get one.

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’d say at least 10 days, but two weeks is great as it gives agents a bit more time to read.

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 don’t care about social media for fiction writers. Platform is really important for nonfiction, so you do want to be active on social media if you’re writing nonfiction. I think it’s important for fiction writers to have some kind of social media as it can help them connect with readers, but it’s something we can work on and build slowly. 


If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?

I’m always happy to get read a new query if the manuscript has been significantly revised. 

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

If I love something, I’ll sign it. Trends and wishlists change so quickly in publishing that only trying to rep books that fit certain molds would be a nightmare! I do look at wishlists when thinking about what editors to submit to, but that’s after I’ve offered representation.

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’m an editorial agent. I have a background in editing, so if I love something but think it needs work, that wouldn’t necessarily turn me off. It just depends whether I have a specific vision for what a revision would look like.  


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

I automatically reject queries for books in genres and categories I don’t represent. I’ll also reject them if I don’t get an actual query, like just a synopsis or pages where the query should be. Otherwise, I don’t reject things for minor typos or small things like that.


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

·         Historical fantasy like Circe or The Snow Child.

·         Nonfiction that combines memoir and nature writing like The Outrun or The Salt Path.

·         Lyrical literary fiction like The Island Child or The Good People.


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

Books: The Lake House by Kate Morton, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Island Child by Molly Aitken, Inferno by Catherine Cho, I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

Movies/TV: The Office, Schitt’s Creek, The Crown, New Girl, Downton Abbey, Top Chef, La La Land, The King’s Speech, Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, About Time.

Megan joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent in 2020, after interning for nearly three years at several top literary agencies, including P.S. Literary Agency and Folio Literary Management. She has worked as an editor and copywriter and has a BA in English (with a concentration in Creative Writing) from Hollins University. When not working, she runs, drinks coffee, and travels widely. Her favorite places to read across the globe are Île Saint-Louis in Paris, Pacific Grove, CA, and Portmagee, Ireland. In reality, though, she spends most of her free time shuffling her towering stacks of books around so they don’t kill her or her husband.

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