Thursday, November 5, 2020

Query Questions with Kate Foster

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.

Join me in a warm welcome to Kate Foster of Storm Literary! Kate has just joined Storm most recently and Storm seems to be a growing agency with recent sales. Here are Kate's answers:

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

In my opinion, not really. Agents are always busy and most already have a backlog of queries in their inboxes! Yes, there are convention and book fair seasons that may cause agents to have other priorities, but it shouldn’t stop authors sending in their queries anyway.

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

Yes, always. Sample pages are more important to me than anything. FYI, I’m unlikely to open attachments sent in with a query. I prefer everything pasted into the email: query first followed by first ten pages.

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

Very. Completely. Entirely.

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

Yes and no. Honestly, swapping out these questions by hinting at what’s to come is ultimately more appealing and enticing. Rhetorical questions are now cliché, and actually don’t showcase a writer’s word magic. I’m not against one in a query but it might make me wonder how developed this author’s writing skills are.

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

They help, for sure. It instantly tells me what tone to expect, what kind of audience we’re looking at.

And yes, definitely. A mixture of book and TV/movie comps are great too.

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

The pitch part of the manuscript is the most important part. It’s what we’re all here for. If authors want to chit-chat, go for it, but for me that samples more of the author’s character than anything else. My attention will be grabbed by the pitch.

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

It varies because I’m very new, so in my first week I had hundreds and hundreds! And honestly, I haven’t noticed much of a pattern developing since. I also haven’t looked at a percentage of requests I make, sorry! I don’t generally request partials, though, only fulls.

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

Do it! I’d say three months is a good time to wait unless the agent specifies a different time frame on their website. At Storm we reply to ALL queries. There’s no “no reply in X weeks means a no” with us.

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 works nicely.

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?

No, not for me. Yes, a presence can give a good insight to a person’s dedication and their personality, etc., but the writing and voice and my connection with the story is where it counts.

And no. I will discuss social media with my clients and will support and guide them if they choose to set something up. I have two clients who are not at all active on Twitter.

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 has been requested. What has happened and what I like is if an author emails me and explains that they have already queried but would like to remove this and re-query in the future since they are revising based on feedback. I’m good with that approach.

What themes are you sick of seeing?

None, really. I mean, all themes and concepts are repeated and have been for years and years, so this is why we say read widely and always look to add a fresh spin on something.

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

Yes and no. I spend a fair bit of my week perusing editor wish lists and recent book deals, so it’s impossible not to have this at the back of my mind when I’m reading queries. But ultimately I have to fall in love with a story and see the potential if I’m going to offer.

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?

Oh yes. I love brainstorming and editing and I’m not at all afraid of hard work. Being part of a writer’s growth is an honor. I’m able to look over typos or too much telling or wobbly pacing, etc. if I fall in love. As long as the author is up for some hard work as well I’m totally game!

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

Other than receiving queries for categories I don’t represent (picture books and adult), not really. I guess when authors send long long long queries with too much or very little detail about the actual book. That’s quite off-putting. Keep the pitch part of your query to about 200 to 250 words.

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

Middle grade. Middle grade. Middle grade. Will this work?

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

I have such varied tastes, to be honest, but I have listed some of my favorite books in my bio on the Storm website. For me, characters are key. If the characters have depth, conflict, and a clear voice, I’m generally hooked because I care. Make me care. Please.

Kate is an associate literary agent with Storm Literary Agency and a children's author writing about friends, family, and dogs. Originally from a small town in the south east of England, she now lives on the Gold Coast in Australia with her family and two rescue dogs.

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