Saturday, January 5, 2013

Agent Q&A Part Two: Querying

Late last year Operation Awesome asked YOU, our readers, for your most burning revision questions that you'd like to ask our panel of agents. We'll be posting them throughout the New Year's Revisions Conference, but first here's a little more about awesome panel of agents:

The Agents

Laura Bradford established the Bradford Literary Agency in 2001. She considers herself an editorial-focused agent and takes a hands-on approach to developing proposals and manuscripts with her authors for the most appropriate markets. During her own misadventures as a writer, Laura came to understand the importance of having a friendly but critical eye on your side, a career strategist in your corner and a guide who can lead you through the travails of publication. She continues to actively build her client list and is currently seeking work in the following genres: Romance (historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic), urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers and young adult as well as some select non-fiction.

Josh Getzler is an agent and founder of HSG Agency. He left Harcourt in 1993 to get an MBA from Columbia Business School. After Business School, Josh spent 11 years owning and operating a minor league baseball team (the Staten Island Yankees). He left baseball in late 2006 and rejoined the book world on the agent side. Josh worked at Writers House until November 2009, building a list of novelists, YA and children’s book authors, and the occasional nonfiction writer; then joined Russell and Volkening. Josh represents fiction and nonfiction (mostly fiction, much of which is crime-related (mystery, thriller, creepy…)), adult and YA/middle-grade books (though not picture books). And please don’t send religious fiction. He is particularly into foreign and historical thrillers and mysteries, so send your ruthless doges and impious cardinals…and your farmhouse cozies!

Erin Harris is a literary agent at Folio Literary Management. She represents literary fiction, book club fiction, contemporary YA, and select narrative non-fiction titles. Some of her clients include: Times Magazine contributor and former Newsweek correspondent Carla Power, Executive Editor of The New Criterion David Yezzi, and the novelists Bryan Furuness and Jennifer Laam. Erin began her career in publishing in 2008 and has worked for both William Clark of WM Clark Associates and Irene Skolnick of the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the New School and her BA in literature from Trinity College (Hartford, CT).

Natalie Lakosil is an agent and Laura’s assistant at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. After nearly four years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and a brief dabble in writing author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune, Natalie joined the Bradford Agency in February of 2011. Natalie is drawn to talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialty is commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-teen), romance (contemporary, paranormal and historical), upmarket women’s fiction and select nonfiction. Her interests include historical, multi-cultural, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, middle grade with heart, and short, quirky picture books.

Victoria Marini is an associate literary agent with the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency,and an assistant to Jane Gelfman, Deborah Schneider, and Heather Mitchell. She began taking on clients in 2010 and is actively building her list. She's looking for adult literary fiction, commercial fiction, and women's fiction, plus YA (especially literary, contemporary, heartwarming and funny, or dark, edgy, and commercial), Middle Grade (fantasy and coming-of-age humorous), and nonfiction (narrative non-fiction, humorous/pop-culture non-fiction, and memoir, as well lifestyle/how-to non-fiction).

Kathleen Rushall is an agent at Marsal Lyon. She started as an intern at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, and then spent almost two years at Waterside Productions. Kathleen looks forward to garnering fresh voices, strong narratives, and whimsical tales in all areas of young adult literature including contemporary fiction, suspense, Southern gothic, historical fiction, and science fiction. She is open to all genres of YA, but has a soft spot for thrillers, horror, romance, laugh-out-loud voices, and would love to find a dark mystery. She’s also open to New Adult queries. Kathleen is looking for funny, character-driven, quirky picture books and all genres of big voiced middle grade fiction. Kathleen also represents select nonfiction and is interested in parenting, cooking, crafts, business, alternative medicine, women’s interest, humor, pop-culture, and some how-to.

The Q&A Part Two: Querying

If you reject a query with sample pages or a submission and the writer makes major revisions based on that reason or another agent's recommendations, is it acceptable for the writer to follow up without a revise/resubmit to see if you'd be interested in seeing the revised project?


Laura Bradford: Sure, I never mind that. I can always say no. Some other agents don’t allow re-submissions so I’d recommend checking each agent’s website to see if they expressly say anything about whether they are ok with it or not (I actually have that answer on my website’s FAQ section).

Josh Getzler: That mostly depends on how far down the road I went with the project. A simple resubmit after a generic query/pass typically won’t get the author too far. If I gave specific recommendations, and had shown real interest, and then passed, and the author comes back with a substantially rewritten book, then it would be OK.

Erin Harris: I am open to seeing a revise/resubmit if a writer has made significant changes to their original manuscript. Usually, though, I will tell a writer if I’d like to see their work again post revision. If I haven’t told you that expressly, then your project probably isn’t the right fit for me, regardless of subsequent editing.

If you do find yourself in a revise/resubmit situation, I highly recommend writing your target agent a concise, thoughtful note, explaining your situation. Also, always include whatever correspondence you’ve previously had with that agent.

Natalie Lakosil: Of course. Just not so much if they try and sneak it in again without mentioning I’ve seen it before!

Victoria Marini: I can’t speak for everyone, but sure. This doesn’t bother me.

Kathleen Rushall: I probably wouldn’t re-approach an agent with changes unless it was something he or she had requested.

The queries that hooked you from the start, do you find it is because of voice, content, or mostly both?


Laura Bradford: If we are talking about a query LETTER, then probably content. If we are talking about an entire query submission (because I ask authors to include a sample of the work), then probably the voice in the sample pages.

Josh Getzler: I typically am initially hooked by the idea, reeled in by the voice, and landed by the content. I’ll see “I have an historical mystery set in a village in 18th century England,” and be intrigued and read on. But then the voice has to hit me pretty much right away. If those happen, I’ll really read on.

Erin Harris: It’s definitely both – voice and content. With queries, I’m looking for a compelling concept that is clearly and succinctly articulated. I want to know the genre, title, word count, and premise immediately, at a glance.

It comes as no surprise, then, that I strongly advise against burying these seminal details with the inclusion of a lengthy and chatty introduction. Do not be verbose. Do not get bogged down in every intricacy and plot detail of your manuscript.

Be professional and respectful, research the agent you are querying in advance, and be sure to follow their specific guidelines.

Natalie Lakosil: Content on query, voice on sample pages.

Victoria Marini: Both. I’m a sucker for a great idea, first, and then the voice will drive me to read the sample pages.

Kathleen Rushall: Voice is always first for me.

And for those queries that don't quite hook you (on the fence), what is it that persuades you to ask for more?


Laura Bradford: Good writing in the sample and a strong voice can certainly convince me to give a ms a chance even if I perhaps don’t think I like the subject matter. Curiosity can also be a strong motivator, too (what is going to happen next?!)

Josh Getzler: Either the topic (see above for a good example), or the author’s background. If the author is an expert in a time or topic, or works in the field, or is previously published, or has a Ph.D (because then I know he or she can write a long paper), I will sometimes give greater leeway than if I’m not compelled at the opener of, say, a fantasy novel. The farther we are from reality, the less bona fides you need, but the less rope you get!

Erin Harris: I ask writers to attach the first ten pages of their manuscripts to their query letters. If the writing in the sample is incredibly engaging, but I didn’t find the style of the query letter effective, I will still request a larger sample of the writer’s manuscript.
I’m sympathetic to the fact that some amazing writers may not quite understand how to present their own work at this early stage in the publishing process. Though they will need to hone this skill if they are to become successfully published authors!

Natalie Lakosil: If the content sounds ok, but it reads really well, I’ll ask for more. If the content and sample pages sound ok, but it’s a genre/type I’m dying to find, I’ll read more and hope it just needs to catch its stride.

Victoria Marini: Curiosity. I may not love it, but if I’m curious, I’ll probably ask to see more.

Kathleen Rushall: Rarely, but sometimes, if I see something I like (great voice or really fresh hook) but it’s crowded out by other elements, I’ll request more to see if the part I like comes to fruition later in the writing. If I can see that the writer is capable of taking the book where I’d hoped, then I know revisions to perfect the other parts are possible.

Do you have any advice for unagented or previously agented published authors who are looking for an agent? Is the process different (for instance, can the author query with a proposal), or do you still prefer to see a completed manuscript?


Laura Bradford: I really, REALLY don’t like to sign an author based only on a partial ms. I need to read something that is complete in order to feel confident about an author’s abilities and in the case of a previously published author I will look at a previously pubbed complete novel. The process isn’t really different for published authors vs unpublished authors. The published author still has to get my attention, write something I am compelled by that I think I can sell. The published author also has to be someone I think I can work well with. I recently signed a published author who I knew really, REALLY well as a friend for years before she found herself looking for a new agent. And despite the fact that I knew HER really well and liked her very much, I still elected to read a couple of her published manuscripts before formally offering representation. So I even hold my friends to the same standards as any other querying author, LOL.

Josh Getzler: Yes, I do still need to see a completed manuscript in almost every circumstance (in fiction). Certainly if an author has books under contract, it’s less fraught, and the chances are better. But often times that kind of switch comes with a story, or angst, or issues, and with the credibility of presumed quality comes a different kind of question for me: If an author is switching agents, why? Is it a problem of commitment? Is the author going to be difficult? I advise an agent-switcher to be very clear and open about why he or she is making the change. I’ll find out anyway, and it’ll be easier with full disclosure. Most of the time, the reasons are very understandable, but it’s very helpful for me (or any agent, really) to understand the circumstances.

Erin Harris: If a previously published author queries me, then I need to know all about their publishing history. My advice is for authors to be forthright. If you aren’t honest upfront, the truth will eventually come to light. It’s important that we’re on the same page from the outset, so that it can be a productive professional relationship for us both. Depending on the project – and the author – I would take a look at a proposal or partial manuscript.

Natalie Lakosil: I still prefer a completed manuscript, but it really depends on WHO they are published with, HOW RECENT and HOW WELL (i.e., sales #s). If the author hasn’t had anything published in over 5 years and/or is starting over, or if the author is only published with smaller presses and trying to break into NY, or if the author doesn’t have fabulous sales #s, a full is better to go out on submission with so really better to consider upfront.

Victoria Marini: The process is still the same, for me. It might be a help if you previously had an agent, but it might also be a hindrance. Either way, I’m still going to read your letter, read your sample, and go from there.

Kathleen Rushall: The process for finding an agent isn’t much different for previously agented authors as it is for unagented authors. I’d still want to see the full manuscript and consider all your work, goals, vision and background.

If someone submitted something that had a lot of potential, but you could tell it would require a lot of work at both ends, would you take it anyway? Or pass....


Laura Bradford: Honestly, these days I’d probably pass. Earlier in my career when my list was smaller I had more time to take on those rougher projects. As any agent’s career develops we necessarily have to change how we make decisions about what we take on. I am totally open to taking on work that might not be an easy sell, the longshots, if you will but I am much harder pressed to take on something that could be incredibly labor intensive. And I am an editorial-focused agent so I always expect to do some work on each ms I take on. The risk-reward ratio has to be right. I’ll take on something that requires more work provided the potential payoff is proportional.

Josh Getzler: I spend an enormous amount of time and effort on potential projects, many of which don’t pan out. I’m not afraid of a lot of work. I’m at a stage where I’m a little pickier about it than I used to be, and need to be very certain of the potential marketability of the project, but I’m willing to do the work if the author is. I will also more often ask for revisions on these kinds of projects without making the offer of representation (in the same way that more editors are making suggestions before going to ed board and buying books). It’s not the way the writer really wants the process to go (in either situation!), but it limits the risk for the agent (or editor), and doesn’t get us into the uncomfortable situation of having asked for extensive revisions based on potential, receiving an unsuccessful revision for whatever reason, and needing to break up before submission. But I’m very happy to roll up my sleeves and help an author I think could eventually make it—it’s one of the great joys of my job!

Natalie Lakosil: I would probably offer a R&R, depending on what has potential. If the potential is in the writer, not the plot, I’d want to see the author’s next work. But if the potential is in the plot/hook and the author has a fabulous voice, I’d probably go for a R&R. My old boss had a saying: focus your energy on the shortest distance between you and a published book. I’d say that applies – I don’t have as much time as I used to to hone talent, so I need more of a full package than I used to to offer representation.

Victoria Marini: That depends on whether I’m confident we can both execute our respective responsibilities. If I can identify the problems, articulate the solutions, and feel confident the author can make the necessary changes – Yes, I’ll take it on. If I know something is wrong, but I can’t quite tell what or how to fix it, I have to say “no.”

Erin Harris: Yes! If I love a project, have the right vision for it, and think the author and I make a good team, then absolutely, I sign the writer up right away, even if the project requires a lot of work on both ends.

Thank you to all of our agents and all of our readers who submitted questions. 


Anonymous said...

Wow! Great insight as to what agents think and want. Thanks!

Manju Howard said...

Thanks for introducing us to a talented group of agents.

Dahlia Adler said...

Really insightful and helpful, thank you!

HeatherCRaglin said...

Gives hope to us all. Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

These are all things we need in order to understand what's happening on the other side of the desk. :-) Thanks.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Love that quote: focus your energy on the shortest distance between you and a published book. That's exactly what I chose to do by putting an R&R on hold and although I wasn't completely confident of my decision at the time, now that the new book is finished it was absolutely the correct decision.

Anonymous said...

Great post!! Very informative. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Thanks for all the information! It's so hard to know when another revision is needed (or would be a waste of time), but these notes definitely help.

JeffO said...

Very nice, thanks again to all!

Theresa Milstein said...

I found this to be very insightful. My favorite line:

Josh Getzler: I typically am initially hooked by the idea, reeled in by the voice, and landed by the content.