Thursday, November 15, 2007

Q & A Thursday

I've been gone the last several Thursdays and so I wanted to make sure I made it back to the blog this week to answer your plaguing questions which have surely built up over the last several weeks. Ta-Da, here I am, ready and willing to answer your woes! However this week I am going to put a small caveat on the question topic arena. I've been doing a lot of thinking about queries lately as I feel we are receiving more and more everyday at the Knight Agency. In light of this, today I am going to answer questions about query letters. So, what are you dying to know about that dreaded letter that seemingly unlocks the golden gates? You know the rules, the first five people to post a question get an answer. Bring em' on!

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from a blurb of the book itself, how much does the author's credentials play into requesting sample pages if they are unpublished. (eg. contest wins, current request from publishers).

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 10:36:00 AM EST  
Blogger Mary said...

Are there any rules against quoting from your story in the pitch? I have a ballad that sums up the situation in the story so perfectly...

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 10:47:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What makes you intrigued by a query? Is it a combination of writing, style and story? Or is it just that "certain something" in a query that rises it above the rest to get a request for more?

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 11:12:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have publishing credits, where in your query should you mention that. Right at the beginning? Or at the end after you've pitched the actual story.

I've also heard that you should imbue your query with as much of your "voice" as possible, rather than make it business-like. Would you agree with that?

Nell

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 11:22:00 AM EST  
Blogger Elaine Spencer said...

**FIRST AND FOREMOST, A DISCLAIMER**
All of the answers that you find below are MY OPINIONS on the topic matter at hand. The business of queries is EXTREMELY subjective, and so note that this is my opinion, and most likely the opinion of the other agents at TKA, and certainly the opinion of other agents in general, it is not the end all, be all, in answers. You will certainly find agents out there that will most likely disagree with each answer I give, unfortunately that is just the name of the game in this business! End Disclaimer :)

Anonymous 10:36-
Great question, one that I hear unpublished writers fret over frequently!

First it is important to note AND REMEMBER that an unpublished author’s credentials are secondary to the story that they are pitching (assuming that we are talking fiction).

Your credentials are that extra little push that may bump you over the edge, but they can not and will not carry the query alone (and again note that the key term here is UNPUBLISHED).

First off I am going to talk about one thing that you didn’t mention, platform (and again remember we are talking FICTION). Let us use an example: Say I get a pitch for a story line that is about an ancient Maya civilization that seems to come to life as archeologist Elaine Spencer uncovers the past society’s artifacts. While this is a clever idea, I have seen things done along this line before. However, let’s now assume that the author is themselves an archeologist, or that they have a degree in Mayan Culture. **please excuse the lame example** Regardless, these types of real world application would surely make me think they might put an interesting spin on the idea, leading me to request the pages.

Moving onto contest wins. This one is tricky and unfortunately I’m usually pretty ambivalent towards contest wins. The reason, we don't know what the particular entry’s competition was or how tough the judging was or even how qualified the judges were. I have found that some contest winning submissions have been wonderful. I can tell that they have a high concept idea with strong writing that deserved to stand above the competition. In other instances I have received contest entries and thought to myself, "This must have been the only entry in this category". It sounds harsh, but a win can only be judged on its competition and that is something that we don't have a gauge on when we see “contest win X” in your query.

One exception that I will make to this is the Golden Heart Contest. Each spring we get a sudden influx of queries after the Golden Heart finalists are announced. Usually, if we see GH finalist, we request. We know that this entry was better than hundreds of others in its genre, so we can at least afford to take a look.

Lastly, addressing your final credential mention, current request from publishers, this too is grey zone. For one, we don’t know the conditions of that request. Did you meet that editor at a conference? Unfortunately it's the nature of the beast that editors typically request a large majority of what they hear pitched to them at a conference with little regard to actual likelihood of ever offering a contract on the title in question. Also, if you have a handful of editor requests it signals to the agents that this project has been around the block a time or two already and the places where we will still have open to shop the MS have already been drastically reduced. This is a definite turn-off.

One thing that I want to note, and yes I realize this answer is far longer than you probably ever intended. Make sure your credentials are applicable to the project that you are pitching. If you won an award for an article you published in a science journal, well good for you. However, this is certainly of no relevance to the young adult romance you are pitching me and so frankly I don't care. In no way is your science journal award offering credence to the fact that you can nail a fiction YA manuscript.

So, all in all, here's my summary and the rule of thumb I tell authors to follow; in the majority of all situations your credentials will never hurt you. This is not to say that they will necessarily help you, but unless it’s an out of the ordinary situation your credentials will never make an agent turn away. So long story short, if you got em' flaunt em'.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 11:26:00 AM EST  
Blogger Elaine Spencer said...

Mary,
No, I can not recall ever specifically hearing "do not quote from your story". However, keep a few things in mind. You are pitching YOUR story to the agent. We don't want a summary of what your story is like, we want YOUR story. Also, remember that a query is the first display of your writing that you show to an agent. If you are writing a fiction novel, I want to see a tone and writing in the query that reflects this, not a ballad that has no relation to the novel itself.

Also, while creativity and high concept are always to be praised in this business, remember that certain things are better left alone. The query process is boring and somewhat flat. It stinks that its your first shot and there isn’t room for all the bells and whistles, but take the lead from the MANY, MANY published authors who have AMAZING ideas and have seen their books go onto be published and all started at the query process just like you are. Write a solid query in the form that agents want to see. The only thing we want to be impressed by is your concept and your story, not your original query format presentation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 11:37:00 AM EST  
Blogger Elaine Spencer said...

Anonymous 11:12-
A query is a perfect tri-fecta of things. It is the blending of the whole package rolled into one nice neat little letter. By that I mean, that it needs to be everything that you mentioned above. It needs to be a combination of writing, style and story with that extra little something that pushes it above to the next level.

When I am trying to talk about query letters with people that aren't in the business I compare them to resume cover letters. They need to be an embodiment of you as a writer. Not only do I want to see a competent display of your ability and talent, I also want to see that you have a story that is superb and I want to see in that letter that you are looking at publishing from a professional viewpoint. It is a big chore, one that you should spend a lot of time getting right. To wrap all of this information into a one page summary is a challenge but there are SO many sources out there to help you that it is not impossible. If you set your mind to capturing your pitch in a solid paragraph and pair it with a good mini-bio and intro you will be set. There are also so many resources available that enable you to seek out industry help; all in all it is a very attainable goal. The query letter is a bit of a test – we want to know that you have the goods, but we also want to know that you are able to capture that in a professional way that alerts us you are really ready and at the right stage to take your writing to the next level.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 12:54:00 PM EST  
Blogger Elaine Spencer said...

Nell,
The standard place to list your publishing credits is in the last paragraph of your query letter. I have seen it done other ways, but as I mentioned we advise you stick to the standard protocol. You can attempt to throw in a teaser of sorts into that first paragraph if you do it in a subtle manner. This could work if you would say something along the lines of, “I recently met your client XXX, a fellow Avon published author at RWA and we began chatting about the Knight Agency.” This would alert me that you are published, and that you have done your homework about who we represent. Two birds with one stone. There are obviously a lot of other ways you could achieve something like this, this is just one suggestion. By subtly including info in the beginning of a query it would encourage us to take a heightened interest as we continued reading. This method would also keep us interested until the end of the query where we would learn your actual publishing credits. Sidebar - remember as I mentioned in answer #1 today, for this to work your publishing history needs to be relevant to our potential relationship.

For the voice question - I think that it is wonderful when an author is able to give me a sense of their writing style and voice in their query letter. This is a challenge considering that you also must keep the letter in a professional tone. If you can do it without distracting the reader from the initial intent of the letter, please do. If you think that your attempt at infusing voice is taking away from the content of the query, then I would just stick to a professional tone and let your pitch speak for itself.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 1:08:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Chessie said...

What are some of the most annoying query no-no's that have come across your desk? (So we all can avoid them.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 2:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Elaine Spencer said...

Chessie-
Fun question.
1. Spelling Query improperly
2. Addressing someone other than the submissions coordinator
3. Sending in the query to an outlet other than accepted. At TKA we take all queries at submissions@knightagency.net, SO, don't send them snail mail and don't send them to our personal email accounts
4. Including every other agent you are querying in the same email "to field"
5. Telling me you are going to be the next JK Rowling, Nora Roberts or Dan Brown
6. Using a special template, font or colored background
7. Replying to a pass and asking questions as to the reason for the pass or to tell me that I'm an idiot for not requesting more material
8. Typos and grammatical errors
9. Pitching more than one project
10. Failing to REALLY tell me what your book is about
11. Pitching me something that we clearly do not represent
12. Failing to follow the standard query format
13. Failing to remove your spam filters so that when I reply I receive an email back telling me to ask permission to become approved sender

I think thats a good starting point :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 3:00:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Mary Grace said...

How long does it usually take for the agency to respond to requested manuscripts? I sent the first few chapters of my novel after receiving a confirmation e-mail from you requesting further material. I sent mailed the material last November 11. I'm beginning to fear that it ended up in your spam folder again like the last time. I hope you will look into it. Thank you very much. I really look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 12:38:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diana Peterfreund said...

Mary, do you mean NOV. 11, 2006?!??!!

They never received that, or you never received their response. Do NOT, under any circumstances, let an agent keep you hanging for a year. Send a follow up email!

~Diana, not a TKA employee, but a client...

Monday, November 19, 2007 at 11:13:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Mary Grace said...

Ooops! Sorry. I meant November 11, 2007. You might say I'm on pins and needles right now. This is my first time to submit anything and I'm so happy that I got a positive response but I don't know what to do next. Do I wait for a month or a week? Thanks for helping me out though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 6:47:00 AM EST  
Blogger Elaine Spencer said...

Mary Grace,
I'm so sorry to leave you hanging on this ms. We did in fact receive your email on Sunday November 11, and it has been entered into our reading queue. Typical response times for partial manuscripts range @3 months. If you have yet to hear back from us at that time, please don't hesitate to send us a short follow-up checking on the status! We are looking forward to taking a peek at your writing sample, thanks again for thinking of the Knight Agency!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 8:01:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Mary Grace said...

Thanks for being so prompt in replying to my query :) I must say that it's wonderful to be able to communicate so smoothly with your agency. Your agency is very aspiring- writer-friendly. Anyway, i just want to add that I sent two mails, one is in .docx format, the other is .doc. Whichever fits your system. Thanks again.

Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 6:41:00 AM EST  
Blogger Jan Springer said...

Great tips, Elaine.

Thanks!

jan

Monday, November 26, 2007 at 11:57:00 AM EST  

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