Query.Sign.Submit. with Renee Ahdieh


Renee is a Young Adult author and her novel THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, a reimagining of The Arabian Nights, will be released from Penguin/Putnam Fall 2015! She is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Connect with and learn more about Renee . . .


literary agent and authorNow for Renee’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission!


What advice would you give to querying writers?

I remember reading a few horror stories when I first began researching agents, and I promised myself I would be smart about this. Yeah. That died a pretty quick and epic death. The rejections, the waiting, all of it—they start to make you feel as though you’ll take whatever you can get. And I can’t caution a querying writer enough: NO AGENT > SHMAGENT. Any semi-literate nutjob can hang a shingle by his/her front door. How can a writer tell the difference? ASK QUESTIONS. Check online for reputable sales. Newer agents should be working at agencies with clear track records of success.

The other thing I found most helpful was the simple advice of a published friend: You spent a long time writing your book. You took your time. Dotted every “i”; crossed every “t”. Why would you do any less for querying? Take your time. Don’t kick in the saloon door and fire off some buckshot, utterly blind to your target. Be deliberate. Be smart.

What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?

Querying reputable agents is just one part of the process. You need to make sure you’re querying the right agents for you. If you write YA, query YA agents. It sounds like a no-brainer, but so many agents say the vast majority of queries they receive are for genres they don’t represent. Don’t do this. Every rejection hurts, and this kind of rejection is completely avoidable.

Secondly, you need to determine what you want in an agent. Do you want someone who’s very editorial? Do you want someone who represents clients on a book-by-book basis? Do you want someone who reps an array of genres, just in case you might want to write gnome erotica in the future? Again, be deliberate. Breaking up with an agent is like breaking up with a significant other. Don’t put yourself in this situation if you can avoid it.

What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?

I started with five queries—a mix of “reach” agents and up-and-comers. With every rejection I received, I fired off two more revised queries. I called them “revenge” queries. Probably not the healthiest attitude in hindsight, but it definitely helped me deal with the rejection in an active way.

Because binge-eating Doritos is not healthy, even if they’re Cool Ranch.

This was a slow process, but it did work. When it came down to making a decision, I had ten fulls/partials out and three offers of representation.

Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?

I queried one other book. And I made every mistake you can imagine. The first query I ever wrote was in second-person. Oh yeah. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!


What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?

Sweaty. Ha, no but seriously . . . I was a nervous wreck. After having so many people say, “Eh, not so much,” it’s very strange being in a situation where three terrific agents want to work with you. I received the first call on a Wednesday, and I was talking to agents all the way up to Sunday night. I really, really loved one of the agents I didn’t choose, and it was kind of agonizing telling her I went with someone else. Not at all glamorous or exciting. Really, I think I should have been mainlining Xanax the whole week.

How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

My agent actually called me off my partial first. No warning. No email. She just called, and I almost dropped the phone. Honestly, from that first phone call, I was pretty sure she was it. Her feedback was incredibly detailed, she was direct and honest, and she didn’t shy away from using four-letter words. When she called to offer rep, I loved how smart and in-your-face she was. She knew my work inside and out, and her career-minded feedback was right on target for me. I kept thinking, if she’s like this when she’s offering rep, how awesome is she at championing her clients?

I was so right.

How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?

She’s very editorial. Her notes encompass not only plot points, but character consistency and overall theme, as well. If something isn’t working for her, she says so and identifies the exact reason why. Of course, it’s my job to fix it, but she is always there to water down my crazy and make sure the decisions I make moving forward fit the intended goal for the book.

It’s exactly what I expected. Again, my agent was very open and direct about her approach, right at the onset. I will say this, however; if you aren’t open to criticism, this will not work for you. And I don’t mean that theoretically.

At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?

I usually share a kernel of an idea early on, just to make sure she thinks I’m not straightjacket material. This has really worked for us, mostly because I’m deathly afraid of writing an entire novel of seemingly epic proportions, only to have her say she already sold something like that last month.


What is a typical first round like once a writer goes on submission?

Pavlovian. As in, my hand and my left eye started to twitch the second I heard my phone’s email notification warning go off. It gets easier as time passes, but the first few days are tough. I think writers can be very, very annoying, too. I know I was. I emailed way too much, asked way too many inane questions, and tried too hard to come across as cool . . . to the point where my behavior belabored the objective. Bless my agent, though. She patiently answered every single one of my stupidass questions.

What is the next step if an editor shows interest?

It depends on the house/imprint. If an editor loves a submission, he/she will usually take it to a few colleagues for second reads. If there’s some sort of consensus, the editor will then approach the acquisitions board or the editorial board of that particular imprint. P&Ls will be drawn up, and the book will be discussed in open forum regarding how it fits into their line-up and whether or not it’s in competition with something that’s already been acquired. Again, the entire process differs from publisher to publisher, but the important thing I’ve learned is that, most of the time, a single editor loving a project is only the beginning. There are many hurdles that need to be cleared before an offer is made.

Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?

I knew there was interest. When my agent called to tell me several houses were moving forward to second reads/acquisitions, I didn’t sleep for . . . like, three nights? True story.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

Ha! I didn’t react at first. I honestly didn’t believe it. When my agent called to tell me what happened, I just sat there, asking her to repeat herself. Then I cried, and it was really ugly. I’m talking snot-nosed and sniveling. That night, my husband took me to dinner, but, before we arrived for our reservation, he stopped by a Barnes and Noble, and we went to the Young Adults Fiction section. I will never forget when he looked at me across a table of New Releases and said, “Your book will be here soon.”

That, right there, was a moment.

And it was so worth it.

Thank you, Renee!

See other Query. Sign. Submit. interviews
Read inspiring stories of writers getting agents
Find out about agent-judged contests

Posted February 2014


  1. Okay that is one of the sweetest things I've heard in a while. Mad kudos Mr. Ahdieh.

    And I'm sooooo excited about TWATD! Congrats all over again!

  2. Great interview. Truly enjoyed it. Especially the Barnes & Noble moment!

  3. Loved what you said about querying in small batches. And loved the B & N moment. So sweet!

  4. Great advice as usual, Renee! And terrific interview! :)


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