Query.Sign.Submit. with Lauren MacLeod

Lauren McCleod

Lauren represents middle grade and young adult fiction. She responds to all queries, but in case of overload, after about eight weeks it can be considered a no. There will be an auto response on your submission.

To connect with and learn more about Lauren . . .

The Strothman Agency

literary agent and author  Now for Lauren’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission!


What WOWs you in a query?

Voice! Check out the query I got from Hélène Boudreau for REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS (available here) It has such an amazing voice.

I am also impressed with writers who have really good comparable books and/or super interesting “Think X meets Y”s. It shows the writer is also a reader, which I find very important.

Do you always read a query all the way through? If not, what would make you stop reading?

Nope. A lot of queries we get I can stop after the first few words—we don’t really do adult fiction anymore, and I don’t do picture or chapter books, so the moment I see that I can easily decline. I read more of query letters for genres we represent, but I stop and either decline or just skim if it loses my interest/seems cliché/the writing is weak/the word count is insane etc. If I didn’t, it would take more time than I have and I wouldn’t be able to be open to queries all the time. But thoughtful, voice-y well-written queries in my genres? Yes, I read every word and the sample pages, too.

How do you tackle your inbox? Do you go in order or jump around?

I try and do it once a week or every two weeks, because if I ignore it for longer not only does the sense of guilt start to gnaw at me, but it becomes an overwhelming monster of a task. We have a separate email for submissions, so it doesn’t get mixed up in my regular agency correspondence.

I start at the bottom of the inbox (oldest first!) and work my way up. I personally read every query, but out of the 150 or so emails I get a week I probably only have the urge to continue on to reading the sample pages of about 10ish queries. I usually only request one or two. I set the request bar higher when I’m super busy (for some reason it always works out that my clients all tend to send me mss around the same time) and lower when things slow down.

What does it take for you to offer representation?

It has to make me feel something. Sometimes I read things that are good—that I know are good—but if it didn’t make me laugh, or cry, or completely sweep me up in the story or linger in my mind after I’ve read it, I don’t take it on. I have to be incredibly selective because I devote so much time to my clients and their manuscripts, so I only take on something if I feel something for it.

I know it sounds like we agents aren’t listening to ourselves when we talk about how publishing is a business and then, in the same breath, talk about how we are looking for love in our slushpile, but when we take something on we are doing complex calculations based both on marketability/mss earning potential/time spent AND a “will I want to jump off a bridge if I have to read this ten times?” Which is why we look for love. Reading and giving notes on the same thing a dozen times is made immeasurably easier by also enjoying it/connecting with it on a personal level. (The best part of being an agent, as opposed to an editor, is you only have to do the books you want to do.)


What is it like waiting to hear back from a writer you’ve offered representation?

Oh it is the worst! By the time I’ve offered representation, I’ve fallen totally in love with the manuscript and started thinking about what notes I will give and planning exactly how I’m going to pitch it and which editor is going to be lucky enough to see it. And then I have to wait a week hoping no other agents have the time to read my wonderful manuscript and compete with me.

Plus when agents turn down writers it is almost never personal—it is about the market and those complex calculations I mentioned before. But when a writer picks another agent? It is because they liked another agent more! It is devastating.

How editorial are you?

I would say I’m very editorial. I usually discuss my big picture notes with a potential client when I offer representation and then, once they have signed I will almost always read the manuscript again and give them a written editorial letter of Big stuff. After they revised I usually do a smaller line edit after that, before this goes to the publisher. Sometimes we will do another revision after we hear from a few editors. And a lot of my clients send me sold manuscripts (especially contracted second books) before the editor so I can give them a few light notes before they turn it in. I also get a lot of first halves/thirds of books from clients who want to make sure they are on the right track.

At what point would a client share new story ideas with you?

This totally depends on the client. Sometimes for their next book they will share a list of several ideas and we will talk about which makes the most sense as a next step before they even write a word. Sometimes I get asked to weigh in on first chunks. And sometimes a brand new finished manuscript I’ve only got a vague idea about will land in my inbox.

I love brainstorming with my clients because it is fun and they are all so freaking smart and creative, but they all know what they are doing and I’m happy to come into the process wherever they see fit.


Do you forward editor feedback to writers?

I do, unless the client begs me not to! I give them a list of everyone who has been pitched/submitted to as the manuscript goes out and I let them know in real time as we get feedback/declines. The only thing I might keep under my hat is if an editor mentions being interested but wants to share the manuscript with a few colleagues before he or she decides to take it to an editorial meeting. I try not to get hopes too high too soon.

What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Not think about being on submission! Hopefully my clients will take the opportunity to start a brand new project that they can get really excited about and pour all their energies into. The worst thing they can do is sit at home and worry about being on submission and try and “decode” any declines (or random tweets!) from editors, but if we are being honest I suspect probably 95% of all writers do at least a tiny bit of that. [I mean, I totally would! I’d also probably read every single bad goodreads review and take it personally. Which is why I am on my side of the desk—being a writer is so incredibly hard. I’m pretty sure I’d end up in the fetal position curled around a chocolate cake and a bottle of bourbon after my first week in my client’s shoes.]

But in a perfect world? A client would close the door on Book One (or Book Three, or Seventeen) while we are on submission and start a new one to give his or her all.

Is it okay for a client to check in if there hasn’t been any news in a while?

I am always happy to hear from my clients for any reason! I’d like to think I keep them pretty updated, and if there isn’t any news it is probably because there isn’t any news (publishing is SLOOOOOOW) but I am always happy to help subdue any fears. Plus I always like to hear what they are up to and about any books they have read or new ideas they might have had. I want (hope!) all my clients feel comfortable enough with me that they’d get in touch with me whenever they need to for whatever reason.

Thanks, Lauren!

See other Query. Sign. Submit. interviews
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Posted June 2014– Always check for current info and guidelines.


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