Query.Sign.Submit. with Carly Watters

Carly Watters_ agent

Carly represents Literary and Commercial Fiction, World Literature, Women's Fiction, Literary Thrillers, LGBT, New Adult, high-concept Young Adult, high-concept Picture Books, and up-market nonfiction in Health, Wellness, Memoir, Humour, Pop Science and Pop Psychology.

She responds to all queries when they come in to let you know they were received and when it’s a pass.

To connect with and learn more about Carly . . .


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


Is there anything you see way too much of in the queries you receive?

Apologetic tone. Never apologize for querying an agent! We want to look at queries. We want to find great new talent. Be strong in your tone so we know you take yourself seriously so we should too.

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

These days I don't read them all the way through. I’m looking for key words like family secrets, domestic thriller, women’s fiction, book club book, contemporary YA—I like high stakes fiction. I like the query to start with the genre and word count (over 100k or under 60k and I pass). I like the query to be short and to the point with three-paragraph structure (hook and intro, sales-y synopsis, author bio).

I stop when I don't see the genre I’m looking for, the book is too short/long, or the query language is too muddled. I need a query to tell me what the book is about, not run me in circles reading between the lines. We don't have all day—get to the hook. Why should an agent care about your story and characters?

Do you ever offer a Revise & Resubmit? When would you do so?

I do this when I’ve fallen for something, but it’s not ready yet and I can see how to ‘fix’ it. Sometimes I’ll enjoy something but it’s not for me because I don't have a clear vision about how to edit it into what I want it to be. However, when I do love something, but see where it needs work, I will offer an R&R and ask the author to complete the edits if they agree with my vision. I usually tell them that if they receive an offer of rep in the meantime please let me know. I don’t do R&Rs lightly. I save those for projects I think I can work on. It takes time out of my day to type up R&R notes and I don’t get anything out of it per se. It takes time away from my clients. So I do them sparingly.


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

I love this question because it’s always so anxious! Writers think they’ve got it bad, agents put their hearts on the line and often times we’re competing with other agent friends/colleagues for the same book. We only offer rep when we love something so imagine falling in love and being told either a) they feel the same way or b) they’re going in another direction. It can be exhilarating or devastating. Both have happened to all agents. We have to get used to letting some go. I’ve gone through periods where I haven’t found anything in the slush for 6-8 months and then I offer rep on something great and I lost it. But, on the flip side I’ve been the first pick of many clients and that’s so gratifying that they also feel we’d be a great fit.

How editorial are you?

Agents in general these days are very editorial. But I would put myself up there with being one of the most editorial. I’m still in the stage of my career where I am actively signing new clients from the slush pile which means they are rarely ever ‘perfect.’ I do everything from light edits to rounds of structural edits that take 6-8 months. If I believe in a book I will do everything in my power to make it saleable.

What is the revision process like when you’re working with a client?

It’s very collaborative. It’s their book, I’m a sounding board. However, I usually have very strong opinions about what will make it work for the market. Here’s my strategy: a client will send me their work, I will read through and do a big picture edit letter, then the author will go away and use my notes, and I’ll read it again. We do this until it’s down to the small things and then it’s ready. That can be weeks or months.


Do you forward editor feedback to writers?

Yes. I am their representative in the industry, not the person who decides what to protect them from. In my opinion writers deserve to hear it because it’s their book. Feedback can be helpful because it can show a trend in how people are responding to plot, characters, voice etc. I think writers cringe when they hear it, but they’re better for it.

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

Keep writing! Avoid social media stalking. But above all: keep writing. There is nothing more important than keeping busy and keeping that career going. Most editors, when they show interest, want to know what writers are working on next, so writing more is the next best thing to hearing submission news.

Once a writer has sold his/her first book, how is the next submission process different?

In many cases I try to do two-book deals for debut fiction authors so they have a home. In the rare case the author doesn’t find a home and the publisher does not offer on the option book, then we have to submit widely again. What an author needs is strong book sales, active readership/fans, social media presence, proof they are a great author to work with. But it all comes down to the quality of the book. Editors buy great books. So writers need to write great books—every time. Sometimes the history matters (book sales numbers) and sometimes it doesn’t (great sales).

Publishing is an industry that is filled with many unknowns. Every scenario is different. It’s an agent’s job to be the best advocate for their authors and be thinking one step ahead to have their client’s career goals in mind with every decision made.

Thank you, Carly!

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

Posted September 2014– Always check for current info and guidelines.


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