Query.Sign.Submit. with Kat Ellis


Kat is the author of BLACKFIN SKY, available in the UK from Firefly Press and in the US from Running Press Teen! She is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency.

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


How did you keep track of your queries?

I made up a nifty spreadsheet with columns showing the name of the agent, agency, stated response times, whether they were a ‘no response means no’ agent, and a whole bunch of other headings. It was so much easier than having to check back through my emails all the time. I know others find things like Query Tracker really useful, but I prefer to keep my own systems for stuff like this.

Did you ever have a Revise & Resubmit? What should a writer consider when deciding whether or not to take one on?

I had a couple, actually. The first was for a manuscript that’s now sitting in a drawer (so you can guess how that turned out). There was a big romantic element to the story, and the agent wanted me to scale it waaaaay back. Editorially speaking, it was a perfectly sound suggestion, but my gut told me it wasn’t right for my story. Even though I did the revision, my heart wasn’t in it, and I think that showed.

The second time around it went so much better – I knew as soon as I got the revision notes for that manuscript that I was on the same wavelength as the agent, that she really GOT my story, and I definitely wanted to work with her. That agent was Molly Ker Hawn, and I was lucky enough to sign with her after completing the R&R.

My R&R experiences gave me a great insight into what the agent’s vision for my work would be if I signed with her, and that any changes had to feel right to ME for them to work. So I guess those are the key things I think you should consider if you get offered an R&R.

If querying was a long time ago for you, what do you remember most?

I had my phone set up with a special ringtone for whenever I had an email response to query, and that sound made me crap my pants every. single. time. My co-workers even recognized that BEEP-BOOP-BEEP-BOOP ringtone. The good thing was that I didn’t crap my pants for every single spam email I got, just the important ones – but I used to have nightmares about that sound.


Are there any specific questions you’d suggest writers ask an offering agent during “The Call”?

Firstly, make a list of what you want to ask, because if you’re anything like me your mind will go blank the second you answer the call. Apart from the usual list of questions, a couple of key things you might want to ask are: how does the agent plan to pitch your book? Do they have a list of editors/publishers in mind? If you’ve already done revisions for them, will they want you to do more before going out on submission? And if you are someone who plans to write across age categories (for example, if you write YA but have a burning desire to write picture books as well), will the agent represent ALL your work?

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

My agent is very editorial, which I love, and was one of the key things that made me jump at the chance to sign with her.

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

I usually run ideas past her before I start writing a new manuscript. Molly knows much more than I do about what’s selling and what’s a no-go with editors, so it’s in my interest to get her feedback before I invest months and months in a novel that isn’t going to sell.


Do you see the feedback from editors?

I do. I think I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism, and any sensitivity is far outweighed by this insane little voice in my head going, “Has she read it yet? What did she think? What did she say?” If an editor thinks my MC is unlikeable/prose is clunky/dialogue is unrealistic, etc. – I’d always rather know because I can’t improve if I don’t see where my faults lie. And whether an editor makes an offer or not, if they’ve taken the time to give me feedback, that is a huge boon.

What is the next step if an editor shows interest?

First, you dance like nobody’s watching. Then you wait anxiously while they run it past their acquisitions board, and you either get an offer (cue more dancing), or a rejection (cue macarena of sadness).

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

Write your next book. Everybody says it, because it’s true. If your book sells, then you’ll probably be tied up with edits in a couple of months, so you can use the submission window to get a book in the bank. If it doesn’t sell, then you have a book in the bank to go right back out on sub with. And you have the added bonus of a distraction from all the submission angst. SCORE.

Thank you, Kat!

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Posted September 2014

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