To connect with and learn more about Michelle . . .
What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?
Querying writers should think about whether they want a boutique agency or a marquee one, i.e. do they want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, do they want an agent/agency with lots of clients and a long history or a smaller/younger/hungry one? They should also consider whether they want an agent who edits (and has editorial background) and whether they like the vibe of the agency and agent on the agency website and/or social media.
What should writers NOT do in a query?
Writers should not tell me what I represent or enjoy, especially because those who do are often incorrect. They should not be overly familiar or flirtatious. And they should not denigrate themselves, other authors, agents, or publishers.
Do you always read a query all the way through? If not, what would make you stop reading?
No, I don’t always read the entire query. If there are lots of spelling/grammatical/syntax errors, I stop because I worry that the writer doesn’t have the knowledge or the work ethic to actually write a book. If the query is for a genre I don’t represent, I stop. I also stop at certain key words because if they’re part of the plot, it’s not something I want to represent. These include human trafficking, sex crimes, and child abuse. And if a writer compares their book to that of a writer whose work I hate, I likely won’t finish the query letter.
What is your process for reading a query and sample pages?
I start with the query. If a writer mentions something in my bio or something I said on Twitter or in an interview, I make a mental note but keep reading. I really want to have a plot summary that intrigues me pretty quickly. I skim the writer’s bio to see if they have a day job that informs their writing, a journalism background, or relevant writing awards or experience. If I’m enticed or on the fence, I’ll look at the sample pages, hoping to be hooked by page 5 but may keep reading until page 20. I stop reading when I’m put off or bored, or more rarely, exasperated.
How do you tackle your inbox? Do you go in order or jump around?
I try to go in order, oldest to newest, but jump around a bit if I see an intriguing title or subject line. Sometimes, a title is terrible and I look to see if the query will prove me wrong (but usually it doesn’t, I’m sad to say). If someone mentions a conference I or a colleague attended, I flag them and look a little faster at those queries. Twitter hashtags can sometimes pull my attention too, like #MSWL or #pitchwars, if that’s something I’ve been watching or tweeting about.
What is it like waiting to hear back from a writer you’ve offered representation?
It’s tough. Sometimes I’m competing with other agents for a writer whose work I loved and I hope they pick me. Waiting more than a week is really tough, but I know this is a big decision and expect writers to choose carefully. So I’d rather have them ask all the questions and take all the time they need to, so they can be confident in their decision and say yes without taking it back.
Do you sign a client as a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?
I want to sign clients for their career so I always ask them about their career vision, what book they want to write next (or have already written), and what other ideas are brewing. Ideally, they want to write genres I want to represent and can help them sell. If a writer has written a thriller, but then wants to write fantasy, I’m probably not the best fit for them.
How editorial are you?
I have editorial experience, so do give my clients editorial notes on their manuscripts. They review, revise if necessary, and discuss any concerns we have. I want to have their most polished manuscript possible to send to editors. And I’m always happy to bounce ideas around with clients.
Do you forward editor feedback to writers?
I do. I think they have a right to know, and it may be helpful.
At what point might you suggest making more revisions?
If I were getting rejections all with the same feedback (pacing is off, for example), I’d have a talk with my client at that point.
How much contact do you have with a client when he/she is out on submission? Do you send weekly updates or update as responses come in?
I update them as responses come in. Sometimes it takes a while for editors to read/get reads from colleagues/bring to editorial board, so I’ll say “nothing new yet” every other week or so if that’s the case.
Is it okay for a client to check in if there hasn’t been any news in a while?
Thanks so much, Michelle!
Posted April 2015– Always check for current info and guidelines.