Hi all – A former colleague of mine has recently accepted a job with Corvisiero as a literary agent, and if you haven’t checked her out, you should! Don’t know if any of you are querying for inspirational/romance/mystery or horror, but she’s building her client list now. And her explanations were as thorough as any I’ve ever seen… Take a look:
Query Questions with Kara Leigh Miller
Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It’s what makes their stories so fantastic. But there’s a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.
Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Nope. I’m open and accepting queries year round. Response time will generally be a tad longer near the holidays.
Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Absolutely not. Everyone makes mistakes, we’re all human, it’s inevitable. A few are forgivable, but if the query and sample pages are riddled with typos and grammatical errors, then we have a problem. While I do have the added advantage of an editorial background that I eagerly share with my clients, if a manuscript is in need of a major overhaul or if I know there will be more red than black after an edit, I will pass.
Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I will always look at sample pages providing the query matches my list. For example, if an author were to query me with, let’s say, an epic historical fantasy – which I don’t represent – I would respond to let him/her know I don’t rep this genre and then direct them to an agent within the agency who does, or just forward their submission to a more appropriate agent.
Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
We have a fantastic group of interns at the agency who are always willing to help, but at this point, I’m handling all my own queries.
Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?
Not usually. I can tell from a first look whether or not I’m going to pursue a project. If I get a query and sample pages that I’m not sure about, I will always request to see more to get a better feel for the story and the writing. By the third or fifth chapter, I know whether it’s something I absolutely have to have or if I can live without it.
If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes, although most of the time, prologues tend to be unnecessary.
How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?
Honestly, I don’t have a preference about comp titles. If you include them, great. If you don’t, I’m not going to hold it against you.
Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?
This is a tricky question. As agents, we truly do want to see authors succeed, so we’re going to do our best to help them, and at times that includes sharing queries within the agency. However, if you’ve sent a query addressed to me personally, I feel that you’ve done so for a reason. (Hopefully because you want to work with me and feel we’d be a good match.) So, to hand off your query to someone else you didn’t personally choose feels…wrong (?) to me. Now, if I get something that’s really well written and has a fantastic premise but I don’t connect with it for whatever reason, I’ll share it with other agents to see if anyone else is interested, but I’ll also let the author know I’ve done so.
Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
Both! I’ve found that a little bit of personalized chit-chat goes a long way to showing me who you are as a person, and that can be invaluable. Recently, I received a query that was personalized in such a way that made me laugh out loud. It was fantastic, and you can bet I remembered that author’s name. So, feel free to chat me up, but make sure you also tell me about your manuscript J
Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included?
That one sentence gives us so much information about your book, and truly does account in our decision making process. It can often be fairly easy to determine genre based on the pitch, (although I’d much rather not have to play Guess the Genre) but we have no way of knowing the word count. If I get a stellar query for a contemporary romance with a missing word count, and I request the full only to find out its 210K, you’ve just wasted my time and yours. Please don’t do this.
Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query?
Yes! If I feel the need to grab a notebook and start keeping track with ven diagram, chances are good I’ll become confused and frustrated. If you’re querying a romance, I only want two named characters: your hero and heroine. On a side note: Please don’t name the killer in your query letter if you’re querying a mystery or thriller or horror. Save that for your synopsis. For me, the biggest payoff in this genre is trying to figure out whodunit. If you tell me up front, what compels me to read your book?
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
I’d much rather have authors sweat the quality and mechanics of their writing as opposed to titles and character names. Titles and character names can be changed by publishers, so my advice is not to get too attached to them. It seems as though titles get changed more frequently than character names though.
How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
Right now, I’m receiving about 10 to 12 queries a week. Of course, I’m still new to the agency, so I’m sure that number will increase as time goes on. Of those, I might request one or two.
Many agents say they don’t care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?
If it came down to two queries that I absolutely loved but could only take one, the author with the online presence would win. It takes time to gain a foothold and a following online, so the sooner an author can start, the better. Typically, I check to see if an author has any social media to start with – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. (It’s rare nowadays not to have at least one social media account) – and once I sign an author, I will encourage them to being the process of starting a website or blog if they don’t already have one.
Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive?
No, not at all. In fact, I actually prefer to see links in an email signature. When I’m interested in a project, I’ll look the author up on social media. Not necessarily to see how big of a following they have, but more so to see how they conduct themselves online. What sorts of things are they interested in, what do they post about, what things are they sharing?
If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Okay, this is kind of a pet peeve of mine. If your book is out on query, you should not be making massive changes to it that would require you to even think about needing to resend it. When you query an agent, you’re essentially telling them that your book is ready. It’s done. It’s been critiqued, beta read, revised, and edited. If you then send me an email asking to send an updated version because you’ve made changes, that tells me you queried before you and your book were ready. With this industry being as subjective as it is, the feedback one agent or editor gives might not mesh with how others feel about the book.
What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
I always advise authors to include any related affiliations or memberships they have (RWA, SCWBI, etc.); any writing or critique groups they belong to; anything personal that lends credibility to the story they’ve written – for example, if you’ve written about a lawyer and you are in fact a lawyer, I want to know that. Additionally, any pertinent writing classes, seminars, panels, and/or conferences you’ve added. I know, that might seem weird to some, but that shows me you’re out there networking with other authors and industry professionals and that you’re dedicated to learning your craft. Also, be honest that you don’t have any previous publishing credits. It’s okay. We all start somewhere.
What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
It can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it can mean I’ve already got something similar in my list, or maybe it would be difficult to sell in the current market. But mostly, it just means I wasn’t drawn into the story even though there’s nothing wrong with the writing.
Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Absolutely! Having worked for various small presses for a few years, my background is in editing, and I plan to offer authors editorial guidance prior to going on submission so that they have a better chance of standing out within the industry.
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Romance of any kind.
Thrillers / horror.
A YA or NA set during some sort of camp – summer camp, Bible camp, fat camp, a family camping trip.
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Books: The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, The Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver, Matched Series by Ally Condie, It & The Tommyknockers by Stephen King, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (absolutely LOVED that ending, too!), Elite Ops Series by Lora Leigh, Tess in Boots by Courtney Rice Gager.
Movies / TV: Any of the classic horror movies (Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Alien), The Avengers, The Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries, Survivor, American Pie series, Fast and Furious series.