The Insecure Writers Support Group is excited to host Janet Reid from New Leaf Literary today. We asked her some questions that we felt other writers would like answers to. I think we were right. Take a look at what she has to say.
So great to have you here today. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
- How many query letters do you read in a day, and how many, on average, lead to an offer of representation?
I get about 100 queries a week. I read them in spurts, often when I need to feel like I've gotten at least one thing done in the last hour. I try not to read queries when I'm tired, hungry, or in a general snarl. I'm actively looking for good projects so I want to read with a positive attitude.
I looked at my stats for query to rep, and frankly they're daunting. In 2016 I requested about 50 fulls. I offered rep on two. This year, since I'm expanding the categories I'm working in, those numbers will be higher but not by a lot. For example, I've requested 53 projects so far this year. I've offered rep on one, and two more in the pipeline.
But, and this is a big ol but, you can't let those numbers discourage you. They're raw stats. They don't account for people querying on things I would not take on if you paid me upfront and promised no one would ever know it was mine; for categories I don't work in at all; queries for novels that were simply unpublishable.
Every single agent I know is looking for good material. There's a lot of dreck to wade through to find it but your job is not to worry about the dreck, it's to not BE the dreck.
- What’s the biggest mistake an author can make in a query letter they submit to you?
Failing to tell me what the book is about. It sounds very simple. It's not. In fact, I practice pitching my books before I got out with them, just to get input from smart, successful people on what works and what doesn't. (One of the many benefits of working at New Leaf.)
What the book is about is generally the plot. It's what your main character wants and what's keeping her from getting it.
A good way to think of this is how you'd tell a friend to read a book. You'd tell them what it's about, not about the theme, or why the author wrote it, or why the agent is the best choice for the query.
- Do you have any favorite query hooks that you can share? Ones that sold you on that book and that writer?
I looked through my client emails and most of my guyz (not a typo--it's the gender neutral version) have been with me so long, their queries were lost in the great computer crash of 09. Or the other one in '11. (It still gives me the shivers!)
But, for a terrific query, one that breaks all the rules take a look at Josin McQuein's query for PREMEDITATED (Harper)--still one of the most highly recognized entries at QueryShark (#192)
Dan Krokos, FALSE MEMORY (Hyperion)-winner of the inaugural International Thriller Writers Best YA (Query Shark #124) had a memorable query.
Curtis Chen, WAYPOINT KANGARO (Macmillan) (Query Shark #242)
- What misconceptions or wrong expectations do writers have when signing with an agent?
That the hard part is over.
It hasn't even started.
But let's not dwell on that or we'll get too depressed to write. Solve today's problems. Hit your word count. Read good books. Let tomorrow take care of itself.
- Are there some key questions an author should ask when they’re looking for the right fit in an agent?
Communication style! Does the agent reply quickly or should the author know to expect lag time.
Does the agent expect to do some editorial work on the ms before it goes on submission.
Most important: what happens if the ms doesn't sell.
These were great answers and I hope they helped our readers today. Did you look at those queries Janet touted? How about subbing a query for shark inspection; are you going to do that?