Friday, June 6, 2008

Ask The Agent- Why Don't Cha ?

Here it is! Your ask the agent question of the week and it's a goody answered by fab agent, Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency. Thanks again to Elaine.

Now don't be shy. Post your questions in the comments section. Feel free to pass the word onto your friends because Elaine can't answer what she doesn't have.

Have a wonderful week full of many words on the page or am I just projecting now? Sorry.


Now to the question:

What things keep you reading when a requested partial has been submitted to you? What parts of a query letter are most important in your eyes?

This question is actually harder to answer than it sounds. It is so difficult to put into words exactly where the magic happens in either a query or a submission.

I’ll start with a query, since it’s the first piece of the puzzle. What is most important to me is a simple display of competence. I want to see that they have done their homework and are familiar with how a query should be presented and submitted. I want to see quality grammar, solid writing, and fabulous content. I think a lot of people out there think “its just a query letter” and try to short-cut steps or break the rules as a way to stand out. I advise against this.

In regards to query letters, write what everyone tells you to write. Follow the format of the standard three paragraph, introduction, pitch, summary letter. This gets my attention right off the bat by showing me you are a professional and you’re serious about getting a foot in the door.

The only area that you really need to stand out in the query is with the content. While I discourage anyone from deviating from the traditional style I encourage authors to really find away to pitch their novel in a creative way. Pitch us the story in a way that we can’t help but stop and think “that sounds amazing” or “what a brilliant idea”.

Sometimes I request chapters because the heroine sounds like a cool gal, or there is some setting element that really interests me, or the subject matter just sounds ground breaking. Sometimes I request because I’ve just heard a fellow agent or editor say they were really looking for something that this particular query might describe. Sometimes the author seems really qualified and so I assume they are going to bring me a well written sample. On other occasions the author finds a way to infuse their voice and style into the query that make me really compelled to see how it translates over on the written page.

There are a ton of things that make a query stand out and warrant additional material requests. At the end of the day remember that your query is a reflection of your manuscript. Try to keep them on equal footing in terms of tone and appeal.

In terms of a partial, in my eyes I am looking at the material from a totally different angle, so its a very different question, however my ability to pin-point exactly what works is just as difficult.

Again, at the top of my list, the most glaring thing is the quality of the writing. I want to have a sense that I’m working with a professional writer, or at least someone who is pretty darned close. I want to see grammatical competence and a familiarity of what “Publishable” quality writing is.

In many, many instances I start reading and the writing is just not publishable. I can’t tell you how often I stop and scratch my head and think is this author crazy? They have to have an idea that this isn’t yet up to par, so why are they sending it to me? That sounds harsh, but its frustrating how cavalierly many people treat our valuable reading time.

I think that with the ease of email and how accessible many agents are, a real lack of accountability has shot up. In many instances people send off their material at the drop of a dime without proof reading, without editing, without facing the reality that their product is not on any equal footing with the book you would pick up at your local BN.

Yes, I know that titles still have to go through an editorial process, and those folks up in NY etc. certainly do know how to really make a project shine. Still, before an author sends any material off, the submission should be as clean as an author can possibly imagine it being. There should be zero room for improvement.

So, that being said (and boy did I get side-tracked) what makes a submission stand out. Quality writing. A great voice. Opening pages that have a real “hook” in them. A character who instantly is in my head. A setting I automatically start envisioning.

There is something really magical when you have found that special submission and is hard to put into words. You just know. I’m currently reading a submission that I absolutely love. I know I’m not going to take the project on right now because it needs additional work, but still, I LOVE the manuscript. Despite the flaws in the manuscript, the voice and the characters have totally engaged me, I really want to know how to story unfolds. I used the term “compellingly readable” earlier in the week to describe the project.

That’s what the magic is, when we forget that we are reading an unpublished manuscript, whether it be at our desks at 10am or in our beds at 10pm, but yet we can’t put it down. When we get carried away by jaw dropping revelations, heart wrenching character developments, and laugh out loud dialogue we know we have a winner and we can’t help but keep turning the pages.

Now ask away. See you next week for more Ask the Agent!!

Scroll down for some new music!


Natalie said...

Hi Kwana and Elaine,

I'm about to move back to the U.S. after living overseas for 5 years. Do you feel that the state of the economy has affected book publishing? Are editors more skittish about acquiring books by first-time authors, for example? Or once a book comes out, are smaller marketing budgets making it harder for an author to get the word out about her book?

Thanks to you both for this Q&A session!


Anonymous said...

I hope you can elaborate on what you said here:

I’m currently reading a submission that I absolutely love. I know I’m not going to take the project on right now because it needs additional work

I'm curious as to what makes a manuscript you like turn into a "pass" instead of asking the author to rework the whatever portions don't quite click with you.

Elaine Spencer said...

anon - This is a great question and I'll answer it next week for you. I was going to try to knock it out in the comments section quickly but there are a bunch of factors that play in and i thought that it might be good insight for a new post!

Have a great weekend!

BrennaLyons said...


I have to ask. What are the "absolute nos" for NY? I know they are more open to content in NY that they weren't (say) 5 years ago. So, what is it that you absolutely shouldn't try to get them to publish, in today's market? What content would you consider unpublishable in the current romance and erotic romance markets?

Oh...and thanks for the time!


Natalie Hatch said...

Hi Kwana,I've lurked around here for a while, so I may as well say hello. Elaine, thank you for that information. I'm currently putting together my synopsis to enter into the Chick Lit Thriller competition, and have been ripping pieces out of the writing because it could be classified too sensual. What level do you look for when judging these contest?

Natalie Hatch said...

Oh Brenna snap! We must be thinking a long the same lines.

Kwana said...

Thanks for the questions. This is great. Keep em coming!

Love you lurkers. Please come and leave comments other times. There's fun stuff all week. Okay, maybe not this much fun!

Natalie Hatch said...

kwana, i have one year old boy/girl twins, how the heck have you survived?

Kwana said...

Hi Natalie H. First congrats on your boy/girl twins. Wonderful! Mine are 14 now and I was surviving. Doing really well actually from ages 6-11ish. It started to get dicey in preteen years. Now it's all out crazy. So I wouldn't call myself a survivor by any stretch of the imagination.
Check me in a few years:)

Enjoy the time you have now it's really the best.

Layla said...

Hi Kwana, thanks for letting us know about this on the chick lit loop.
Hi Elaine,
I'm about to query my second novel, a Simon & Shuster First Chapter's semi-finalist, titled Peace, Love and Chocolate. I'm calling it, The Love Boat meets Chocolat. Since the chick lit market has cooled, I'm wondering whether to call it chick lit or women's fiction. Please advise. Thanks,

pve design said...

Great insight into the magic of writing,and captivating an agent with flair, style and perfect penmanship!
Wonderful tips to review prior to hitting the send button! Sometimes we all need to review before we let go of our work - to judge that it has sizzle!

Deanna said...

Hi, Elaine (waving to Kwana),

Thanks so much for taking time to answer our questions.

I'm wondering when an author should start looking for a new agent. Is two months too long to wait for a read-through of minor rewrites?

How often do you update your clients on the submission process? Do you prefer email or phone for doing so? Just curious....


La Belle Americaine said...

If a manuscript is queried as belonging to one genre, but after reading the partial, you feel it belongs to another, what would you do?

M. said...

Hi Kwana, my first time here, I found you via my local chapter mate Maureen McGowan.

My question is - do you think it's better in the current climate to describe your work as 'women's fiction' rather than 'chicklit' so as not to scare away the person reading your query? I ask because lately, I've come across some books that I would definitely have classed as 'chicklit' but the blurb etc. said 'women's fiction'. I realize the boundaries are blurry, but it's almost as if people are averse to having work classified with the big C word.

Leanna said...

This is, as always, great insight, Thank you Kwana and Elaine!

Kwana said...

Thanks for the questions. We're really rolling now! Keep them coming and come back next week.

Megan Frampton said...

What mix (like paranormal Regency, steampunk erotic, etc.) would you be really interested in seeing?

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